Tony Morgan Interviews Everard Digby from 1617
On 5thNovember the UK celebrates the downfall of Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 by lighting bonfires and setting off fireworks. Fawkes and his colleagues conspired to blow up Parliament, assassinate Protestant King James I and kill many others. They also planned to kidnap and convert the king’s nine-year-old daughter Elizabeth to Catholicism and place her on the English throne.
The Gunpowder Plot failed but what if things had turned out differently? This is the premise for UK author Tony Morgan’s second novel “7thNovember 1617”.
Set 12 years after the Gunpowder Plot, a young Queen Elizabeth is attempting to forge a new way based upon religious tolerance. Extremist Jesuits and Puritans plot against her and conflict is brewing in Europe. Closer to home, there are troubles in Ireland. A peace envoy is needed. Sir Everard Digby appears the perfect choice but he’s a man with a past the Queen must never discover…
In our timeline, Digby was tried, convicted and executed for his role in the Gunpowder Plot, which included planning to kidnap Princess Elizabeth. In the alternative timeline of “7thNovember 1617” Digby is alive and well.
Today History Imagined meets Sir Everard Digby.
An Interview with Sir Everard Digby, September 1617
TM:Good morning, Sir Everard. Are you happy for my steward to record this interview in writing?
ED:Yes but only on condition the contents are not published until after my death. (Digby laughed ironically to himself).Don’t worry, I suspect you may not have long to wait.
TM:To begin with, I must ask you about your role in the Gunpowder Plot. You were knighted by King James. Why then did you become involved in a plot to assassinate him?
ED:When James Stuart came south from Edinburgh in 1603 and was handed the English throne by Robert Cecil, he committed himself to religious tolerance. James made a number of promises to Thomas Percy and others. I met the King myself. After he’d placed his sword on my shoulder he told me the same thing. As long as Catholic people committed themselves to the crown, their rights would be protected.
TM:But something changed?
ED:Aye. Whether it was his intention all along or whether the early plots against him changed his mind, I don’t know. In any case, he instructed his government to do what it did best – persecute Catholics. Laws were tightened. Fines which hadn’t been enforced were demanded. Once again, good men and women were placed in jail and tortured. I became increasingly disenchanted but what could I do?
Shortly afterwards I became acquainted with Robert Catesby. Never before nor since have I met such a charismatic leader of men. I believed the country needed change and by damn Catesby was the man to do it. I quickly fell in with him.
TM:The plans of Guy Fawkes and others in Westminster are well known but what was your role?
ED:Catesby assigned me to ensure the safety of the King’s daughter Princess Elizabeth. She lived with Lord Harington and his family in Coombe Abbey in Warwickshire. I was tasked with leading a party of men to free her.
TM:But you didn’t go through with this?
ED:Thank the Lord, no. I thought Catesby’s intention was for a lone assassin to kill the King. When I discovered the real plan involved mass murder of those guilty and many innocents, I disbanded my men and returned home to Buckinghamshire. In doing so, I saved all their lives and my own.
TM:How did you feel when Guy Fawkes was discovered and arrested but Parliament was destroyed all the same? And with the King dead, Catesby and his remaining men were being hunted down and killed?
ED:It was not a good time for me. I was racked with guilt and fear in equal measure. I’d abandoned my friends. Perhaps for the right reasons but nevertheless I’d abandoned them. And although I didn’t fear for my own life for I was guilty and ready to face my punishment, the thought of anything happening to Mary and the boys was too much for me to bear. I turned to the bottle.
TM:What effect did this have on your marriage?
ED:A disastrous one, as you can imagine. Mary and I became estranged. As the months passed, it appeared my role had remained hidden from the authorities. By this time the other plotters were dead. (At this point in the proceedings Digby closed his eyes and hesitated for a few moments before continuing).I realised I had to do something with my life, or I would die a drunkard.
TM:So you left the country?
ED:Aye, England was in turmoil. Queen Elizabeth had come to the throne but she was only a child and she remained a Protestant. The Earls of Suffolk and Northumberland, who’d not attended the opening of Parliament, took control and did their best to prevent civil war. There were reprisals against the Catholics but these were more limited than I’d expected. Nobody quite believed it but there were also talk of new laws based upon religious tolerance.
TM:Where did you go?
ED:To the Americas. Religious tensions were brewing across Europe. It appeared war was imminent and the new world offered hope and adventure. I heard the Navy Board were looking for volunteers for a mission to find the lost explorer Henry Hudson. My luck was in. I was accepted to serve in an honorary position on a ship captained by the Welshman Thomas Button.
TM:And you became friends?
ED:Aye, Button is the best man I’ve ever met. He’s as strong as an ox, drinks like a fish and as honest as the polar evenings are long. We served together for a number of years on a number of missions.
TM:I understand you found Hudson too? Can you tell us about Hilliard’s famous painting of that moment?
ED:We found Hudson alright and his son. Of course Hudson never returned to England. He’s out there now somewhere, still looking for the North West Passage. But I don’t want to talk about the painting. It annoys Button immensely when I do, as you well know. (For the first time in the interview Digby relaxed and smiled).
TM: Do you think the Queen suspects you of involvement in the Powder Treason?
ED: (The smile was quickly gone).No, if she did, I’d be in the Tower and on my way to the gallows. But perhaps somebody in her entourage knows something. In any case, these days I’m a loyal servant to the crown. I believe in her policies of tolerance and I’m proud of the laws introduced by my Lords Suffolk and Northumberland. England, Wales and Scotland are the only lands in Europe where a man or woman can pray in a Protestant or Catholic church of their choice.
TM: But not in Ireland?
ED: No, not yet but the Queen seeks to end the troubles there also.
TM: There are rumours you may be journeying to Ireland on the Queen’s behalf. Are these true?
(At this stage a government official stepped out from behind a curtain and terminated the interview. My steward and I were told in no uncertain terms we were not to mention the mission to Ireland to anyone, or we’d be placed in the Tower. A few months later we discovered full details of Digby’s epic journey across Ireland and chronicled them in the book “7thNovember 1617” which will be released after his death ).
Author and Book Details
Tony Morgan lives in Yorkshire in the UK, close to the birthplace of Guy Fawkes. His books have been described as “fantastic historical fiction with a twist” and perfect reading for lovers of the works of C.J. Sansom and S. J. Parris and anyone interested in how historic events have shaped our own times.
All profits from both books in 2018 are being donated to St Leonard’s Hospice in York, which provides specialist palliative care and support for people with life limiting illnesses.
Link to “Remember, Remember the 6thof November” on Amazon–
Link to “7thNovember 1617” on Amazon–