Guy Michael Fitzalan


Cecil framed Guido Fawkes -The Trap

The morning of the 8th November 1605, at Holbeche House, in Staffordshire, was peculiar for its lack of birdsong. The occupants had been tending to a man recently blinded and filling the time that they waited for their companions by talking. The eerie silence outside went unnoticed.

“We have no news of Bates and Digby,” Catesby admitted “I was hoping we would meet them here by now. I cannot think of a reason why they have been delayed.”

Catesby stood at six foot tall, so it was his preference to sit amongst friends. He positioned himself at the deal dining table on one of the matching chairs. He had dark hair, a thin face, which was handsome and aquiline, but he looked grave, as if he never smiled or took anything lightly.

Despite his thin frame, he was one of the most dashing and courageous horsemen in the country. He was normally cheerful and brim-full of confidence, even early in the morning. Everyone knew he was concerned. Cecil

The house was cold on that misty morning but the sun had risen and the windows bathed the wainscoting and floorboards in light. He stooped slightly as he moved across the room to join Catesby at the table. Cecil

Normally, he was sprightly even though a decade older than his companion, but due to lack of sleep, he felt a great deal older than forty-two. He wondered how old age would treat him as he leant his hands on the table.

“Well, I do not pretend to understand events. We need to ship more sack from London, do we not?” he declared hesitantly, rubbing his ruddy face, he bowed his head after speaking, looking down at his big feet and short legs. Tiredness and despondency weighed heavily on his shoulders.Cecil

He could not understand what had gone wrong with their venture.Cecil

“We need to discuss our next move with the others,” Catesby warned, his voice was soft; lack of sleep was fraying his nerves, too. “We wait.” “We’d have to arrange the transport of the sack,” Percy argued, stretching his long back as he leant on the tabletop. “We have customers waiting. Time and tide wait for no man.”

“What say you Ambrose? We made good time to get here, but the others might not be as quick off the mark; there’s no harm in waiting a few hours that’s the truth, what do you think?” he asked, turning to Rookwood who was tending poor blinded John Grant.Cecil

“Fire, fire!” screamed Wintour running into the room, holding a copper bucket that he had intended to fill at the well in the courtyard. He was pointing at the outbuilding where the thatch was burning. Terror masked his handsome face. 

“The house will catch!” cried Catesby, sending his chair tumbling backwards as he rose in panic.

“Fill that pail!” Inside, the house there was the sound of breaking glass, followed by rumbling on the boards. Incandescent balls of fire rolled across the floor. The gunpowder spread on the ground sizzled and fizzed as sparks flew off the deadly bombs.  They used the blankets they had slept under to smother the fireballs.

Behind the runners were several members of a pyrotechnic troop who had set fire to strips of clothing coated in tar, which they, in turn, tossed through the broken windows. The same happened at the front of the house. These rags smouldered, releasing thick smoke, and sparking the gunpowder making it crack like gunfire.Cecil

Wintour, and the two Wright brothers, panicking wildly as they fled the infernos. As far as they were concerned, the house was, now, well and truly on fire. They carried copper coal buckets wanting to collect water from the well behind the house.

They fully intended to put the fire out.

A furious fusillade of musket balls greeted the fugitives who had gone to fetch water. Thomas Wintour, who had dashed into the courtyard to fetch water in his pail. 

At one moment, he was running towards the well, the next he threw the copper bucket down. As in a fit of temper, clasped his right shoulder. Wintour watched blood ooze into the linen cloth of his Belgian chemise. Looking up at the cause of his pain.

Wintour saw a mass of men, some standing behind whiffs of smoke coming from the musket barrels. He tried to warn the others who were following with the same idea of extinguishing the fire.Cecil

The next shot struck the elder Wright, John, and after him the younger Wright, Kit, then, fourthly, a bullet found Ambrose Rookwood’s head, sending him spiralling to the ground. Thomas Wintour, John Wright, Christopher Wright, and Ambrose Rookwood, had all been shot. As a result, several more shots resounded around the courtyard. Some struck their target others ricocheted off walls or struck the bricks and mortar.  

