Friday, 7 September 2012

The Exciting Escapades of the Jesuit Jailbreaker

                          By means of further bribes to the sympathetic gaoler, Gerard arranged to take exercises on the roof of the nearby Cradle Tower, where he made contact with another Catholic prisoner, John Arden. Arden’s wife was permitted to visit him, bringing him food and clean linen weekly, and Gerard persuaded his gaoler that Arden had invited him to dinner, and that if he turned a blind eye, he might slip across the garden one evening and spend some time with his friend. 

The Tower of London

This was managed and Gerard and Arden hatched an unlikely plan, using Mrs Arden as an intermediary. Using his considerable charm and the expenditure of more gold, Gerard managed to get the guard to lock him up with Arden for the night, and when they were seemingly locked in, the gaoler departed. The two men had already loosened the stonework around the doorway leading to the roof, so they broke through and onto the lead. Gerard left three letters behind: one to the Lord of the Council, explaining why he had escaped, another to the Lieutenant also explaining and exonerating the gaoler of any involvement and a last to the gaoler himself, apologising for escaping but saying they had not tried to bribe him as he was so honest he would have reported their plan to his superiors. 

Exterior of the Cradle Tower

The top of the Cradle Tower was near to the moat around the Tower of London, and on the other side of the moat there were friends waiting, contacted by letters delivered by Mrs Arden. From the roof, Arden threw a weighted string over the moat, which was tied to rope that he and Gerard pulled across and tied firm, the rope drawn so tight that it was almost horizontal (they had hoped to slide down the rope, but the roof of the Tower was the same height as the opposite wall). Arden went first, and clinging to the rope he inched across the moat to the other side; Gerard followed but had been so weakened by the torture and incarceration that he slipped under the rope and hung there, hardly able to move. 

Plan of the Tower of London - section marked enlarged below

After a short rest, he began to proceed hand over hand to the opposite bank, stopping several times and almost falling, and although he was a big man he was also strong, and eventually he made the other side, where Arden helped him over the lip of the wall. With the help of their associates they vanished into the night – Arden had spent twelve years in the Tower and Gerard three. 

Section enlarged from plan above

In a typically generous move, Gerard arranged for a stranger to deliver a letter to the gaoler early in the morning, who, being unable to read, asked this stranger to read it for him. It was an apology for deceiving him by escaping, but with an offer to help him if he was in danger because of their actions – a horse was waiting and he would be taken to a place of safety over a hundred miles from London. He prevaricated and went off to fetch his wife, but was intercepted by a fellow gaoler, who told him the Lieutenant was looking for him as he blamed him for the escape. The gaoler returned quickly to the stranger, who took him to the waiting horse, on which he escaped into the countryside. A priest helped him to hide, and after over a year he was moved further and further from London until he was safely far away and reunited with his wife and family. He lived comfortably for the rest of his life on a pension paid by Gerard and eventually converted to Catholicism. 

The moat of the Tower of London

The authorities made no real attempt to find the escapees, reasoning that if they had friends who could help them escape from the Tower of London, they had friends who would hide them efficiently enough that finding them would be impossible. Gerard remained in England, teaching and making many converts and was almost recaptured by pursuivants, whom he avoided by recourse to priest holes, until 1605 and the Gunpowder Plot, when things became far too dangerous in London for him. He escaped across the Channel of May 3rd 1606, and slowly made his way to Rome, and he eventually became Assistant of the Master of Novices at the Jesuit House at Louvain. The Jesuits encouraged him to write an autobiography, not least as a handbook for future Missionaries on how to operate in the cloak and dagger world of an undercover priest in Elizabethan England (a copy from the original Latin text is at Stonyhurst College, near Hurst Green, Lancashire) and he also wrote, in English, an account of the Gunpowder Plot (the original, in Gerard’s own hand, is also at Stonyhurst). 

Approach to Stonyhurst College, Lancashire

After other placements in Europe, Gerard returned to Rome in 1627, where he became the confessor to the English College seminary, and ten years later he died there, aged 73. 


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