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Thomas Bates

Thomas Bates was born at Lapworth and was a long-standing retainer of the Catesby family, living in a cottage at Ashby St Ledgers with his wife Martha and their children. In spite of his position as a servant, and being described in his indictment as a yeoman, Thomas Bates was not a menial. He had his own servant and armour, and seems to have engaged in cattle-dealing on behalf of his master, Robert Catesby, to whom he was totally devoted. He had spent some time with Catesby in London, probably being a witness to some unusual activity, when in December, 1604, "his master imagining that Bates suspected something, called him to his lodging at Puddle Wharf, and examined him in the presence of Thomas Wintour". Catesby and Wintour decided to bring him into the plot, and made him take the oath of secrecy and take the sacrament to seal it. In a highly suspicious copy of an examination of Bates, which did not appear until after his death at the trial of Father Henry Garnet, it is claimed that Bates said that before taking the sacrament, he confessed in full to Father Oswald Tesimond, who told him that he "should be secret in that which his master had imparted unto him, because that was for a good cause, and that he willed this examinant to tell no other priest of it; saying moreover that it was not dangerous unto him nor any offence to conceal it." Tesimond in his Narrative swears that this never occurred.

Bates proved very useful to the conspirators. Not only was he completely loyal and reliable, but being a man of ordinary condition, he could perform many activities, such as driving around wagons, without attracting suspicion. Bates accompanied his master Catesby on his flight out of London. During their flight, Catesby sent Bates on to Coughton Court with a letter that he and Sir Everard Digby had composed to Father Garnet, asking him to 'excuse their rashness', and asking for his assistance. Far from giving his assistance, he told Bates to tell his master "that I marvel they would enter into such wicked actions", and that they should surrender. Bates did not return empty-handed, however. Father Oswald Tesimond agreed to return with him to Huddington to help. But Bates lost his resolve when he saw Catesby injured in the explosion at Holbeache, and decided to flee. Christopher Wright threw him some 100 pounds out of the window, asking him to get 80 pounds to his family, and 20 pounds for himself.  He was captured in Staffordshire on November 12th, and being of lower birth, was imprisoned in the Gatehouse prison.

What really transpired at his examination of 4 December, we may never know. In a letter to Father Thomas Strange smuggled out just before his death, he apologised profusely for saying that he said 'he thought Father Tesimond knew something about this plot, but he could not be certain', and that he said he saw Fathers Garnet, Tesimond and Gerard together at Harrowden in mid-November (Gerard claims that he had not seen Bates for a year before The Plot). He said these implications of the jesuits 'he committed out of the considerable hope of life which they held before him', and that he had even offered to pay the 100 pounds given to him by Kit Wright for his family, in order to obtain his pardon. However, he said that he now knew they intended for him to die with the others. It is interesting that he did not ask forgiveness for saying Tesimond had heard his confession. Bates was scheduled for execution on 30 January, 1606 at St. Paul's Churchyard, and his wife Martha managed to break through the guards and throw herself on her husband on the hurdle. Bates took this opportunity to tell her where he had hidden the 100 pounds.

On the scaffold, Bates was completely penitent, saying that his affection for his master had caused him to forget his duty to God, his King and Country. He asked for the forgiveness of the same, and for the 'preservation of them all'.  Given his all-too human weakness during his captivity, it is not surprising when Tesimond says that "he died with much more courage than some expected of him".  
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Quote from The Gunpowder Plot Society website

Robert Catesby

Robert Catesby (1573-1605) was the only surviving son of Sir William Catesby of Lapworth and Anne Throckmorton of Coughton.  He had an ancient and illustrious lineage, including being sixth in descent from William Catesby, the influential councillor of Richard III.  Robert's father, Sir William Catesby, was a conscientious adherent to the Catholic faith, a prime supporter of the Jesuit mission and one of the leaders of the catholic cause, for which he suffered greatly. In 1581, when Robert was only eight years old, he saw his father arrested for the first time and tried in Star Chamber, along with William, Lord Vaux and his brother-in-law Sir Thomas Tresham, for the harbouring of Father Edmund Campion, and spent most of the rest of his life in and out of prison for various offences connected with his recusancy. At one time, his recusancy fines amounted to one fifth of his considerable estate. The effect of these events on young Robert can only be guessed at.  Sir William Catesby was later assigned a project, which met with the approval of Queen Elizabeth, of founding a catholic colony in America, but this plan was later abandoned in the face of Spanish hostility. 

Through his mother, Robert was related to the major recusant families of Throckmorton, Tresham, Vaux, Monteagle and Habington, and was raised in the atmosphere of secrecy and devotion that surrounded this close-knit, staunchly catholic community.  Robert entered Gloucester Hall, Oxford in 1586 but left before taking his degree in order to avoid taking the Oath of Supremacy.  He probably went on to attend the seminary college of Douai, then located at Rheims.  This school, founded by Cardinal William Allen for the training of clergy for the English mission but extended to education of the laity, provided an austere and rigorous course of education in scholastic and moral theology, classical languages and the history of the English church. At the time the college used a textbook by the Jesuit Martin de Azpilcueta that dealt with the subject of casuistry, the employment of moral theology to particular cases, and with the circumstances that might excuse a normally forbidden course of action. This may have laid the foundation for Catesby's later theological questions and resolutions regarding the morality of the Plot.

