- Museum number
- Object: The powder treason ... founded in hell, confounded in heaven
Emblematic depiction of the defeat of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605. At the top, is the title (see Inscription), beneath which is the irradiated eye of God. An angel on either side supports a cloth decorated with stars suspended from 'The Helmet of Salvation' which acts as the crest of a coat of arms consisting of the symbol of the Trinity with the attributes of the Evangelists as supporters. This rests on the roof (which has human heads displayed on spikes on either side of the ridge) of an open-sided pavilion in which hangs a picture or tapestry showing the House of Lords presided over by James I. The lower register of the pavilion has three openings showing vaults packed with barrels of gunpowder; in the left-hand opening stands Guy Fawkes prepared to light a fuse. At the bottom is a lunette with the mouth of hell in which devils are labelled 'Ignations conclave'; around them is an arc in which are half-length representations of the conspirators, each named, and, in the centre, a portrait of Henry Garnett in an oval; on the left is a view of the conspirators taking communion and, on the right, their execution. c.1621/3
Engraving printed from two plates (with separate strips along top and bottom)
- Production date
Height: 635 millimetres
Width: 385 millimetres (overall)
- Curator's comments
- (Text from Antony Griffiths, "The Print in Stuart Britain", BM 1998, cat.96)
The lettering "Richard Smith excogitavit" must mean that Smith thought up the composition in words, leaving Droeshout to visualise it as a design. But there is no clue as to who Smith was [see supplementary information below]. Droeshout's source for the composition of Parliament was an engraving by Elstrack published in 1610 (Hind II 204.83).
The most likely date for the print is the early 1620s, when it would have formed part of the anti-Catholic propaganda of the time of the Spanish marriage. No representations of the Gunpowder Plot were published in 1605, and the reason that it was dragged up in the 1620s is explained in the dedication to Prince Charles by George Carleton of his "Thankful Remembrance": "For your Highness may be assured that the Adversaries will not change their disposition unlesse either we were reduced to their blindness, or they drawne to embrace the truth with us. I have made this collection that by examples of things past we may better judge of things to come."
The only known impression. The rarity is perhaps to be explained by its exceptional size, which would much reduce the chances of survival.
(Text from Malcolm Jones, www.bpi1700.org.uk, "Print of the Month", October 2007)
... A side-verse seems to refer to other assassination attempts that James has survived thanks to divine protection, including Gowries Treason - which occurred in Scotland in 1600, before he was made King of England - and French bluddy knife, which if a particular attempt on the part of some Frenchman to stab him, might well provide a narrower dating bracket. It is perhaps more probable, however, that it alludes to the assassination of James’s brother king, Henri IV of France, by the monk Ravaillac in 1610 - though, if so, sadly this gets us no further! ... Two small cutaway scenes show Guy Fawkes and the cellars of Parliament filled with kegs of gunpowder. Beneath these and flanked by two further scenes - the plotters being sworn in a Sacrament of secrecie by a priest, and their execution (The reward of Trechery) - are portraits of the twelve conspirators arranged, like a parodic Last Supper, either side of an oval portrait of "Henry Garnet Archprest princeps proditoru[m]". The plotters are labelled "The Popes salt peeter Saints or the true pictures, of false Trators, having faces seemly, personages Comly, but there lives heathnish, practiss develish, ther deeds damnable, there ends miserable". These words were, in fact, taken from the closing lines of a set of broadsides entitled "Princeps Proditorum: The popes Darling: or, a guide to his twelve Apostles, only the first of which is extant [1886,0410.1]" ... At the bottom of the present Powder Treason print, beneath the plotters, who are disposed in an arc with Garnet at its apex, is a hell-mouth - portrayed in the medieval fashion as the mouth of a gaping beast - in which a devil brandishes what is probably intended for that same alleged advance papal pardon, rather in the manner of a letter of introduction, before the resident fiends, the plotters behind him being labelled "Ignations conclave", that is, a conclave of Jesuits, or Ignatians, followers of Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556), founder of the Society of Jesus (it is doubtless mere co-incidence that Donne's "Ignatius His Conclave", a scurrilous anti-Jesuit polemic, appeared in 1611). Suggestively, in a letter to Tobie Matthew of 1607/8, Francis Bacon referred, in passing, to "this last Powder Treason; fit to be tabled and pictured in the chambers of meditation, as another hell above the ground."
William Shiels has suggested (oral communication, 14 May 2008) that the author of "The Powder Treason" might have been Richard Smith (1567-1655), Bishop of Chalcedon and vicar apostolic of the English catholic church. Smith was in England from 1602-09 and thus witnessed the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot. He was a prominent member of the "apellant" secular clergy who resented the increasing role of the Jesuits in the English mission and who had appealed to the pope in the 1590s for restoration of a catholic hierarchy. Resentment had increased when, in 1598, instead of a bishop, the first of three archpriests was appointed with instructions to refer for advice on important matters to the Jesuit superior in England (i.e. Garnett, who was never actually archpriest as the lettering on the print suggests). Smith was in Rome from 1609-10 where he clashed with Robert Persons, Jesuit rector of the English College, who said of him: "I never dealt with any man in my life more heady and resolute in his opinions". In 1625 Smith was appointed as the second vicar apostolic of the English catholic church and Bishop of Chalcedon. He arrived in England in April 1625 and once again became embroiled in conflict with the regular clergy, both Benedictine and Jesuit. He was suspended by Rome in 1628 and threatened with arrest by the English government; he took refuge in the French embassy before returning to France in 1631.
Persons's assessment of Smith's character and Smith's life-long resentment of Jesuit influence on the Roman hierarchy suggest that he might have held the views expressed in the print. It is not unlikely that he would have described a "swarme of Jesuited locusts" or chosen to praise James I (he is thought to have considered taking the oath of allegiance to the crown), but questions remain over whether he would have gone so far as to blame the Plot on "Papists" (top of sheet) or describe the plotters as (on the left) "Romish". It should also be noted that James is described in the present tense and so, if Smith was responsible for the print's design, it must date from before his return to England in the month following the king's death.
June Schlueter in 'Print Quarterly' XXVII 2010, pp.143-7 has published her suggestion that Richard Smith was Richard Schilders, chief printer to the States of Zeeland 1583-1618, and who had earlier worked in London 1567-79.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1998 BM, 'The Print in Stuart Britain, cat.96
2000 Jan-Mar, Ipswich, Christchurch Mansion, Printmaking in Stuart Britain
2000 May-Jul, Bristol, City Mus and AG, Printmaking in Stuart Britain
2000 Oct-Dec, Lancaster, Peter Scott Gallery, Printmaking in Stuart Britain
2000/1 Dec-Feb, Banff, Duff House, Printmaking in Stuart Britain
2001 Feb-May, Cardiff, National Mus, Printmaking in Stuart Britain
2005 Sep-Dec, London, NPG, Gunpowder, Treason and Plot
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Previously sold from the Stowe Granger, Sotheby's 5 March 1849, lot 453, to Graves for £12 12s.
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number