The Wright brothers had taken the brunt of the blasts and were moaning as they rolled around on the ground in agony.

John managed to stagger to his feet. As a result, he was not able to realize where he was hit or even by how many times.

Wintour reeled backwards at first. Although wounded, he managed to make it to the house, cowering in the scullery. Then the smoke was too dense for him to enter the main residence, gritting his teeth with frustration. He could not understand what was going on. 

John Wright, who had managed to scramble to his feet and stay upright, despite the pain, stepped backwards, clutching his stomach, where the wound oozed blood. He shuffled back to the wall and slid down it, determined not to pass out.

Meanwhile, his younger brother had stopped moaning and writhing, he lay motionless. Groaning in pain, John sat against the wall, staring at his dead brother.Cecil

Ambrose Rookwood tried to scramble back to the house but his short legs gave way under him. He was bleeding profusely from two wounds, one to his head, and one to his right hand. “Dear Kit, my little brother, Christopher,” John mumbled before becoming unconscious.Cecil

Ambrose was twenty-seven, Kit was thirty-five, John was thirty-seven, they were in their prime.

Before the blast – ii

It was the twilight before the dawn. Vaguely visible were the dark shapes of the rolling hills where wisps of ghostly mist snaked through the hoar frost. A gentle breeze full of icy air ruffled the bare branches of the copses lying scattered across the landscape.

The building consisted of a central block of three bays, with two storeys. An attic with windows, and projecting side wings with Dutch Gables at each end.Cecil

The first floor and attic provided an ideal area to set up a deadly arc of fire. It was a handsome house with wainscoting and wood panelling inside, built in the new style, the talk of the Staffordshire countryside.

Hidden from view by the stark branches of a clump of trees in the copse, overlooking the courtyard at the back of the house, stood a man wrapped in a biscuit brown wool cape. Striding stealthily towards him was another man, one hand on the hilt of his sword and the other holding the black knot that secured his crow-black cape.

The figure crept carefully, on tip-toe, over the dewy grass, as he approached the bare branches, it was as if he were avoiding serpents on the ground. He was a man of soldierly bearing, wrapped in a thick, hooded cloak, looking like death but for the absence of scythe.

The man waiting by the tree turned and spoke first. Cecil 

“Sir Richard Walsh, High Sheriff of Worcestershire, you come readily on the hour.” whispered Griffin Markham jovially, turning from his excellent vantage point of the fugitive’s house. He smiled as if their laying in ambush was all just a game.


Both men were tall and broad, fighting men, of equal stature and equal status. Even if Griffin Markham had fought at the siege of Rouen with the Earl of Essex and commanded the Connaught Horse in Ireland whereas Walsh commanded the local militia. Cecil

“Why if it isn’t Sir Markham Griffin, you are a long way from Sherwood Forest, are you not?

Walsh spoke softly but he could not hide the shock in his voice. l

Walsh had met Markham at Derby when King James was making his procession through the kingdom as part of his coronation celebrations, riding through major towns on his way to London. He admired the man rumoured to be the finest swordsman in all of England.

Markham, in turn, liked Walsh’s easy manner and admired his organisation; he had assembled a militia that would ensure no one survived the ambush that they were about to mount.

Pulling the hood off his head and letting it fall to his shoulders, the sheriff removed his right glove, black like his cloak, to shake Markham’s hand. Cecil

The other knight shot a hand from under his dark beige cloak and did like wise. Their eyes locked briefly, both gave a firm, hard handshake, the sheriff serious, Markham still smiling slightly. Both men noticed how warm their hands were and how cold the damp air was, they were quick to return their hands to their leather gauntlets.

“I am incognito, you know, on the orders of Lord Salisbury. According to out master Robert Cecil, Secretary of State, I am officially in Flanders, and I have not allowed to return to Nottingham.”