In 1593 Robert married Catherine Leigh, the daughter of the protestant Sir Thomas Leigh of Stoneleigh, Warwickshire.  She brought a considerable dowry of 2000 pounds per year and connected him with the fast-rising family of the Spencers. The following year upon the death of his grandmother, he came into the large estate of Chastleton, Oxon, making him a man of considerable means in his own right.  Much has been made of this marriage by writers to claim that Robert Catesby fell away from the church in his youth (and indeed his son Robert was baptised in the Anglican church at Chastleton in November 1595), and that he returned to the church in grief at his father's and wife's death in 1598, following shortly on the death of his eldest son.

However, although this shows that he may have compromised at certain times, it is indisputable that he always remained active in the Catholic cause. As early as 1594, the year after his marriage, he was sheltering Father Henry Garnet and other priests at his house, Morecrofts in Uxbridge at considerable risk.  It was to here that Father John Gerard fled for sanctuary after his dramatic escape from the Tower of London in 1597, and where Father Persons' mother was living in 1598, which indicates that Catesby was at all times a highly trusted member of the Catholic community.

As a man, Robert Catesby, in spite of his religious inclinations, was rich in friends and patrimony, loved and esteemed not only by catholics but by the very protestants for his many unusual qualities both physical and mental and was part of the glamorous circle that surrounded the court, although in his youth he "was very wild, and ...he spent much above his rate". Father Oswald Tesimond, who knew him well, describes him "Physically, Catesby was more than ordinarily well-proportioned, some six feet tall, of good carriage and handsome countenance. He was grave in manner, but attractively so. He was considered one of the most dashing and courageous horsemen in the country. Generous and affable, he was for that reason much loved by everyone. Catesby was much devoted to his religion, as one would expect of a man who made his communion every Sunday. Indeed his zeal was so great that in his own opinion he was wasting his time when he was not doing something to bring about the conversion of the country. In this way, partly by example and partly by persuasion, he had won over to the Catholic faith quite a number of gentlemen, and those among the most important, who moved in London and court circles. This in spite of the fact that because he was known to be a catholic, he did not have much to do with the palace. In fact it became almost a proverb that Robert Catesby could be seen nowhere without his priest. He seemed to have much more success in converting protestants than many of the priests now to be found in England. This was due as much to his effective way of speaking and reasoning as to his not inconsiderable knowledge of the controversies between catholics and protestants. In the presence of priests, however, he used so much reticence that he would never allow himself to discuss matters of religion unless they urged him to it. The Almighty would have been better pleased if he moderated his zeal." 

The fact that he was a rich, influential and popular member of the gentry went a long way in protecting him from the rigours of recusancy, but not completely. In 1596 he was arrested because of his known Catholic sympathies as a precautionary measure by the government during an illness of Queen Elizabeth, and held in the Tower along with the Wright brothers John and Christopher and Francis Tresham, and only released on her recovery.

With his popularity and reputation amidst the fashionable gallants of the time as an excellent swordsman, Robert soon came under the sphere of influence of Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex, whose household his cousin Francis Tresham had entered a few years before, and with whom his friend and cousin by marriage, William Parker, Lord Monteagle, served in Ireland. When Essex, returning from a commission in Ireland without permission, fell from royal favour he blamed the influence of Robert Cecil. Although Essex himself was a protestant, perhaps even puritan, he bore no malice towards catholics, and many of his closest friends were of the catholic persuasion. To counteract the support of Cecil, he actively drew catholics and puritans alike to his cause with the promise of religious toleration if he was returned to favour and Cecil removed from the council.  The details and intentions of the Essex Rebellion, and how much Robert Catesby knew of any plans to take over the council are open to debate, however Sunday, 8 February 1601 found Catesby, along with several of the other later conspirators, and many influential peers involved in the disorganised march in the City, which turned to violence when their way was blocked attempting to return to Essex house, having found no support.

Catesby apparently fought valiantly in spite of an injury. "Mr. Catesby did show such valour and fought so long and stoutly as divers afterwards of those swordsmen did exceedingly esteem him and follow him in regard thereof"  but the entire attempt failed and after a siege at Essex House, they surrendered to authorities. Catesby, due to his minor role in the affair, escaped a treason conviction and possible execution, but was fined the large sum of 4,000 marks. In order to pay this fine, he sold his manor at Chastleton, but was still left with a considerable income from his other estates, enough to continue to fund the Jesuits, and later the majority of the costs of the Plot. Afterwards, he seemed to have spent most of his time between his houses at Morecrofts and Lambeth, as well as with his mother at Ashby St. Ledgers.

