In Iesuiticum pulveris sulphurei conatum (c.1605)

One of a host of responses to the Gunpowder Plot, the attempt by a group of Catholic conspirators to blow up James VI and I and the parliament in session on 5 November 1605. Melville's contribution did not see publication (as far as we know) until it was included in the Andreae Melvini Musae ('Amsterdam', 1621), although he contributed a number of psalm paraphrases, with Plot-related titles and references, to a revised edition of Francis Herring's (c.1565-1628) Pietas pontificia, seu, Conjurationis illius prodigiosae, et post natos homines maximè execrandae, in Iacobum primum magnae Britanniae Regem ... breuis adumbratio poetica (London, 1606; edition with Melville's psalm paraphrases, 1609). Melville's opprobrium here focuses on the Jesuits, who he sees as the chief architects of the plot. Melville arguest that they act against James because they are threatened by James' power as a protestant king, and furious at a nation that (Melville optimistically suggests) is Puritan and has abolished episcopal hierarchy in the church. For a full discussion of this poem and the related 1609 psalm paraphrases, and translations, see Jamie Reid-Baxter, 'Andrew Melville and the Gunpowder Plot, 1605-1609' and appendix 1 in Mason and Reid (eds), Andrew Melville, pp. 155-176, 235-255. The version of the poem here owes much to Dr Reid-Baxter's translation. Metre: alcaic stanzas.

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In Iesuiticum pulveris sulphurei conatum

1'Regum Britannorum immeritus lues
Romane culpam, donec 1 ab inferi
caliginoso Ditis antro
luctisicas cieris Megaeras,

5convexa versis ad supera 2 trium
plantis sororum, dira minacium
severioris disciplinae
vindicibus fideique purae.'

9Dixit tridenti tergeminum caput
livente cinctum concilio patrum:
dixere Patres mente saeva
carnifices Stygiaque fraude.

13Sacra Senatus scita necessitas
Fati tabellis servat aheneis 3
patranda ferro, aut sulphuris vi
pulverea, liquidove plumbo. 4

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17Sacris litatis 5 missisicum orgiis,
armantur acres Iesuadum manus
et molis infausto Adrianae
fulmine tartareisque Diris.

21Urbem relinquunt protenus: Alpium
fastigia altarum ninguida transvolant,
cursusque transmittunt Britannum
oceanum, penetrantque regnum,

25devota sacris pectora caedibus,
instructa technis agmina bellicis, 6
spirturnices inauspicatae,
spintriae et ignivomi et salaces.

29In tecta repunt nobilium artibus
freti dolosis, vellere et aureo,
sed veste mutata, 7 togisque
compositis sagulorum in usum.

33Ceu militaris copia Martiis
horrens maniplis, tecta adamantino
thorace, torquens bubullinum
tergus, et exuvias leonis,

37pugnasque verbis terrificis crepant
victoriasque, et mœnia machinis
quassata, desertas et urbes
civibus, et viduata rura

41millena, qua tot millia Ibericus
demisit Orco funeribus furor
Peruana regna aut Mexicana
depopulans. Fera Lusitani

45vis sceptra late protulit inclytas
trans Gangis oras auriferi, Indica
qua gemma fœtat: qua Iavani
fronde nitent viridante Serum.

49'Romana virtus sollicitudine
depraedicatur, relligionibus
solers domandis: nec tiara
sub triplici indocilis teneri, 8

53Europa quamvis, Africa, et Asia
cervice depulsum abjiciat jugum,
quod barbarorum vi subacti
Link to an image of this page  [p102] suscipiunt animi rebelles.

57Quid multa? Quam nunc fœdus Ibericum
prodest Britannis, tam Batavis nocet,
Gallisque, Germanisque, et Polonis
ferre jugum pariter dolosis. 9

61Nam perdomandis clarior Itala
virtus suberbis haereticis cluit:
templariorum ut fata quondam,
nupera sic Parisina clades

65fixit trophaeum magnificentius
multis triumphis. Tam potior dolus
quam vera virtus: fas in hoste
fraus varians per acuta belli.

