Bye Plot

Bye Plot

Ask a question about 'Bye Plot'
Start a new discussion about 'Bye Plot'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
The Bye Plot was a conspiracy by a Roman Catholic priest, William Watson
William Watson (priest)
William Watson , English Roman Catholic priest and conspirator, executed for treason.-Life:In 1586 he became a Roman Catholic priest in France, and during the concluding years of Elizabeth's reign he paid several visits to England; he was imprisoned and tortured more than once...

, to kidnap James I of England
James I of England
James VI and I was King of Scots as James VI from 24 July 1567 and King of England and Ireland as James I from the union of the English and Scottish crowns on 24 March 1603...

 and to force him to repeal anti-Catholic legislation.


Elizabeth I of England
Elizabeth I of England
Elizabeth I was queen regnant of England and Ireland from 17 November 1558 until her death. Sometimes called The Virgin Queen, Gloriana, or Good Queen Bess, Elizabeth was the fifth and last monarch of the Tudor dynasty...

 died at the end of March 1603, and James VI of Scotland claimed the English throne, with effectively no overt opposition. The religious situation in England and Wales included a substantial minority of Catholic believers, called recusants and subject to fines if they did not attend Church of England
Church of England
The Church of England is the officially established Christian church in England and the Mother Church of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The church considers itself within the tradition of Western Christianity and dates its formal establishment principally to the mission to England by St...

 services, under a system of penal law
Penal law
In the most general sense, penal is the body of laws that are enforced by the State in its own name and impose penalties for their violation, as opposed to civil law that seeks to redress private wrongs...

s. The Anglo-Spanish War had been continuing for nearly two decades, with fighting at sea, in the Netherlands
The Netherlands is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, located mainly in North-West Europe and with several islands in the Caribbean. Mainland Netherlands borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east, and shares maritime borders...

 and in Ireland
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...


English Catholics widely protested loyalty to the Crown, and wished the legal constraints on their worship relaxed. They were ministered to by priests, both of the Society of Jesus
Society of Jesus
The Society of Jesus is a Catholic male religious order that follows the teachings of the Catholic Church. The members are called Jesuits, and are also known colloquially as "God's Army" and as "The Company," these being references to founder Ignatius of Loyola's military background and a...

 and other religious order
Religious order
A religious order is a lineage of communities and organizations of people who live in some way set apart from society in accordance with their specific religious devotion, usually characterized by the principles of its founder's religious practice. The order is composed of initiates and, in some...

s active in England as a mission, and seminary priest
Seminary priest
Seminary priests were Roman Catholic priests who were trained in English seminaries or houses of study on the European Continent after the introduction of laws forbidding Roman Catholicism in Britain. Such Seminaries included that at Douay, from 1568, and others at Rome from 1579, Valladolid from...

s and others not in religious orders (secular priests). The legal position of these priests was, in practice, very unclear.

Divisions among English Catholics

A divisive quarrel and pamphlet war among English Catholics, the Archpriest Controversy, had in 1603 been contentious for about five years. The resulting alignment of Catholic priests had a great deal to do with making the plots of 1603 impractical, and also made one side of the argument receptive to the idea of informing the London government.

William Watson took the "appellant" side in the Archpriest Controversy, hostile to George Blackwell
George Blackwell
Father George Blackwell was Roman Catholic Archpriest of England from 1597 to 1608.-Biography:Blackwell was born in Middlesex, England about 1545, perhaps the son of the pewterer Thomas Blackwell. He was admitted as a scholar to Trinity College, Oxford on 27 May 1562...

 who had been appointed by the Vatican
Vatican may refer to:*Holy See, the central governing body of the Catholic Church and sovereign entity recognized by international law, consisting of the Pope and the Roman Curia...

. Useful to the English government and church for his polemics, Watson was under the protection of Richard Bancroft
Richard Bancroft
Archbishop Richard Bancroft, DD, BD, MA, BA was an English churchman, who became Archbishop of Canterbury and the "chief overseer" of the production of the authorized version of the Bible.-Life:...

, then bishop of London
Bishop of London
The Bishop of London is the ordinary of the Church of England Diocese of London in the Province of Canterbury.The diocese covers 458 km² of 17 boroughs of Greater London north of the River Thames and a small part of the County of Surrey...