With this way to religious freedom blocked, Catesby quickly turned to other options. He became involved in what was later known as the Spanish Treason, along with Monteagle, Francis Tresham and Father Henry Garnet, in the sending of Thomas Wintour and Christopher Wright into Spain to see what assistance could be obtained for their cause either militarily and/or financially. Their attempts here met with many promises, but no action.  Catesby had initially held hope of improvement under James I, due to the promises earlier made by James to Thomas Percy of such, James' support of the Earl of Essex against Cecil, and the subsequent favour shown to both Essex's supporters and prominent catholics at the beginning of the reign.

These final hopes were dashed when it became clear that James I was not going to honour his promises, in fact denied ever making them, and that in fact the persecution under him was going to worse than under Elizabeth. James I now claimed his utter detestation of papists, that "the bishops must see to the severe and exact punishment of every catholic", made a new proclamation on 22 February 1604 ordering all priests out of the realm, and the reversed his repeal of recusancy fines payable immediately with arrears. But the final straw seems to have been the introduction of a bill on James' request into the House of Commons on April 24 to classify all catholics as excommunicates, an idea which had been presented to and rejected by Elizabeth I as too severe. The effect of this bill, is described by Tesimond:

"In consequence, they were no longer able to make their wills or dispose of their goods. The effect of this law was to make them outlaws and exiles; and like such they were treated. There was no longer any obligation to pay them their debts or rents for land held from them. They could not now go to law or have the laws protection. They could seek no remedy for ills and injuries received. In a word, they were considered and treated as professed enemies of the state."

This would have been seen as a disaster by the catholics, and would no doubt lead to their utter ruin. Almost immediately after this event, Catesby sent for his cousin Thomas Wintour and revealed the Gunpowder Plot to him at a meeting with Jack Wright at his house in Lambeth.

Catesby felt that "the nature of the disease required so sharp a remedy", and that the Plot was a morally justifiable act of self-defence against the oppressive rule of a tyrant. But he saw the Plot as an act of last resort, and was determined to leave no way untried of remedying our ills by peaceful means and without bloodshed. To this end, he sent Thomas Wintour to Flanders to meet with the Constable of Spain, who was on his way to England to conclude the peace negotiations between Spain and England.

He was to "inform the Constable of the condition of the catholics here in England, entreating him to solicit his Majesty at his coming hither that the penal laws may be recalled, and we admitted into the ranks of his other subjects. Withal, you may bring over some confident gentleman such as you shall understand as you shall understand best able for this business, and named unto me Mr. Fawkes."  Wintour was not impressed by his interview with the Constable, and also having been discouraged by his discussions there with Hugh Owen and William Stanley, unofficial heads of the English catholics in exile, who told him that Spain was too financially strapped and too eager to conclude a peace to be of any assistance. Thomas Wintour returned with Guy Fawkes to Catesby in Lambeth to tell him the disappointing news. They decided to proceed with the Plot. Their scepticism was warranted, for the treaty between Spain and England was pronounced on August 19th, with no provisions for the English catholics.  Catesby's exact role and actions in the proceedings of Gunpowder Plot, and the theories and arguments surrounding him are too voluminous to go into here, and the basic story is well known. Robert Catesby died at the raid on Holbeache House on November 8th, 1605; he and Thomas Percy both being shot apparently with a single bullet. According to Gerard, "Catesby protested at his death in the field..., that not for themselves, but for the cause of Christ, not for their wives and children, but for the Church, the spouse of Christ, and saving so many thousand souls, the children of God, from eternal flames, they attempted with fire to cut off the chiefest heads and only causes of that greater ruin."  For whatever can be said and argued about Robert Catesby, given his willingness to risk all, at least his absolute sincerity, dedication and firm belief that what he was doing was right cannot be questioned.  back to top    back to The Plot
Quote from The Gunpowder Plot Society website

Sir Everard Digby

Everard Digby (c1576-1606) was the son of Everard Digby of Stoke Dry, Rutland and Maria, daughter of Francis Neale of Keythorpe, Leicestershire and the family had ancient roots. Although Digby's parents may have had catholic tendencies, they managed to avoid detection, and Digby of all the conspirators never experienced persecution first hand, leading an untroubled and seemingly Protestant early life. As a wealthy and well-connected young man, Digby soon presented himself at court and was received into the office of Gentleman Pensioner, although he later claimed, as did Thomas Percy, that he 'tooke the oathe belonging to the place of a pencioner and no other'.

Handsome and popular, Everard Digby was the 'goodliest man in the whole court' and 'as complete a man in all things that deserved estimation, as one should see in a kingdom'. He was the embodiment of all the qualities expected of a dashing young courtier of the time; an excellent horseman, swordsman and musician. He did not have much of an interest in politics however, and being a strong and well-built young man with a passion and ability for field sports, he spent most of his time on his estates pursuing his love of hunting, horses and hawking. As was common for the time, he and his new stepfather, Mr. Erdeswick, became involved in lawsuits brought by his tenants for enclosing land and for taking money for leases that were not honoured, including a suit brought by the husband of his old nurse.