“He mentioned he would be sending someone but I had never dreamt he would send such an illustrious warrior.” The Sherriff replied, stunned by Cecil’s ingenuity; “I thought all the valiants were executed or were in the Tower. It is very good to have you here.” Cecil

“Thank you, Kingswinford is infinitely preferable to fields in Flanders and the Staffordshire hills reminds me of my home in Ollerton. I feel welcome, but, I am here solely to observe the operation and act only should something goes wrong.”

“I know that you have rehearsed well and that you concealed the troops successfully, all to your credit. We shall let Cecil know that you have followed orders to the letter.”

“I thank you for that, the Secretary of State is a hard man to please. We are glad to have you here.”

“I look forward to breaking some bread with you after we have dealt with the business at hand. How many men have you gathered here?”

“More or less two hundred, I should reckon.”

“Two hundred against six, maybe a dozen at most, I like your odds, let’s cry ‘havoc’ and release the dogs of war.”

“As per our plan.”

“Cecil has always said: ‘Let us plan the work and work the plan’. You know how he likes to ensure there is no room for error.”

“The gunpowder was left in the house, we spread it over the floor before they arrived.”

“Excellent, to look like coal dust, as instructed. That should have explosive consequences. Who is there?” Markham pointed needlessly but dramatically in the direction of Holbeche House.

“Six of them definitely. Others have been coming and going, our intelligence says there are ten at most in the house. We have established from various reports that have come in from the south. They include Robert Catesby, the two Wright brothers Christopher and John, Thomas Percy, Ambrose Rookwood and John Grant.”

“Good, they went into the trap we laid, they have been told to gather here!”

“Were these half dozen men once friends of yours? Yet you attend their execution.”

“Some of them were, but now they are traitors condemned to death. My presence here is also a warning; lest I forget to whom I owe my loyalty and life. Cecil convinced King James to spare the Trinity at the Tower and they have gone on to sin again, their punishment is overdue, they escaped execution once, as I did.”

“You supposed to be beheaded?” “Indeed, I was. Do I not appear like a haunted man?”

“I’m a man who values his life, certainly. I have orders to ensure that no one of the main body survives.”

“I’m aware, execute them, now, and save them the humiliation of watching their genitalia burnt in front of them.”

“I agree. A bullet is a better than being hung and drawn. That is indeed a horrible way to suffer, then quartered. It is a sight I have only seen once, the man’s face will stay with me forever. As far as I know, we are doing them a service.”

“As I see it, they were condemned months ago. Only the main culprits are knights, a beheading for them, worse for the others. I for one would prefer a clean kill. How long until we strike?”

“The sun is rising, not long, now, another hour two.”

“Your men are getting ready?”

“They will be so at my signal.”


The Sheriff waved a yellow silk handkerchief.

Three middle-aged Midlands men were chatting quietly, leaning on their matchlock stands, like farmers leaning on their rakes, by their feet were the stocks of the five foot weapons and the barrels they nurtured in the crook of their arms.

At first, they did not see the sign for action but another soldier who was more alert ran up and pointed at the waving material. Following procedure that they practised endlessly in drill, and in battle, against the Spanish The old hands went through the rigmarole of preparing their muskets.

The stock and barrels had to be similarly dry to stop them slipping and causing accidents. As a result, all the marksmen loaded their weapons in the same quick and efficient way. 

Then, almost in unison each marksman dug in his satchel for a lead ball, popped it carelessly into the muzzle of the gun and deftly returned to their bag to retrieve a piece of wool wadding to hold the ball in place.

However, they were dangerous and clumsy to use but deadly in the right hands and that trinity of men were the right hands.  Their position was to be the courtyard at the back of the house.

Still, the siege was repeated thorough the day before the arrival of the fugitives at a similar location. Cecil wanted to eradicate the chance of any mistakes. Cecil’s whole plot to discredit the Catholics, relied on ensuring that Catesby and Percy were killed.