. In September 1601, Watson was resident at Fulham Palace
Fulham Palace
Fulham Palace in Fulham, London , England, at one time the main residence of the Bishop of London, is of medieval origin. It was the country home of the Bishops of London from at least 11th century until 1975, when it was vacated...

. In 1602 he was confined in The Clink
The Clink
The Clink was a notorious prison in Southwark, England which functioned from the 12th century until 1780 either deriving its name from, or bestowing it on, the local manor, the Clink Liberty . The manor and prison were owned by the Bishop of Winchester and situated next to his residence at...

, but kept in close touch with Bancroft.

The plot was initially exposed by the archpriest Blackwell and two Jesuits, John Gerard and Henry Garnet
Henry Garnet
Henry Garnet , sometimes Henry Garnett, was a Jesuit priest executed for his complicity in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. Born in Derbyshire, he was educated in Nottingham and later at Winchester College, before moving to London in 1571 to work for a publisher...

, who were on the other side of the dispute. These three (by independent routes) passed on information they had relating to the conspiracy. They had other reasons besides the ongoing controversy: they feared retribution against Catholics if the plan failed; and entertained suspicions regarding the political motivations of the secular priests.

The plotters

The plot is known also as Watson's Plot, the Catholic Plot, or the Surprising Treason. Another name is "Treason of the Priests". Those involved were not in fact exclusively Catholic priests: Thomas Grey, 15th Baron Grey de Wilton
Thomas Grey, 15th Baron Grey de Wilton
Thomas Grey, 15th and last Baron Grey of Wilton was an English aristocrat, soldier and conspirator. He was convicted of involvement in the Bye Plot against James I of England.-Early life:...

 was a Puritan
The Puritans were a significant grouping of English Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries. Puritanism in this sense was founded by some Marian exiles from the clergy shortly after the accession of Elizabeth I of England in 1558, as an activist movement within the Church of England...

 layman who became drawn in, though the plot never went further than far-fetched discussion. Another lay conspirator was Sir Griffin Markham.

Their motivations were varied, while they may have had in common a wish for religious toleration
Religious toleration
Toleration is "the practice of deliberately allowing or permitting a thing of which one disapproves. One can meaningfully speak of tolerating, ie of allowing or permitting, only if one is in a position to disallow”. It has also been defined as "to bear or endure" or "to nourish, sustain or preserve"...

. Watson wished to have no more fines for recusancy levied. Another plank in the platform of the Bye Plot was the removal of certain ministers of the king. To the extent that these matters can be clarified, the Main Plot
Main Plot
The Main Plot was an alleged conspiracy of July 1603 by English courtiers, to remove King James I from the English throne, replacing him with his cousin Arabella Stuart. The plot was supposedly led by Henry Brooke, Lord Cobham, and funded by Spain...

 that had been laid in parallel wished also for regime change, with James replaced on the throne by Arabella Stuart.

Events of 1603

King James moved south at a leisurely pace, having reached Theobalds House
Theobalds House
Theobalds House , located in Theobalds Park, just outside Cheshunt in the English county of Hertfordshire, was a prominent stately home and royal palace of the 16th and early 17th centuries.- Early history :...

 in Hertfordshire
Hertfordshire is a ceremonial and non-metropolitan county in the East region of England. The county town is Hertford.The county is one of the Home Counties and lies inland, bordered by Greater London , Buckinghamshire , Bedfordshire , Cambridgeshire and...

 on 3 May. The scheme, such as it was, depended on Markham's view in May that there was a "Scottish precedent" for seizing the person of the king for political advantage. It was in late May or early June (on Gerard's own account) that someone (probably Markham) tried to recruit the Jesuit John Gerard. Gerard's reaction was negative, and he wrote to Henry Garnet and George Blackwell asking them to put a spoke in the wheels of the plot.


The date set by Watson for the plot to be carried out was 24 June. This was St John Baptist's Day, and a collar day
Collar Day
Collar days are designated days on which the collar forming part of the insignia of certain members of orders of knighthood may be worn. Collars are special large and elaborate metal chains worn over the shoulders, hanging equally in front and back, often tied with a bow at the shoulders, with a...

; in the planning of the plot its significance was that courtiers would be at court and regaled ceremonially.