In about 1599, Digby was introduced by a neighbour of his, Mr Roger Lee, to the Jesuit priest John Gerard who was represented as simply being Lee's friend. During their conversations, they would raise catholic issues in passing, with Lee taking the bolder stand in order to lead suspicion away from the priest. Digby was so convinced by this act, with Gerard's impeccable dress and knowledge of hunting, that he even once inquired of Lee as to John Gerard's suitability as a match for his sister! He said he wanted to see her married to a catholic because they were 'good and honourable people'.

After the death of the parents of Digby's wife Mary, she became the mistress of the house. During one of her husband's trips to London, Mary expressed a wish to convert to the catholic faith. She received the news that Gerard was a priest with disbelief. "Why, the man lives like a courtier." she said, "Haven't you watched him playing cards with my husband?" She was only convinced when she saw him in clerical dress. Soon afterwards, Everard Digby became seriously ill in London, and while being attended by Gerard, he was received into the church. Digby expressed less surprise than his wife on finding out that Gerard was a priest, and was glad to have a priest who 'understood men like him' and could 'appear in company without danger of his priesthood being discovered.' Secrecy was such that Digby asked Gerard's help in bringing his wife into the church. Gerard said nothing, but in amusement decided to wait until Mary arrived in London and watch them each try to convert the other.

Digby and Gerard became firm friends and constant companions. Says Gerard, "To me he was always a most loyal friend, and we might have been brothers in blood. In fact we called each other 'brother' when we wrote or spoke to each other". Under Gerard's guidance, Digby set up a model catholic household. Digby was one of those who welcomed the new King James at Belvoir Castle, and was knighted there on 23 April 1603. However, as with the others, he soon grew bitterly disillusioned when the promises of James vanished into thin air.

He was one of the last conspirators to join, enlisted for his wealth, ability and devotion, although the story of his induction and subsequent actions are shrouded in mystery. Most of the traditional story comes to us from his later confessions. However, in secret letters smuggled out of the tower that were only discovered 70 years after his death amongst his son Kenelm's papers, he makes quite clear the extent of his lying to his examiners in order to protect other, throwing all of his statements under examination into serious doubt. Some hold that Digby was supposed to have been enrolled into the Plot by Robert Catesby toward the end of August 1605 while his wife was away on a pilgrimage with Garnet and others to St. Winifred's Well. While riding from Harrowden back to Gothurst, Catesby revealed the plot to him without his having to take the Blessed Sacrament, due to the fact that they were such close friends. Digby was shocked and wanted to hear no more, and was only persuaded when Catesby assured him that the Jesuits knew and approved of the Plot. Others hold that this took place while out riding during a visit of Catesby to Gothurst at the Feast of St. Luke (October 21st).

However, in his letters from the Tower, Digby states that he told the examiners that he did not take the Sacrament so that he could avoid the question of who administered it. Also, Oswald Tesimond (who has never been known to make an error of fact) later says that it was Thomas Wintour who actually revealed the Plot to Digby. It is possible that Digby was looking to protect the still-alive Wintour. In a letter to Gerard he says "I do not well conceive my brother, for I did never say that any other told me but Mr Catesby..."  There are three pieces of evidence from his own hand that point away from the story that he was lied to by Catesby into believing that the Jesuits knew and approved of the plot.

First, in a secret letter, he clearly states that Father Henry Garnet told him directly that the Pope did not want the priests to hinder any stirs for the catholic cause, and that "with Mr Catesby's proceedings with him (Garnet) and me, give me absolute belief that the matter in general was approved, though every particular was not known."  Secondly, when Gerard came to Gothurst on November 2 and was suspicious to find the household removed, with only Sir Everard remaining to prepare for his hunt, he asked if there was 'any matter in hand, and did Whalley (Garnet) know about it?' Digby replied that there was nothing in hand that he knew of or could tell him of. In another letter Digby says himself that "...the reasons of my not acquainting an inward friend with this business, was not for any particular wilfulness or ill end; but I thought it not best for the Cause..." He would not have lied to one of his closest friends if he believed that the Jesuits had complete knowledge and had given their approval. And lastly, in the same letter he says "I saw the principal point of the case, judged in a latin book of MD, my brother's father-in-law..."