69Quae sera, quae nos segnities male
pigros moratur 10 cardine maximo
rerum? Coit regum, Patrumque
consilium, procerumque, vulgi

73frequens, Britannum, praecipuum, intimae
vis unionis, conciliabilis
mens et voluntas omnium una
iungere regna duorum in unum.

77Regnum supremo jure Britannicum,
unum institutis, relligionibus,
cultuque divino, lege et una
rege velut coalescit uno.

81Quae damna Romae, et quanta Britannica
sub rege tali et lege det unio?
Sub stirpe regis, regioque
principe, nunc quoque Puritano?

85Quid Puritanis imprecer hostibus,
quos blanda nutrix educat Anglia:
quam plurimos, tristes, severos,
regibus haud secus et molestos:

89quam ut insulatis praesulibus solent
priscisque nec non esse recentibus?
Quid peste regnorum vel ista
tetrius esse queat nefanda?

93Cessamus? Invisum hoc genus ocyus
nunc sulphuratae pulveris impetu
Link to an image of this page  [p103] tollamus in sublime factis
funeribus facibusque juxta,

97dum turba pleno in concilio sedens
secura, sidens spes fovet optimas
de exterminandis quos Papanos
indigitant temere Antichristos!'

101Dictum, atque factum. Subjicit aedibus
tignisque junctis materie et levi,
non nemo vim ingentem nitrosi
pulveris ignigenumque funem.

105O fel amarum! O tristis acerbitas!
O dira fraus! O vis truculentiae!
Eheu, fides Papana plusquam
108Punica perfidia 11 est scelesta!

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Against the Jesuitical attack of sulphurous powder

1'O Roman, you will undeservedly expiate the fault of the British kings, until you summon the baleful Furies from the gloomy halls of hellish Dis,

5 and the three sisters make their way up to the light of day, threatening dreadful things to those who advocate a stricter discipline and a pure faith.'

9Thus spake the triple-crowned head surrounded by the raging Tridentine Council a of the fathers: thus spake the butchering fathers with savage thought and hellish deceit.

13Necessity preserves the holy ordinances of the Assembly on the bronze tablets of Fate, which are to be implemented by the sword, or by the force of sulphured powder, or by lead soon-to-melt.

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17Once due sacrifice has been offered in the orgies of the mass-makers, the fierce hands of the Jesuits are armed with the baleful thunderbolts of the papal fortress and with infernal abominations.

21Forthwith they leave the city: they fly over the snowy heights of the lofty Alps, swiftly pass the British sea, and enter the kingdom,

25 hearts dedicated to holy slaughter, an army on the march well-versed in the tricks of war, ugly incendiary birds of ill-omen, male whores both flame-spewing and lecherous.

29They creep into the homes of trusting noble families, relying on deceitful wiles and gold, but in altered dress, their robes refashioned into military garb.

33Like a grim army bristling with warlike companies, clad in adamantine b breastplates brandishing bull-hide shields and lion-skins,

37 they prate in hair-raising language of battles and victories, ramparts shattered by siege engines, cities emptied of their citizens, and a thousand country districts emptied of their husbandmen,

41 so many thousands laid low and sent to the grave as the fury of the Spaniards c has unpeopled the kingdoms of Peru and Mexico. Violence has spread the savage rule of Portugal

45 far and wide across the famous regions of the Ganges, where India's precious stones abound: where the Javanese flourish under the blossoming crown of the Chinese.

49'Roman d virtue is preached with care, to religions that should be cunningly vanquished: nor are they deemed teachable under Papal rule,

53 no matter how much Europe, Africa and Asia may cast aside the yoke removed from their necks which the rebellious, conquered spirits Link to an image of this page  [p102] of the barbarians should bear.

57What more can be said? The Spanish alliance now benefits the Britons as much as it harms the Dutch, and French, and Germans, and even the Poles, who are too cunning to take up their share of the burden.

61For Italian virtue is more esteemed than the proud heretics who ought to be subdued: just like the fate that once befell the Templars, e so the more recent slaughter at Paris f

65 has now erected a more magnificent trophy than ever graced many a triumphal procession. Stratagem is to be preferred over true virtue: it is right to use manifold deceit to overcome the enemy through the asperities of war.