As the date and midsummer
Midsummer may simply refer to the period of time centered upon the summer solstice, but more often refers to specific European celebrations that accompany the actual solstice, or that take place on a day between June 21 and June 24, and the preceding evening. The exact dates vary between different...

 approached, Gerard had contacted a Scottish courtier asking that he make the king aware, while also Blackwell, the official head of the English Catholic secular clergy operating from hiding, took roundabout steps. Blackwell's communication outran Gerard's.

Blackwell revealed something of the plot to the government through an intermediary, the recusant John Gage, who had married Margaret, the daughter of Sir Thomas Copley
Sir Thomas Copley
Sir Thomas Copley was a prominent English Roman Catholic politician and exile of the reign of Elizabeth I. Knighted, perhaps by the king of France, and created ennobled by Philip II of Spain, he was often known by contemporaries as "Lord Copley"....

. When Gage wrote to Sir Robert Cecil, on 28 June, Cecil was already aware of plotting. The Catholic returned exile and conspirator Anthony Copley
Anthony Copley
Anthony Copley was an English Catholic poet and conspirator. He reproached the Jesuits and their meditations on martyrdom, and loyally praised Queen Elizabeth...

 had also written to Blackwell about the Bye Plot; he was Sir Thomas Copley's son and therefore Gage's brother-in-law. Blackwell had written to Gage; Cecil assumed there was something more behind these exchanges, so that he asked Gage to produce Blackwell before the Council. It has been suggested that Copley consciously played the double agent.

In the event, Lord Grey withdrew ahead of the day, and the plotters scattered.


A significant arrest was of Sir George Brooke
George Brooke (conspirator)
The Rev. Sir George Brooke was an English aristocrat, executed for his part in two plots against the government of King James I.-Origins and education:...

 who was in the Tower of London
Tower of London
Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress, more commonly known as the Tower of London, is a historic castle on the north bank of the River Thames in central London, England. It lies within the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, separated from the eastern edge of the City of London by the open space...

 in July. Markham and Brooke wanted to supplant current members of the Privy Council. Henry Brooke, 11th Baron Cobham
Henry Brooke, 11th Baron Cobham
Henry Brooke, 11th Baron Cobham was an English peer who was implicated in the Main Plot against the rule of James I of England.- Life :...

 was his brother, and a conspirator in the more serious "Main Plot". Sir George was arraigned on 15 July, and in his eagerness to clear himself, made confessions that clarified to the investigators that two separate groups of plotters had been active. On 16 July a proclamation was issued for Watson's arrest. Bancroft at around this time had good reason to distance himself from Watson, and claimed he had not seen him since before the queen died.

King James's coronation went ahead on 25 July, his name day
Name day
A name day is a tradition in many countries in Europe and Latin America that consists of celebrating the day of the year associated with one's given name....

 (for James the Greater), as planned. His ceremonial entry into London, however, was postponed until March 1604, for reasons including the plague
Bubonic plague
Plague is a deadly infectious disease that is caused by the enterobacteria Yersinia pestis, named after the French-Swiss bacteriologist Alexandre Yersin. Primarily carried by rodents and spread to humans via fleas, the disease is notorious throughout history, due to the unrivaled scale of death...

; at this time Westminster
Westminster is an area of central London, within the City of Westminster, England. It lies on the north bank of the River Thames, southwest of the City of London and southwest of Charing Cross...

 did not form part of London.


Watson was arrested around 5 August in a field by the River Wye
River Wye
The River Wye is the fifth-longest river in the UK and for parts of its length forms part of the border between England and Wales. It is important for nature conservation and recreation.-Description:...

 near Hay-on-Wye
Hay-on-Wye , often described as "the town of books", is a small market town and community in Powys, Wales.-Location:The town lies on the east bank of the River Wye and is within the Brecon Beacons National Park, just north of the Black Mountains...

, on the border of England and Wales. He made a confession about the plot, dated 10 August. William Clark
William Clark (priest)
William Clark was an English Roman Catholic priest and conspirator.. He is remembered for his involvement in a plan to kidnap King James I of England, made together with another Catholic priest William Watson in the Bye Plot. He was executed at Winchester on 29 November 1603.-Life:He received his...

, another priest who had been an active organiser, was arrested in Worcester
The City of Worcester, commonly known as Worcester, , is a city and county town of Worcestershire in the West Midlands of England. Worcester is situated some southwest of Birmingham and north of Gloucester, and has an approximate population of 94,000 people. The River Severn runs through the...

 on 13 August.