However he became involved, Digby agreed to provide 1500 pounds to the project, and to move to Coughton Court in order to be more centrally located.  Digby's role in the plot was to manage the Midlands operations. He was to gather a large group of disaffected catholic gentry at Dunsmoor Heath under the guise of a hunt, who would be brought into confidence once the gunpowder was fired. This group would be used to capture Princess Elizabeth, who was staying nearby at Coombe Abbey, before the news became public, and to lead a general uprising.  There are some who plead Digby's ignorance at what was to happen in London, but this can surely be discounted in the face of his statement "...for that night, before any other could have brought the news, we should have it known by Mr Catesby, who should have proclaimed the Heir Apparent at Charing Cross, as he came out of Town; to which purpose there was a proclamation drawn; if the Duke had not been in the House, then there was a certain way laid for possessing him; but in regard of the assurance, they should have been there, therefore the greatest of our business stood in the possessing of Lady Elizabeth...".

On Monday, 4 November, Digby was in position with over 100 others at the Red Lion Inn at Dunchurch. This group included his uncle Sir Robert Digby, Humphrey and Stephen Littleton, John Grant, John Wintour, Henry Morgan and Father Hammond, and seven servants.

On the arrival of his bedraggled and exhausted co-conspirators from their desperate flight from London on the evening of the 5th, Catesby told Digby that the plot was discovered, but "though the field be lost, all is not lost", and they decided to try to proceed with the uprising. On hearing of these plans, many in the hunting party, his uncle Sir Robert Digby included, were shocked and quickly departed, although a vast majority of them remained. Given the circumstances, it seems unlikely that Catesby would have told him that the King and his Chief Minister, Robert Cecil, were both dead, as it would have required the cooperation of all of the other conspirators to pull it off.  Digby then told his servant "but now there is no remedy", and a servant at the inn overheard him say "I doubt not but that we are all betrayed".

On the band's flight towards Wales, they made detour to break into the stables at Warwick Castle, and then they stopped at Norbrook at about three in the morning for breakfast and to collect arms that Grant had stored there. During their brief stay, Digby and Catesby composed a letter which they sent with Thomas Bates to Father Garnet who was with Lady Digby at Coughton Court, to advise them of what had happened, to "excuse their rashness" and to for assistance. Garnet naturally refused, but Tesimond was persuaded to come to their aid and help his friend Catesby.

After the explosion at Holbeache, Digby departed, some say to make good his escape, some to give himself up to the authorities, but by his own claim to obtain assistance. Before leaving, he offered his servants money and horses to enable them to escape, but two of them refused to leave him, and the three left Holbeache together. They had only travelled four miles away, to a spot near Dudley, when they were spotted by a posse. They attempted to hide in a pit in the middle of a wood, but they were seen by their pursuers who cried 'Here he is, here he is'. To this Digby replied "Here he is indeed, what then?", after which he attempted to break out of the pit using an advanced equestrian manoeuvre called a curvet. It was not until he saw over a hundred reinforcements, and realised the futility of escape, that he gave himself up.

While in the Tower of London, Digby was treated fairly leniently and not tortured, perhaps because he was such a latecomer to the conspiracy and was thus not held to know that much. However, the letters that he smuggled out imply a different story and show his evasive answers to the examiners:

"At my first examination, the Earl of Salisbury told me that some things should be affirmed against me by Gerrat the Priest, who (saith he) I am sure you know well. My answer was, that if I might see him, I would tell him whether I knew him or no, but by that name I did not know him, nor at Mrs Vauxe's, as he said I did, for I never saw a priest there."

In his letters he vacillated between dismay at the reaction of the catholic community to his action and the trouble he had brought upon the priests, to defence of his actions:

"For some good space," he says, "I could do nothing, but with tears ask pardon at God's hands for all my errors, both in actions and intentions in this business, and in my whole life, which the censure of this contrary to my expectations caused me to doubt: I did humbly beseech that my death might satisfy for my offence, which I should and shall offer most gladly to the Giver of Life".  Then, "..that if I had thought there was the least sin in the Plot, I would not have been in it for all the world: and no other cause drew me to hazard my Fortune, and Life, but Zeal to God's religion." and "For if this design had taken place, there could have been no doubt of other success.."

Another mystery is an undated letter written by Digby to Cecil, saying that if harsh measures were taken against Catholics "within a brief time there will be massacres, rebellions and desperate attempts against the King and State" and that "it was hoped that the King that now is would have been at least free from persecuting, as his promise was before coming into his Realm, and as divers his promises have been since his coming, saying that he would take no soul money nor blood....All these promises every man sees broken, and to trust them further in despair most Catholics take note of a vehement book, written by Mr Attorney, who's drift, as I have heard, is to prove that the only being a Catholic is to be a traitor..." In this letter, Digby offers his services to send a priest to Rome to obtain a ruling from the Pope to excommunicate "against all such as shall go about to disturb the King's quiet and happy reign".

Given the context of the letter, some claim that this letter was written between May and September 1605, before Digby became involved in the plot. The evidence for this is that the form of address and tone of the letter are if not exceedingly tactless and self-destructive, are at least quite unlike that which one would expect from a prisoner for such a crime. Also, during the trial Cecil acknowledged that on the subject of the treatment of Catholics, "Sir Everard Digby was his ally."

