Conspiracy of Gunpowder Treason, The

Anon. (<1614?)

Historical Records

License by Sir George Buc (1619)

A license dated 16 July 1619 was issued by Sir George Buc to William Jones, William Selby, and Thomas Wrench to perform four "rare motions" (i.e. puppet shows), including "The Conspiracy of Gunpowder Treason under the Parliament House," for two years.

Licence from Sr Geo Buck Knt, Master of the Revells, 1619
To all Mayors, Sherriffs, Justices of the Peace, Bailliffs, Constables, or any other of his Majesties officers and Loyal Subjects whom it may concerne, and to evy of them George Buck knight one of the gentlemen of the Kings privy chamber and Maister of his Maties Office of the Revells sendith greeting. Know yee that by virtue and power of his Maties Letters patent to mee heretofore granted, and also of his Maties speciall Commission under the great Seale of England unto mee directed as well for dyvers affayres and services in matters of Revells to be done to his Matie. As also for the allowing ordering and authorizing or for the censuring disallowing and suppressing of all Players, Playmakers, or Shewers of strange sights. Togeather with all public Spectacles, Playes, and Shewes whatsoeuer and in all places within the Realm of England, As unto my sayd Office and charge appertaineth, As well within Franchizes and Priviledged places as without—I have by theis p'sents Licensed and authorized William Jones, and William Selby, and Thomas Wrench to sett forthe and to shew certayne rare motions, viz. the Creation of the World, the Conspiracy of Gunpowder Treason under the Parliament House, the Destruction of Sodome and Gomorha, and the Storie of Dives & Lazarus Requiringe you and evy of you in His Maties [sic] to suffer and permitt thaforesayed William Jones William Selby & Thomas Wrenche and one assistant quietly to passe and to shewe their Strange Sights withoute any of your Letts or Molestations, within any of your Libertyes and places of Jurisdiction, Townes Corporate, Citties, or Burrowghs, Wheresoeuer, within the Realm of England, They behauing themselues honestly and according to the Laws of this Realm, And forbearing to make shew on the Sabbathe Day. And Provided, that this License continues in force but the space of to [sic] whole yeare next ensueing the date hereof—Given at his Maties Office of the Revells. under my hand and Seale of Office, the sixteene day of July, and in the seventeene yeare of the raign of our most gratious Sov'ain Lorde James by the grace of Godd, King of greate Brittaine ffrawnce and Ireland defender of the ffaithe &c. Anno Dni 1619
G Buc.
(British Library, Additional MS 24497, ff. 64v-65; qtd. Bawcutt 327-28)

The license survives only in a transcription by the antiquarian Joseph Hunter (1783–1861), although Hunter seems to have had access to the original document, since a description of the wax seal follows his transcription (Wagner 98).

Theatrical Provenance

The puppet show was apparently performed by William Jones, William Selby, Thomas Wrench, and an assistant from 1619 to 1621. If the allusion in Jonson's Bartholomew Fair refers to this show, it had been performed before 1614 and may have been in the repertory of the puppeteer Captain Pod (Wiggins 5:273).

Probable Genre(s)

Puppet show (Wiggins).

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

The show apparently dramatized the abortive Gunpowder Plot of November 1605. That notorious event was described in a host of publications that might have been available to the writers of the "Conspiracy," though if the play was licensed by the Master of the Revels, it presumably reflected the government's interpretation of the events in such publications as the influential "King's Book," His Maiesties Speach in this last Session of Parliament (London, 1605).

References to the Play

Ben Jonson, Bartholomew Fair (1614)

O the Motions, that I Lanthorne Leatherhead haue giuen light to, i' my time, since my Master Pod dyed! Ierusalem was a stately thing; and so was Niniue, and the citty of Norwich, and Sodom and Gomorrah; with the rising o'the prentises; and pulling downe the bawdy houses there, vpon Shroue-Tuesday; but the Gunpowder-plot, there was a get-penny! I haue presented that to an eighteene, or twenty pence audience, nine times in an afternoone. Your home-borne proiects proue euer the best, they are so easie, and familiar, they put too much learning i'their things now o'dayes: and that I feare will be the spoile o'this.
[in margin: "Pod was a Master of motions before him."]
(Jonson sig. K3)

Critical Commentary

Burt argues that "even a puppet show about the Gunpowder Rebellion would probably have been equivocal. On the one hand, like Gunpowder Treason Day, it would have celebrated the defeat of a Catholic insurrection against King James and thus would have affirmed his authority. Yet the anti-Catholicism of Gunpowder Treason Day (or a show about the rebellion), together with other holidays such as Elizabeth's Accession Day, was attractive to Puritans, many of whom opposed James's willingness to compromise with Catholics in England and on the Continent" (187-88n11).

Barasch states that the "Gunpowder" show alluded to by Jonson was "probably staged patriotically with fireworks and a burning effigy of Guy Fawkes" (171).

Wiggins, based on the apparent reference in Bartholomew Fair, argues that the present show "was probably part of the repertory of the puppeteer Captain Pod, and may have been an especially popular item" (5:273). Wiggins therefore provides date limits of 1605-1614, and assigns it to 1606 in the Catalogue.

For What It's Worth

Captain Pod

Jonson referred to the puppeteer Captain Pod as early as Every Man Out of His Humour (1599), in which Macilente says of Sogliardo and Shift: "let him be Captaine Pod, and this his Motion; for he does nothing but Shew him" (sig. M3v). Pod is also twice mentioned in Jonson's Epigrams (97.2, 129.16). More information is provided in John Day's The Blind Beggar of Bednal Green (1600, publ. 1653), where he is referred to as "Captain Pod of Py-corner" (Giltspur Street and Cock Lane in Smithfield, London), and in Thomas Dekker and George Wilkins's Iests to Make You Merie (1607), where he is grouped with other strange sights: "like Bankes his horse, or the Baboones, or captaine Pold with his motion" (sig. E4v). He is "the first puppeteer of the Elizabethan period to be named and located" (Barasch 169-70).

Works Cited

Barasch, Frances K. "Shakespeare and the Puppet Sphere." ELR 34 (2004): 157–75.
Bawcutt, N.W. "New Revels Documents of Sir George Buc and Sir Henry Herbert, 1619–1662." RES 35 (1984): 316–31.
Burt, Richard. Licensed by Authority: Ben Jonson and the Discourses of Censorship. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1993.
D[ekker], T[homas], and George Wilkins. Iests to make you Merie. London, 1607
Jonson, Ben. Bartholmew Fayre. London, 1631.
Jonson, Ben. The Comicall Satyre of Every Man Ovt of his Hvmor. London, 1600. STC 14767.
Wagner, Bernard M. "A Licence by Sir George Buc." N&Q 169 (1935): 97-98.

Site created and maintained by Misha Teramura, University of Toronto; updated 2 February 2016.