The execution of Father Garnet
On the morning of the 3rd May 1606 Father Henry Garnet was executed at St Pauls churchyard in London. The Stuart authorities, determined to blame the Jesuit order for the recent gunpowder plot had hunted down the fugitive Priest. Garnet had been condemned to the traitors death of hanging, drawing and quartering following what would today be labelled a show trial. Garnet was dragged from the Tower of London through the streets on a hurdle to his place of execution – a scaffold which had been made higher than usual to allow as many as possible to view the execution.
An act of mercy?
In an act of mercy King James had ordered that he be allowed to hang until dead so as not to suffer the full horror of this form of execution. It was a mercy that was not needed because the crowd surged forward and pulled his legs to hasten his end. Garnets body was quartered as was the custom but when his head was held up to view there were no cheers from a restless and uneasy crowd.
A hidden reference in Macbeth?
There is a suggestion that the following lines from Macbeth refer to Garnets execution, and if so, this helps to date the play to sometime just after the execution. Garnet was famous for his ‘equivocal’ answers to questions put to him – not telling direct lies but obscuring the truth in order to protect others whilst ‘Farmer’ was one of his aliases.
Who’s there, i’ the name of
Here’s a farmer, that hanged himself on the expectation of plenty: come intime;
have napkins enow about you; here you’ll sweat for’t.
knock! Who’s there, in the other devil’s name?
Faith, here’s an equivocator, that could swear in both the scales against either scale;
who committed treason enough for God’s sake,
yet could not equivocate to heaven: O, come in, equivocator.
It may be that the last part of this verse refers to events after Garnets death
knock, knock! Who’s there?
Faith, here’s an English tailor come hither,
for stealing out of a French hose: come in, tailor;
here you may roast your goose.
(Macbeth II, 3)
After the execution a piece of blood stained straw was taken as a relic. It was said that a young Catholic in the crowd took the straw to a Tailor called Hugh Griffin. It was only later, when the blood had dried on the straw that people noticed that the stain looked like a human face. On closer inspection it was thought the face looked like Garnet. As Garnet was now a martyr it was inevitable that the image on the straw was viewed as a miraculous happening.
The authorities were horrified that a man viewed by them as a traitor was being celebrated in this manner. Immediate efforts were made to try and capture the relic and it was suggested that a ‘Popish’ painter had forged the relic. The straw was eventually smuggled out of England and ended up in France where it disappeared forever – some time during the French revolution.
An idealised likeness of the straw can be seen behind Garnets picture at the top of this post, I thought it might be interesting to try and re-create the straw which is the picture you can see at the side of this post.
Mysterious faces in strange places.
Of course – we have no way of knowing exactly what Garnets straw really did look like and a martyrs face on a straw may seem a strange idea. However, this story reminded me of a recently found image. In May 2009 a family in Wales claimed to have seen the face of Jesus on the underside of a lid of marmite. If this sort of thing still happens quite regularly today then it is perhaps no suprise that people from earlier and more traumatic times saw such things too.