Digby was tried separately from the other conspirators as he was the only one of them to plead guilty. The others had refused to plead guilty because the indictment included charges against the priests, which they denied. Given Digby's later determination to protect the priests, this is surprising behaviour on his part, although in doing so it gave him permission to make a speech.

He gave four reasons for his involvement in the plot; the cause of his religion, his friendship and regard for Catesby, his (justified) fear that harsher laws were in the making against Catholics, and quite bravely, because of the King's broken promises of toleration to Catholics. This provoked Henry Howard, Earl of Northampton, the government's catholic 'lame duck', to make a vehement denial that any such promises were ever made. Digby asked the court that although he did not justify his act, and that he deserved 'the vilest death', that punishment not be visited on his innocent family. He also asked that in consideration of his status that he be beheaded. Both requests were denied. Upon receiving the sentence of death, Digby who had many friends present at his trial, said to the Lords "If I may but hear any of your Lordships say you forgive me, I shall go more cheerfully to the gallows". The Lords replied to him, "God forgive you, and we do".

Digby, Robert Wintour, John Grant and Thomas Bates were the first scheduled to be executed. Their executions took place at St Paul's Churchyard on 30 January 1606. Digby was the first to mount the scaffold, which he did unrepentant. In his speech he had claimed that he 'could not condemn himself of any offense to God' in his motives of the 'ending of the persecution of the Catholics, the good of souls, and the cause of religion', although he freely admitted to offending the laws of the realm, for which he was willing to suffer death, and 'thought nothing too much to suffer for those respects which had moved him to that enterprise.' He refused to pray with the preachers, and called on the Catholics in the crowd to pray with him, whereby he "fell to his prayers with such devotion as much moved all the beholders."  He then saluted each nobleman and gentlemen upon the scaffold, in 'so friendly and cheerful manner' that they later said that he seemed 'so free from fear of death' that he could have been taking his leave of them as if he was just going from the Court or out of the city. Digby was hung only a very short time, and was undoubtedly alive when he went to the quartering block and was disembowelled. Cecil's cousin, Sir Francis Bacon told the story that when the executioner plucked out his heart, and held it up saying, as was the custom "Here is the heart of a traitor", Digby managed to summon up the strength to respond "Thou liest".

Digby, perhaps given his youth and earlier popularity, made quite an impression, as recounted by Gerard, "He was so much and so generally lamented, and is so much esteemed and praised by all sorts in England, both catholics and others, although neither side do or can approve this last outrageous and exorbitant attempt...  back to top    back to The Plot
Quote from The Gunpowder Plot Society website

Guy Fawkes

Guy Fawkes (1570-1606) was the only son of Edward Fawkes of York and Edith Blake  On his mother's side, he was descended from the Harrington family who were eminent merchants and Aldermen of York. Fawkes became a pupil of the Free School of St. Peters located in "Le Horse Fayre", which was founded by Royal Charter of Philip and Mary in 1557. He counted there amongst his schoolfellows, John and Christopher Wright, Thomas Morton (afterwards Bishop of Durham), Sir Thomas Cheke and Oswald Tesimond. His time there was under the tutelage of a John Pulleyn, kinsman to the Pulleyns of Scotton and a suspected Catholic who some believe may have had an early effect on the impressionable Fawkes.

Fawkes is believed to have left England in 1593 or 1594 for Flanders, together with one of his Harrington cousins who later become a priest. In Flanders he enlisted in the Spanish army under the Archduke Albert of Austria, who was afterwards governor of the Netherlands.

Fawkes held a post of command when the Spaniards took Calais in 1596 under the orders of King Philip II of Spain. He was described at this time as a man "of excellent good natural parts, very resolute and universally learned", and was "sought by all the most distinguished in the Archduke's camp for nobility and virtue". Tesimond also describes him as "a man of great piety, of exemplary temperance, of mild and cheerful demeanour, an enemy of broils and disputes, a faithful friend, and remarkable for his punctual attendance upon religious observance".  Fawkes's appearance by now was most impressive. He was a tall, powerfully built man, with thick reddish-brown hair, flowing moustache, and a bushy reddish-brown beard. He had also apparently adopted the name or affectation Guido in place of Guy. His extraordinary fortitude, and his "considerable fame among soldiers", perhaps acquired through his services under Colonel Bostock at the Battle of Nieuport in 1600 when it is believed he was wounded, brought him to the attention of Sir William Stanley (in charge of the English regiment in Flanders), Hugh Owen and Father William Baldwin.

Fawkes severed his connection with the Archduke's forces on 16 February 1603, when he was granted leave to go to Spain on behalf of Stanley, Owen and Baldwin to "enlighten King Philip II concerning the true position of the Romanists in England". During this visit he renewed his acquaintance with Christopher Wright, and the two men set about obtaining Spanish support for an invasion of England upon the death of Elizabeth, a mission which ultimately proved fruitless.