69What blockage, what sluggishness is wrongly holding us back at this most critical turn of events? A British and most special parliament is assembling,

73crowded with royalty, senators, nobles and commoners, intent on the closest of unions, the minds of everyone open and their will directed as one to join together the kingdoms of two peoples into one.

77A British kingdom established by the highest law, g one in institutions, religion, and divine worship, and with a single body of law just as it united under a single king. h

81what damage, and how much, would such a British union give to Rome under such a king and body of law? Under the offspring of such a king, and with a royal prince who is now also Puritan?

85What curse should I invoke on our Puritan foes, whom England, that careful nurse, rears: how very many, who are sad, severe and just as troublesome to kings:

89 and who are used to the idea that no mitred bishops, either of the old order and the new, should exist? What can be more loathsome than this unspeakable plague of kingdoms?

93Shall we stand idly by? Let us now swiftly blow sky-high this cursed race Link to an image of this page  [p103] with a sulphurous blast of powder, making corpses and torches at a single stroke,

97 while the mob is sitting secure in full parliament confidently getting their best hopes up for exterminating the Papists whom they boldly denounce as Antichrists!'

101No sooner said, than done. Beneath the chamber and its timbers bound with plaster and mortar, someone places a monstrous quantity of gunpowder and flame-bearing fuses.

105O bitter gall! O sad affliction! O shocking crime! O what violent ferocity! Alas, the Papists' faith is more evil than the perfidy of the Carthaginians! i



1: Horace, Odes III.6.1-2

2: 'To the vaulted sky', a common Virgilian expression. See: Virgil, Aeneid VI.241; 750.

3: Buchanan, Psalms XIX.50

4: This is the first indication that Horace, Odes I.35 is a point of reference for many of the ideas Melville deals with in this poem. The phrase 'liquidove plumbo' is taken with little change from I.35.20: '...liquidumque plumbum'. The 'necessitas' of line 12 above must be read, as it is in Horace, as the personification and deified form of the concept. At line I.35.17-20 in Horace, Necessitas walks in front of potential revolutions (of fortune and politics) with nails, tools, and molten lead, ready to restore what has been destoyed. Melville's Necessitas is ready to implement the destruction from the decree of the hellish assembly - a clever inversion of the constantly revolving role Necessitas executes at fortune's behest.

5: A phrase found in both Virgil and Ovid, which Servius critizises for its novelty. See Servius' commentary to Virgil, Aeneid IV.50, and also Ovid's re-use of the term at Metamorphoses XIV.156

6: This line and the previous: Horace, Odes IV.14.17-18

7: Horace, Odes I.35.21-24. Melville has exchanged the Horatian Fortune with his Jesuits in this passage. Horace has Fortune entering the homes of the nobility accompnaied by Honesty and Loyalty, and changing her clothes (i.e., altering the fortunes of the residents of the house - but Honesty and Loyalty stay); Melville has deceit and greed facilitate the Jesuits' entry, and they then change into military clothing.

8: 'Cannot be taught to be contained', i.e., is unmanageable. The phrase is found at '...ferus indocilisque teneri': Statius, Thebaid VI.14.313.

9: Horace, Odes I.35.28

10: Virgil, Aeneid II.373-4

11: Carthaginian bad faith was proverbial. See: Livy, ab Urbe Condita XXI.4.9, XXII.6.12.35, and XXXV.14.12; Sallust, Bellum Iugurthinum CVIII.3.


a: The Council of Trent (1545-1563) comprehensively defined Catholic orthodoxy for the first time in history.

b: A rock or mineral of extreme hardness, comparable to diamond, as seen in Ezekiel 3:9: 'As an adamant harder than flint have I made thy forehead.'

c: Philip II and his empire. See also d2_MelA_008 and d2_MelA_010.

d: The next thirteen stanzas comprise a monologue by one of the Jesuits involved in the Plot.

e: An international military order, originally founded to protect pilgrims after the recapture of Jerusalem in 1099. In 1312 the order was abolished and all their possessions were passed to the Knights Hospitallers.

f: The St Bartholomew's Day Massacres. See d2_MelA_017.

g: See also d2_MelA_010.

h: When James VI of Scotland became James VI and I of Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales in 1603.

i: The greatest enemies of Ancient Rome.