Digby, Sir Everard

, an English gentleman, memorable for the share he had in the powder-plot, and his suffering on that account, was descended from an ancient family, and born some time in 1581. His father, Everard Digby, of Drystoke in Rutlandshire, esq. a person of great worth and learning, was educated in St. John’s college, Cambridge, where he took the degree of M. A. and published several treatises, some on learned, others on curious subjects: as, 1. “Theoria analytica viam ad mouarchiam scientiarum demonstrans,1579, 4to. 2. “De duplici | methodo libri duo, Rami methodum refutantes,” 1580, 8vo. 3. “De arte natandi, libri duo,1587. 4. “A dissuasive from taking away the goods and livings of the church,” 4to. His son, the subject of this article, was educated with great care, but unfortunately under the tuition of some popish priests, who gave him those impressions which his father, if he had lived, might probably have prevented; but he died when his son was only eleven years of age. He was introduced very early to the court of queen Elizabeth, where he was much noticed, and received several marks of her majesty’s favour. On the accession of king James, he went likewise to pay his duty, as others of his religion did; was very graciously received; and had the honour of knighthood conferred upon him, being looked on as a man of a fair fortune, pregnant abilities, and a court-like behaviour. He married Mary, daughter and sole heiress of William Mulsho, esq. of Gothurst, in Buckinghamshire, with whom he had a great fortune, which, with his own estate, was settled upon the children of that marriage. One would have imagined that, considering his mild temper and happy situation in the world, this gentleman might have spent his days in honour and peace, without running the smallest hazard of meeting that disgraceful death, which has introduced his name into all our histories: but it happened far otherwise. He was drawn in by the artifices and persuasions of sir Thomas Tresham, a zealous papist, and probably also by those of the notorious Catesby, with whom he was intimate, to be privy to the gunpowder-plot; and though he was not a principal actor in this dreadful affair, or indeed an actor at all, yet he offered 1500l. towards defraying the expences of it; entertained Guy Fawkes, who was to have executed it, in his house; and was taken in open rebellion with other papists after the plot was detected and miscarried. The means by which sir Everard was persuaded to engage in this affair, according to his own account, were these: first, he was told that king James had broke his promises to the catholics; secondly, that severer laws against popery would be made in the next parliament, that husbands would be made obnoxious for their wives’ otte/iees and that it would be made a praemunire only to be a catholic; but the main point was, thirdly, that the restoring of the catholic religion was the duty of every member and that, | in consideration of this, he was not to regard any favonjr* received from the crown, the tranquillity of his country, or the hazards that might be run in respect to his life, his family, or his fortune. Upon his commitment to the Tower, he persisted steadily in maintaining his own innocence as to the powder-plot, and refused to discover any who were concerned in it; but when he was brought to his trial at Westminster, Jan. 27, 1606, and indicted for being acquainted with and concealing the powder-treason, taking the double oath of secrecy and constancy, and acting openly with other traitors in rebellion, he pleaded guilty. After this, he endeavoured to extenuate his offence, by explaining the motives before mentioned; and then requested that, as he had been alone in the crime, he might alone bear the punishment, without extending it to his family; and that his debts might be paid, and himself beheaded. When sentence of death was passed, he seemed to be very much affected: for, making a low bow to those on the bench, he said, “If I could hear any of your lordships say you forgave me, I should go the more cheerfully to the gallows.” To this all the lords answered, “God forgive you, and we do.” He was, with other conspirators, upon the 30th of the same month, hanged, drawn, and quartered at the west end of St. Paul’s church in London, where he asked forgiveness of God, the king, the queen, the prince, and all the parliament; and protested, that if he had known this act at first to have been so foul a treason, he would not have concealed it to have gained a world, requiring the people to witness, that he died penitent and sorrowful for it. Wood mentions a most extraordinary circumstance at his death, as a thing generally Itnown, or rather generally reported; namely, that when the executioner plucked out his heart, and according to form held it up, saying, “Here is the heart of a traitor,” sir Everard made answer, “Thou lyest;” a story which will scarcely now obtain belief; yet it is told by Bacon in his “Historia vitae et mortis,” although he does not mention sir Everard’s name.

Sir Everard left at his death two young sons, afterward* sir Kenelm and sir John Digby, and expressed his affection towards them by a well-written and pathetic paper, which he desired might be communicated to them at a fit time, *i> the last advice of their father. While he was in the | Tower, he wrote, in juice of lemon, or otherwise, upon slips of paper, as opportunity offered; and got these conveyed to his lady, by such as had permission to see him. These notes, or advertisements, were preserved by the family as precious relics till, in 1675, they were found at the house of Charles Cornwallis, esq. executor to sir Kenelm Digby, by sir Rice Rudd, bart. and William Wogan of Gray’s-inn, esq. They were afterwards annexed to the proceedings against the traitors, and other pieces relating to the popish plot, printed by the orders of secretary Coventry, dated Dec. 12, 1678. In the first of these papers there is the following paragraph “Now for my intention, let me tell you, that if I had thought there had been the least sin in the plot, I would not have been of it for all the world; and no other cause drew me to hazard my fortune and life, but zeal to God’s religion.” Such was the subjugation of sir Everard Digby’ s understanding and feelings to his religious principles, and the interest of the church to which he was devoted, that he had no conception of there being the least sin in his engaging in a conspiracy of the most execrable nature, and which involved in it an astonishing complication of murder. It appears, too, that he was surprised and grieved to the last degree, that the plot should be condemned by any catholic. Nor was he singular in these sentiments. The other persons who were concerned in the conspiracy gloried in the design, and they were most of them men of family, estate, and character. Mr. Hume’s observations on the subject are worthy of being recited: “Neither,” says he, “had the desperate fortune of the conspirators urged them to this enterprize, nor had the former profligacy of their lives prepared them for so great a crime. Before that audacious attempt, their conduct seems, in general, liable to no reproach. Catesby’s character had entitled him to such regard, that Rookwood and Digby were seduced by their implicit trust in his judgment; and they declared, that, from the motive alone of friendship to him, they were ready, on any occasion, to have sacrificed their lives. Digby himself was as highly esteemed and beloved as any man in England; and he had been particularly honoured with the good opinion of queen Elizabeth. It was bigoted zeal alone, the most absurd of prejudices masqued with reason, the most criminal of passions covered with the | appearance of duty, which seduced them into measures that were fatal to themselves, and had so nearly proved fatal to their country.1


Biog. Brit. Dodd’s Church History, vol. II.