They were nobles and would be able to speak before their execution, as a result they might even have a chance to tell the truth.  Their religious zeal helped them ignore the cold and damp air. They were repaying all Catholics for all their treachery.

In silence, and with vengeance in their minds, the troops moved as quietly as their unwieldy equipment allowed. Already, they knew that they were dealing with Catholic conspirators who had tried to unseat James.

Again, more than likely, the Catholics planned to remove King James and replace him with his cousin Arbella, or like the later Bye Plot; they wanted to kidnap the King and replace him with a Catholic king. There was no surprise amongst the militiamen; after all, they expected nothing but treachery from the Catholics that they, now, besieged. 

Stories of the Armada survived, the telling improved by seventeen years of embellishment.

The Earl of Essex, a friend of these Catholics, had turned on the Queen; Raleigh has been imprisoned; and Jesuits priests were invading from Douai. Trouble came ‘not in single spies but in battalions’.

The troops had been hand picked Puritans or Anglicans who wore their faith practically if not yet zealously. They shared a hatred of Catholics ‘conspirators’ and a common hunger for extra coins, which this adventure would provide.

Inside the house, the occupants were slowly coming around. Stephen Littleton and Thomas Wintour had left temporarily for ‘Pepperhill’, the Shropshire residence of Sir John Talbot, which lay ten miles away to get food. When they returned, the sheriff decided to launch the raid.

A group of thirty-six marksmen marched into the courtyard, taking care to make as little noise as possible, leather soles made only slight sound on cobblestone. 

In the cup of their hand they held the stocks of their muskets, slung over their left shoulders, the flax smoked ominously like some incense on a snaking, flaccid ribbon.

Their leader signalled them to stop and in perfect unison, the troop stopped in a precise manner as if the signal froze their limbs and, as rehearsed with the minimum of rustling and other sounds, they unshouldered their arms.

Afterwards, they adopted the ‘poise’ position, which was holding the musket and its stand in separate hands, left for the musket, right for the stand, keeping gun and fuse as far apart as possible as the flax match was still smouldering in the right hand.

Then, the noise broke out. With much rustling, clicks, and metallic ticks, they joined musket to rest; it was a loud cacophony of sound, echoing off the walls, which surrounded the courtyard.

Still no one came forth from the house or appeared in the windows.  The gunpowder left for the morning raid had somehow picked up a spark from the fire and blown up prematurely. It had blinded John Grant.

The marksmen took forth their matches, those whose flax tapers had extinguished lit theirs from companions in their trios.

They blew off any extra gunpowder that might cause the barrel to explode, put the base of the barrel-rest on the cobbled ground and together they cocked their matchlock, revealing the serpent ‘s’ of the firing pan.
They were ready to kill.

By mid-morning Walsh’s men had surrounded the house. The first part of the plan was to set fire to the thatch of the old outbuilding at the back of the house, drawing the occupants out of the house to extinguish the fire. This ploy had already resulted in one corpse. One mortally wounded, dying slowly, and unconscious, and one, further, rolling around in agony.

The Blast – iii

These runners passed the musketeers and when close enough, threw the bundles through the broken windows at the back of the house, hoping to drive the remaining men through the front door and into a fresh fusillade.

Robert Catesby and Thomas Percy were busily extinguishing the fires burning on the floorboards when the flaming rags hit the floor. The smoke was becoming too much. There were so many small fires and the trail of gunpowder made them crackle and fizz producing more acrid smog.

He did not necessarily want the house totally burnt down unless there was no alternative. Unfortunately, the militiamen had other ideas, smoke and fires were exciting sights; this was a bonfire, a hell on earth for the sinners hiding in the house.

Grant started choking, he could not see the incendiary bombs that had been thrown in through the windows but he heard the thud as they landed, and as each one smouldered, he breathed in more smoke.

