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SIR EVERARD DIGBY (1578-1606)

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Originally appearing in Volume V08, Page 261 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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SIR EVERARD DIGBY (1578-1606), English conspirator, son of Everard Digby of Stoke Dry, Rutland, was born on the 16th of May 1578. He inherited a large estate at his father's death in 1592, and acquired a considerable increase by his marriage in 1596 to Mary, daughter and heir of William Mulsho of Gothurst (now Gayhurst), in Buckinghamshire. He obtained a place in Queen Elizabeth's household and as a ward of the crown was brought up a Protestant; but about 1549 he came under the influence of the Jesuit, John Gerard, and soon afterwards joined the Roman Catholics. He supported James's accession and was knighted by the latter on the 23rd of April 1603. In a letter to Salisbury, the date of which has been ascribed to May 1605, Digby offered to go on a mission to the pope to obtain from the latter a promise to prevent Romanist attempts against the government in return for concessions to the Roman Catholics; adding that if severe measures were again taken against them " within brief there will be massacres, rebellions and desperate attempts against the king and state." Digby had suffered no personal injury or persecution on account of his religion, but he sympathized with his co-religionists; and when at Michaelmas, 16o5, the government had fully decided to return to the policy of repression, the authors of the Gunpowder Plot (q.v.) sought his financial support, and he joined eagerly in the conspiracy. His particular share in the plan was the organization of a rising in the Midlands; and on the pretence of a hunting party he assembled a body of gentlemen together at Danchurch in Warwickshire on the 5th of November, who were to take action immediately the news arrived from London of the successful destruction of the king and the House of Lords, and to seize the person of the princess Elizabeth, who was residing in the neighbourhood. The conspirators arrived late on the evening of the 6th to tell their story of failure and disaster, and Digby, who possibly might have escaped the more serious charge of high treason, was persuaded by Catesby, with a false tale that the king and Salisbury were dead, to further implicate himself in the plot and join the small band of conspirators in their hopeless endeavour to raise the country. He accompanied them, the same day, to Huddington in Worcester-shire and on the 7th to Holbeche in Staffordshire. The following morning, however, he abandoned his companions, dismissed his servants except two, who declared " they would never leave him but against their will," and attempted with these to conceal him-self in a pit. He was, however, soon discovered and surrounded. He made a last effort to break through his captors on horseback, but was taken and conveyed a prisoner to the Tower. His trial took place in Westminster Hall, on the 27th of January 1606, and alone among the conspirators he pleaded guilty, declaring that the motives of his crime had been his friendship for Catesby and his devotion to his religion. He was condemned to death, and his execution, which took place on the 31st, in St Paul's Churchyard, was accompanied by all the brutalities exacted by the law. Digby was a handsome man, of fine presence. Father Gerard extols his skill in sport, his " riding of great horses," as well as his skill in music, his gifts of mind and his religious devotion, and concludes " he was as complete a man in all things, that deserved estimation or might win affection as one should see in a kingdom." Some of Digby's letters and papers, which include a poem before his execution, a last letter to his infant sons and correspondence with his wife from the Tower, were published in The Gunpowder Treason by Thomas Barlow, bishop of Lincoln, in 1679. He left two sons, of whom the elder, Sir Kenelm Digby, was the well-known author and diplomatist. See works on the Gunpowder Plot; Narrative of Father Gerard, in Condition of the Catholics under James I. by J. Morris (1872), &c. A life of Digby under the title of A Life of a Conspirator, by a Romish Recusant (Thomas Longueville), was published in 1895. (P. C. Y.)
End of Article: SIR EVERARD DIGBY (1578-1606)
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