Upon return from this mission, Fawkes was informed in Brussels that Thomas Wintour had been asking for him. About Easter time, when Wintour was about to return to England, Stanley presented Fawkes to him. It cannot be proved, but perhaps Wintour had already informed Fawkes of the conspirators' intentions, because in Fawkes' confession he states that "I confesse that a practise in general was first broken unto me against his Majesty for reliefe of the Catholique cause, and not invented or propounded by myself. And this was first propounded unto me about Easter last was twelve month, beyond the Seas, in the Low Countries of the Archduke's obeyance, by Thomas Wintour, who came thereupon with me into England".

Between Easter and May, Fawkes was invited by Robert Catesby to accompany Thomas Wintour to Bergen in order to meet with the Constable of Castile, Juan De Velasco, who was on his way to the court of King James I to discuss a treaty between Spain and England.

In May of 1604, Guy Fawkes met with Robert Catesby, Thomas Percy, John Wright and Thomas Wintour at an inn called the Duck and Drake in the fashionable Strand district of London, and agreed under oath along with Percy to join the other three in the gunpowder conspiracy. This oath was then sanctified by the performing of mass and the administering of the sacraments by the Jesuit priest John Gerard in an adjoining room. Fawkes assumed the identity of John Johnson, a servant of Percy and was entrusted to the care of the tenement which Percy had rented. Around Michaelmas, Fawkes was asked to begin preparations for work on the mine, but these plans were delayed until early December as the Commissioners of the Union between England and Scotland were meeting in the same house. Eventually the work in the mine proved slow and difficult for men unused to such physical labours, and further accomplices were sworn into the plot.  About March 1605, the conspirators hired a cellar beneath Parliament, once again through Thomas Percy, and Fawkes assisted in filling the room with barrels of powder, hidden beneath iron bars and faggots. He was then despatched to Flanders to presumably communicate the details of the plot to Stanley and Owen.

At the end of August, he was back in London again, replacing the spoiled powder barrels, and residing at "one Mrs Herbert's house, a widow that dwells on the backside of St Clement's Church". He soon left this accommodation when his landlady suspected his involvement with Catholics. On 18 October he travelled to White Webbs for a meeting with Catesby, Thomas Wintour, and Francis Tresham to discuss how certain Catholic peers could be excluded from the explosion. On 26 October, the now famous Monteagle Letter was delivered into the hands of William Parker, 4th Baron Monteagle. Concern quickly erupted amongst the conspirators, but the letter's apparent vagueness - 'Retire yourself into the country for ... they shall receive a terrible blow this Parliament and yet they shall not see who hurts them' prompted Catesby to continue with their plans.

On Wednesday 30 October, Fawkes, apparently ignorant of the letter's existence inspected the cellar again and satisfied himself that the gunpowder was still in place and had not been disturbed. On Sunday 3 November, a few of the leading conspirators met in London and agreed that the authorities were still unaware of their actions. However, all except Fawkes made plans for a speedy exit from London. Fawkes had agreed to watch the cellar by himself, having already been given the task of firing the powder, undoubtedly because of his munitions experience in the Low Countries where he had been taught how to "fire a slow train". His orders were to embark for Flanders as soon as the powder was fired, and to spread the news of the explosion on the continent.

On the following Monday afternoon, the Lord Chamberlain, Thomas Howard, Earl of Suffolk, searched the parliament buildings accompanied by Monteagle and John Whynniard. In the cellar they came upon an unusually large pile of billets and faggots, and perceived Fawkes whom they described as "a very bad and desperate fellow". They asked who claimed the pile, and Fawkes replied that it was Thomas Percy's in whose employment he worked. They reported these details to the King, and believing, by the look of Fawkes "he seemed to be a man shrewd enough, but up to no good", they again searched the cellar, aGuy Fawkes is discovered in the cellar beneath Parliament little before midnight the following night, this time led by Sir Thomas Knyvett, a Westminster magistrate and Gentleman of the Privy Chamber.  Fawkes had gone forth to warn Percy that same day, but returned to his post before night. Once again, the pile of billets and faggots was searched and the powder discovered, and this time Fawkes was arrested. On his person they discovered a watch, slow matches and touchwood. Fawkes later declared that had he been in the cellar when Knyvett entered it he would have "blown him up, house, himself, and all".

Early in the morning of 5 November, the Privy Council met in the King's bedchamber, and Fawkes was brought in under guard. He declined to give any information beyond that his name was Johnson and he was a servant of Thomas Percy. Further interrogations that day revealed little more than his apparent xenophobia. When questioned by the King how he could conspire such a hideous treason, Fawkes replied that a dangerous disease required a desperate remedy, and that his intentions were to blow the Scotsmen present back into Scotland.