Further details of the Bye Plot were revealed by the Catholic priest Francis Barnaby, in prison. He was another appellant contact of Bancroft, who communicated for him with Christopher Bagshaw
Christopher Bagshaw
Christopher Bagshaw was an English academic and Roman Catholic priest.-Life:He came from a Derbyshire family. He graduated B.A. on 12 July 1572, at Balliol College, Oxford, and in the same year was elected probationer fellow of his college. Before going to Oxford he matriculated in 1566 at St...

, and had worked with the plotter William Clark against English Jesuits.

The Court had moved to Wilton House
Wilton House
Wilton House is an English country house situated at Wilton near Salisbury in Wiltshire. It has been the country seat of the Earls of Pembroke for over 400 years....

, near Salisbury
Salisbury is a cathedral city in Wiltshire, England and the only city in the county. It is the second largest settlement in the county...

 in Wiltshire
Wiltshire is a ceremonial county in South West England. It is landlocked and borders the counties of Dorset, Somerset, Hampshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire. It contains the unitary authority of Swindon and covers...

. There it was decided that trials could conveniently be held at the bishop's palace in Winchester
Winchester is a historic cathedral city and former capital city of England. It is the county town of Hampshire, in South East England. The city lies at the heart of the wider City of Winchester, a local government district, and is located at the western end of the South Downs, along the course of...

, not very far away. These trials took place November 15–18. John Lingard
John Lingard
Dr. John Lingard was an English Catholic priest, born in St Thomas Street in Central Winchester to recusant parents and the author of The History Of England, From the First Invasion by the Romans to the Accession of Henry VIII, an 8-volume work published in 1819...

 in his History of England attributed the delay to the continued presence in the country of Charles de Ligne, 2nd Prince of Arenberg
Charles de Ligne, 2nd Prince of Arenberg
Princely Count Charles of Arenberg, duke of Aarschot , baron of Zevenbergen, knight of the Order of the Golden Fleece, was the second Princely Count of Arenberg and a leading aristocrat of the Habsburg Netherlands, who served as a courtier, soldier, minister and diplomat.-Background and early...

; Arenburg was there to represent the Spanish Netherlands at James's coronation, and the alleged contacts of the Main Plot with him were potentially embarrassing.

On the 15th the two Catholic priests involved, Sir George Brooke and Sir Griffin Markham, and others, were tried. On the 17th Sir Walter Raleigh was tried, and the prosecution managed to make a case that he had been involved in the Bye Plot. Lord Grey as a baron was tried and found guilty by 31 peers, on November 18, with Lord Cobham who was implicated in the Main Plot.

Guilty verdicts on the conspirators were reached; the only acquittal on a high treason
High treason
High treason is criminal disloyalty to one's government. Participating in a war against one's native country, attempting to overthrow its government, spying on its military, its diplomats, or its secret services for a hostile and foreign power, or attempting to kill its head of state are perhaps...

 charge among the Bye Plot defendants was Sir Edward Parham. Sir Edward Coke's prosecution case for Raleigh's involvement in the Bye Plot was tenuous and rhetorical, heavy on personal abuse, but Raleigh's role on the periphery of the Main Plot left him with much to explain.

The two priests, Watson and Clark, were executed for their parts in the scheme, on 29 November.


The lay conspirator George Brooke was executed on 5 December. On 10 December Lord Grey with Markham was taken to the scaffold, pardoned, and spent the rest of his life in the Tower of London
Tower of London
Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress, more commonly known as the Tower of London, is a historic castle on the north bank of the River Thames in central London, England. It lies within the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, separated from the eastern edge of the City of London by the open space...

; Dudley Carleton who witnessed the proceedings, involving also Lord Cobham, took it to be a well-scripted drama of the king's mercy. In particular, Carleton concluded, it was staged for the benefit of Raleigh, who had been caught up in the Bye Plot charges.


By an edict of 22 February 1604, King James ordered all Roman Catholic clergy ("Jesuits, Seminaries and other Priests") to leave his kingdom by 19 March. This edict had been drafted in July 1603 on the discovery of the plots.

Anthony Copley was condemned to death; but he was pardoned on 18 August 1604, having made a full confession on the history of the plot.