The two able bodied men carried the poor man between them, even though they had both been injured by the explosion of the previous evening. According to the plan, Catesby and Percy were considered the main culprits. It was those two that Cecil wanted executed by musket ball.

“Do not fear, there is nothing to worry about, there are soldiers outside. Stand by me, Mister John,” said Catesby, “and we will all surrender together.”

The three men stood close inside the door of the house, poor John rested on Catesby and Percy’s shoulders, one on either side as the blind man’s guide. They ventured outside to surrender.

On sight of their targets, the marksmen took the lighted flax, smouldering in the serpentine lock, lowered the ‘serpent’ down into the pan, allowing it to light the gunpowder. As a result, the flame from the pan entered the barrel of the gun and ignited the gunpowder.

Catesby and Percy, standing side by side, fell, struck by the same lead ball.  Then, the ninth group of musketeers managed to hit the moving target, and that was only because he was stumbling directly towards them.

A lead ball hit Grant in the thigh; another in the lung and the third smashed his collarbone. The lack of air, in his lungs, made him topple over sideways in a faint, and there he lay, listening to the gurgling sound coming from his chest and his last gasps.

The percussion knocked him down and blood from ruptured arteries and veins seeped down his throat choking him to death before he could die from loss of blood.

Catesby, bleeding profusely, managed to crawl back inside the house, and clutched hold of the miniature of his wife, painted by Nicholas Hilliard, in one hand. His other covered the first hole in his neck, he could feel the blood ooze through his fingers and hear the blood dripping on the floorboards from the second wound caused by the bullet passing out of the other side.

He lay on his side, looking at his wife’s beautiful face and waited to die. He prayed for his family and for his soul.
The marksman, John Streete, loudly claimed that it was his shot that had felled two with only one blow. The other two in his trio slapped his back and congratulated him. The other soldiers rushed into the house, the ones at the back capturing Wintour.

 The troops were standing by to extinguish the fire and sweep up the gunpowder from the floor. As a result the operation had been a success.

There were no injuries among the one hundred and ninety eight people involved in the siege and the house was only partially burnt and would be restored easily, which would please its owner.

Markham walked into the hall where Wintour sat on a stool and drawing his sword, he dismissed the guards who had bound poor Wintour.

“Do you intend to run me through, here and now as I sit shackled and defenceless?

“You are the only one left of the main conspirators, there are too many witnesses, the others are dead or dying, and they will not survive.”

“So, you will see me pardoned like you? I can become Cecil’s puppy and betray my friends?” asked Wintour, almost spitting with disgust. “But, what crime have I committed? We merely followed Cecil’s instructions. I knew we should not trust him, I tried to warn everyone. Why should we be condemned and why are you our judge?”

“I have stood on the gallows, you have not. Do not judge me as I do not judge you.”

“My fine sword, ordered and paid for four months ago, though not drawn has been taken from me, please ensure it is returned to me.”

Wintour stared at Markham impassively, Markham looked at Wintour with sympathy.

“The sheriff’s men have already stripped the others of their valuables, their boots and silk stockings, but Thomas, I will ask the sheriff’s assistant to find it for you. How is your shoulder?”

“The wound is but a scratch, the ball merely bruised the skin, the blood has been stemmed by my handkerchief, any worse and I would have been put on the cart with the dying.”

“A dim view!”

“I heard the men talking, that is why I worry about my sword.”

“You have more to worry about than that my old friend. Although, after the shocks you have had, it is better to think on a lost sword. I have my problems too, I have lost Bates and Digby.”

“What will happen to me?”

“You will be taken from here to Worcester and if well enough you will be taken to the Tower of London. Robert, your brother, and Stephen Litteton are still unaccounted for but Guido will confess in time.”

“Guido, for what crime is he held?”

“Surely, that is why you are here.”

“Do not pretend to me that you do not know, you were there when Cecil made the arrangements for us to be here. We are here to move a consignment of sack while Guido guards the consignment in London.”

