The Men Who Foiled Fawkes: Much Has Been Written about Guy Fawkes, but Less Well-Known Are the Two Colourful Figures Who Apprehended Him in Parliament's Cellars on the Night of November 4th, 1605. Andrew Thrush Introduces Sir Thomas Knyvett (C.1545-1622) and His Faithful Sidekick Edmund Doubleday (C.1564-1620)

By Thrush, Andrew | History Today, November 2005 | Go to article overview

The Men Who Foiled Fawkes: Much Has Been Written about Guy Fawkes, but Less Well-Known Are the Two Colourful Figures Who Apprehended Him in Parliament's Cellars on the Night of November 4th, 1605. Andrew Thrush Introduces Sir Thomas Knyvett (C.1545-1622) and His Faithful Sidekick Edmund Doubleday (C.1564-1620)


Thrush, Andrew, History Today


Knyvett, the keeper of the Palace of Westminster, encountered Fawkes as the latter was about to leave the cellars, and thinking his presence suspicious sent him upstairs (presumably under armed guard) while he and Doubleday continued the search. Before long, however, they heard a noise from above, and Doubleday was sent to investigate. Finding the source of the commotion to be Fawkes, Doubleday demanded 'to search or see what books or instruments Fawkes had about him'. Fawkes was naturally unwilling to be frisked, and 'very violently gripped Master Doubleday by his fingers of his left hand', whereupon Doubleday instinctively reached for his dagger. In the event, though, Fawkes was overpowered rather than stabbed, and tied up with a pair of his own garters.

By the time of the Gunpowder Plot, the sixty-year-old Knyvett and his junior colleague Doubleday were all but inseparable, but they were men of markedly different backgrounds. Knyvett was the son of a well-to-do Wiltshire gentleman, and devoted his career to royal service. Starting out as a groom of the chamber to Queen Elizabeth, he rose to become keeper of both Whitehall and Westminster palaces during the 1580s and warden of the Mint in 1599. He also sat in seven parliaments, six of them for the borough of Westminster. Following the accession of James I, he continued to be held in high esteem, for in June 1605 he and his wife were entrusted with the care of the King's short-lived daughter, Princess Mary. He subsequently entered the service of James's queen, Anne of Denmark, perhaps on the recommendation of a leading member of her household, the Countess of Suffolk, who happened to be Knyvett's niece.

Doubleday, by contrast, was the son of an obscure London haberdasher, and initially earned a living as a scrivener. A 'tall, proper man', he married four times and fathered no fewer than eighteen children. By marriage he acquired several properties in Westminster, including the inn known as the Saracen's Head in King Street, and by the 1590s was a key figure in the administration of St. Margaret's parish. Determined to better himself still further, in 1598 he entered the Middle Temple, qualifying ten years later as a barrister.

Knyvett and Doubleday probably first encountered each other during the early 1590s; both men owned houses in King Street, Westminster, and in 1591 Doubleday bought some land in the parish of St. …

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The Men Who Foiled Fawkes: Much Has Been Written about Guy Fawkes, but Less Well-Known Are the Two Colourful Figures Who Apprehended Him in Parliament's Cellars on the Night of November 4th, 1605. Andrew Thrush Introduces Sir Thomas Knyvett (C.1545-1622) and His Faithful Sidekick Edmund Doubleday (C.1564-1620)
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