John Gerard

John Gerard, the son of Sir Thomas Gerard, was born in New Bryn on 4th October, 1564. At the age of thirteen he entered the Douai Seminary. Later he spent time at Oxford University and the Jesuits' College in Paris.

Gerard returned to England but in March, 1584, he was arrested and was imprisoned for two years as a Roman Catholic. On his release in 1586 Gerard moved to Italy and worked for the Pope.

Following the defeat of the Spanish Armada a large number of Roman Catholics were murdered by Protestant mobs. Over a two day period fifteen priests were killed in London. When he heard the news Gerard bravely volunteered to go to England to work as a Catholic missionary.

Gerard secretly lived with Catholic families until being arrested in July 1594. He was sent to the Tower of London where he was tortured. He remained a captive until he was rescued by friends in 1597. He returned to his missionary work and in 1599 converted Everard Digby to the Catholic religion. Digby introduced him to several of his friends, including Robert Catesby, Guy Fawkes, Thomas Percy, John Wright, Thomas Wintour, and others involved in the Gunpowder Plot.

After the failure of the conspiracy to overthrow James I, Gerard escaped to Europe. In exile Gerard wrote A Narrative of the Gunpowder Plot and his autobiography, Narrative of John Gerard.

John Gerard died on 27th July, 1637.

Primary Sources

(1) John Gerard, Narrative of John Gerard (c. 1607)

We went to the torture room in a kind of solemn procession, the attendants walking ahead with lighted candles.

The chamber was underground and dark, particularly near the entrance. It was a vast place and every device and instrument of human torture was there. They pointed out some of them to me and said that I would try them all. Then they asked me again whether I would confess.

'I cannot,' I said.

I fell on my knees for a moment's prayer. Then they took me to a big upright pillar, one of the wooden posts which held the roof of this huge underground chamber. Driven in to the top of it were iron staples for supporting heavy weights. Then they put my wrists into iron gauntlets and ordered me to climb two or three wicker steps. My arms were then lifted up and an iron bar was passed through the rings of one gauntlet, then through the staple and rings of the second gauntlet. This done, they fastened the bar with a pin to prevent it slipping, and then, removing the wicker steps one by one from under my feet, they left me hanging by my hands and arms fastened above my head. The tips of my toes, however, still touched the ground, and they had to dig away the earth from under them. They had hung me up from the highest staple in the pillar and could not raise me any higher, without driving in another staple.

Hanging like this I began to pray. The gentlemen standing around asked me whether I was willing to confess now.

'I cannot and I will not,' I answered.

But I could hardly utter the words, such a gripping pain came over me. It was worst in my chest and belly, my hands and arms. All the blood in my body seemed to rush up into my arms and hands and I thought that blood was oozing out from the ends of my fingers and the pores of my skin. But it was only a sensation caused by my flesh swelling above the irons holding them. The pain was so intense that I thought I could not possibly endure it, and added to it, I had an interior temptation. Yet I did not feel any inclination or wish to give them the information they wanted. The Lord saw my weakness with the eyes of His mercy, and did not permit me to be tempted beyond my strength. With the temptation He sent me relief. Seeing my agony and the struggle going on in my mind. He gave me this most merciful thought: the utmost and worst they can do to you is to kill you, and you have often wanted to give your life for your Lord God. The Lord God sees all you are enduring - He can do all things. You are in God's keeping. With these thoughts, God in His infinite goodness and mercy gave me the grace of resignation, and, with a desire to die and a hope (I admit) that I would, I offered Him myself to do with me as He wished. From that moment the conflict in my soul ceased, and even the physical pain seemed much more bearable than before, though I am sure it must, in fact, have been greater with the growing strain and weariness of my body.

When the gentlemen present saw that I was not answering their questions, they went off to the Lieutenant's house, and stayed there. Every now and again they sent to find out how things were going with me.

Three or four robust men remained behind to watch and supervise the torture, and also my warder. He stayed, I think, out of kindness, for every few minutes he took a cloth and wiped the perspiration that ran in drops continuously down my face and whole body. That helped me a little, but he added to my sufferings when he started to talk. He went on and on, begging and imploring me to pity myself and tell the gentlemen what they wanted to know. And he urged so many human reasons for this that I thought that the devil instigated him to feign this affection or that my torturers had left him behind on purpose to trick me. But I felt all these suggestions of the enemy like blows in the distance: they did not seem to touch my soul or affect me in any way. More than once I interrupted him, 'Stop this talk, for heaven's sake. Do you think I'm going to throw my soul away to save my life? You exasperate me.'

But he went on. And several times the others joined in.

'You will be a cripple all your life if you live. And you are going to be tortured every day until you confess.'