“He has been seized by the guards at Westminster Palace.”

“And why so seized?”

“He was plotting to blow-up the House of Parliament.” Wintour’s face froze, the enormity of the charges filtered through his confusion.

“With thirty six barrels of sack?”

“A barrel of gunpowder was discovered. The rest of the barrels have been seized by Cecil’s men and taken to the tower.”

“I’d knew he would never pay.”

“I fear it is you who will have to pay.”

“I will see how it plays out, as we all know, we are considered conspirators and we will be tried as traitors. No doubt Cecil will give us our scripts like the witnesses at the trail of the Earl of Essex.”

“There is nothing I can do.”

“And if I do not comply, I will have a sword pushed through my innards?”

“This way you can put your affairs in order and with luck you might end up with Raleigh in the Tower or even working with me, spared execution and forever in Cecil’s debt.”

“What hell would that be?”

“A living hell over an eternity in heaven.”

“I did not fear death until, today.” 

“I would choose life, you are too young to be a martyr and the martyrs have all been created today, you would be a minor addition.”

“Who survives from here?”

“Only Rookwood. I think he would advise you to stand trial, you have been pardoned once before.”

“I think I have used up all my pardons, as you have, too. There is no hope for me but dear Ambrose, where is he?”
“He was almost loaded onto the cart, he was knocked out by a ball grazing his head.  He’d must have put it up to fend off the fusillade. ”

“So it has come to this.”

A story by Michael Fitzalan

Michael Fitzalan’s first novel gained cult status and here are some others: Waterwitch was a hit with those who have ever sailed; two brothers battle storms and Spanish support for the Malvinas in an attempt to meet up with their girlfriends in Ibiza. They have to get from The Algarve to Ibiza, all very straightforward until engine failure and storms threaten to sink all their plans. The Taint Gallery tells the story of a modern Romeo and Juliet; the story is set in Cheslea and Fulham, not Verona, nevertheless, it is a doomed relationship. The book was shunned by big publishers for its highly charged and graphic sexual content and the small publisher who produced the book folded, copies are rare. A reprint is planned for its twentieth anniversary next year; it is still as pertinent and shocking today as it was back in 1996. Switch is an amazing mixture of Franz Kafka realism yet it reads like a Raymond Chandler thriller. Joe Ederer falls for a French girl but he is recovering from being dumped by his English girlfriend. A fish out of water in London, he chases her home only to be rejected. He hooks up with a suffocating drug addict and that is when his nightmares begin. Major Bruton’s Safari is the story of innocents abroad; a family invited to celebrate the coronation of the Kabaka of Buganda become indoctrinated into the ways of Africa. With an acerbic observer on hand, the family experience the warmth and ways of Uganda that help them to understand themselves a little better. IPG – Innocent Proven Guilty is about a teacher, Philip Hayward whose brother sold their shared flat and ran off to America with the proceeds. Philip bumps into his brother’s ex-girlfriend and she tells him his brother is back. Racing to the address she gave him, he arrives to find his brother with a knife in his back. As he leaves, his shoes leave bloody footprints and the police come looking for him. Carom – Finn McHugh and his team take on a swindler and smuggler, Didier, who is depraved in so many ways. They know he is smuggling art and drugs; he must be stopped before others take him out. The Cubans, want him dead, Finn wants to break the smuggling ring. Who will win? Remember the Fifth November – Guy Fawkes was innocent, Catesby was a broken man who brought his children up in the Anglican faith, yet Robert Cecil arranged for them to be portrayed as terrible villains. With a spy service second to none and with moles everywhere how could someone hatch a plot like this and fail to be discovered? The answer, they could not. Read the truth! One – Bullying does not go on anymore in schools. I would not bet on it. Weep as you read the terrible story of a school bully and the misery he dispenses to all the boys. Then, cheer as one of his victims takes revenge. Take a trip to a prep school in a time when kids built tree houses, danced and swung on Tarzan ropes!

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