1606 is a hugely important year for Sir
John Popham with little time to spend in a home of his in Littlecote in Wiltshire. This is because as Lord Chief Justice of
England he is vitally involved with two major events. Firstly he has to preside over the trials, on January
27th of Guy Fawkes and his fellow Catholic Revolutionaries who attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament
at Westminster on November 5th last year in what has become known as the Gunpowder Plot. It failed, so Popham and other judges
sentence them to the ghastly fate of being tied down onto hurdles then dragged by horses through the filthy streets of London
to their places of execution. There a scaffold awaits them where, one by one they will firstly be partially hung, then cut
down whilst still alive, their entrails drawn out and burnt, their bodies cut into four pieces and finally their heads stuck
on spikes as a warning to others.
Most executions in London take place at Tyburn but in the case of
the plotters Sir Edward Digby, Robert Wyntour, John Grant and Thomas Bates theirs is in St Paul’s Churchyard three days
after the trial, that is, January 30th. The next day Thomas Wyntour, Ambrose Rookwood, Robert Keyes and Guy Fawkes meet the
same fate at Westminster near the scene of their intended treasonable act. We see Popham pictured at the scene of their foiled
crime, the cellars below Parliament thinking about Fawkes who was the last to suffer on the scaffold, but who partially cheated
his torturers by jumping and breaking his neck.
Popham’s next major concern is speeding
up the formation of the Plymouth Adventurers Company in which he and his goldseeking sons-in-law are prominent shareholders,
intent on petitioning King James for a Royal Charter. The aim of this joint-stock company, composed of investors mainly from
England’s West Country ‘venturing’ or risking money is, by trading mostly from Plymouth in Devon to set
up a colony to develop the territory in Northern Virginia between 38º and 45º north latitude. Southern Virginia
is the interest of another investment group, principally of London merchant adventurers titled the London Virginia Company.
Their number includes Sir John Dodderidge, England’s Solicitor General.