King James indicated in a letter of 6 November that "The gentler tortours are to be first used unto him, et sic per gradus ad mia tenditur [and so by degrees proceeding to the worst], and so God speed your goode worke", as it [torture] was contrary to English common law, unless authorised by the King or Privy Council. Eventually on 7 November Guido's spirit broke and he confessed his real name and that the plot was confined to five men. "He told us that since he undertook this action he did every day pray to God he might perform that which might be for the advancement of the Catholic Faith and saving his own soul". The following day he recounted the events of the conspiracy, without naming names, then on the 9 November he named his fellow plotters, having heard that some of them had already been arrested at Holbeche. Guido's final signature, a barely legible scrawl, is testament to his suffering. There is no direct evidence as to what tortures were used on Guy Fawkes, although it is almost certain that they included the manacles, and probably also the rack.

On Monday 27 January 1606, the day of the capture of Edward Oldcorne and Henry Garnet, the trial of the eight surviving conspirators began in Westminster Hall. It was a trial in name only, for a guilty verdict had certainly already been handed down. The conspirators pleaded not guilty, a plea which caused some consternation amongst those present. Fawkes later explained that his objection was to the implication that the "seducing Jesuits" were the principal offenders.

On Friday, 31 January 1606, Fawkes, Thomas Wintour, Ambrose Rookwood and Robert Keyes were taken to the Old Palace Yard at Westminster and hanged, drawn and quartered "in the very place which they had planned to demolish in order to hammer home the message of their wickedness". Thomas Wintour was followed by Rookwood and then by Keyes. Guido, the "romantic caped figure of such evil villainy" came last. A contemporary wrote:

"Last of all came the great devil of all, Guy Fawkes, alias Johnson, who should have put fire to the powder. His body being weak with the torture and sickness he was scarce able to go up the ladder, yet with much ado, by the help of the hangman, went high enough to break his neck by the fall. He made no speech, but with his crosses and idle ceremonies made his end upon the gallows and the block, to the great joy of all the beholders that the land was ended of so wicked a villainy".

Jardine says, "according to the accounts of him, he is not to be regarded as a mercenary ruffian, ready for hire to do any deed of blood; but as a zealot, misled by misguided fanaticism, who was, however, by no means destitute of piety or humanity".    back to top    back to The Plot
Quote from The Gunpowder Plot Society website

John Grant

John Grant was the lord of the manor of Norbrook, located a few miles north of Stratford-upon-Avon in the county of Warwickshire. Norbrook formed part of the belt of Catholic houses in the Midlands region of England which were to form a base for the rebellion which was to follow the blowing up of the Houses of Parliament. It was close to Lapworth, the house where Robert Catesby had been born and raised, and also to other houses such as Coughton Court, Huddington Court and Clopton, a house near Stratford-on-Avon which was rented by Ambrose Rookwood.  John Grant was the son of Thomas Grant of Norbrook and Alice Ruding. The Grants and Rudinges were old, established families in the county. The main seat of the Grant family had been at Snitterfield, but in 1545 they came into possession of the nearby estate of Norbrook.  John had married Dorothy Wintour, a sister (or more probably, a half-sister) of Robert and Thomas Wintour of Huddington Court.  Commentators on the history of the Gunpowder Plot seem to have varying opinions on Grant's personality. He is described by Parkinson as "melancholy" and "taciturn", and possibly even "stupid". However, Fraser explicitly calls Grant an "intellectual", and says that he "... studied Latin and other foreign languages for pleasure". Although Edwards claims that Grant was originally a Protestant, others assert that he was a devout Roman Catholic, and that his sympathies fell squarely with the Catholic cause.  Grant was one of the participants in the Essex Rebellion, along with other Gunpowder Plotters

Behind the air of melancholy and "scholarly withdrawal" seems to have hidden a man who could show plenty of spirit when required. John Gerard describes him as being "... as fierce as a lion, of a very undaunted courage as could be found in a country".  Norbrook became a noted refuge for priests, and as a result it was often visited by the poursuivants, the government agents whose job it was to search for possible hidden priests. Grant was particularly active in resisting the poursuivants when they visited Norbrook, and the firmness and force of his resistance even started to discourage the poursuivants from searching Norbrook altogether. Gerard says that Grant was fond of "... paying poursuivants so well for their labour, not with crowns of gold, but with cracked crowns sometimes, and with dry bones instead of drink and other good cheer, that they durst not visit him any more unless they brought store of help with them." He seems to have been sworn in as a member of the inner circle of plotters in February 1605, when he and his brother-in-law Robert Wintour were summoned to a meeting with Robert Catesby and Thomas Percy at an inn called the Catherine Wheel in Oxford. Grant and Robert Wintour were made to take an oath binding them to secrecy before Catesby revealed the details of the plot.

Grant was part of the "Midland contingent". His role in the plot seems to have been twofold: he and Robert Wintour were responsible for amassing a stockpile of weapons and preparing stables of horses for use during the anticipated rebellion. In addition, Grant was to be responsible for the abduction of the young Princess Elizabeth from Coombe Abbey, near Rugby in Warwickshire, in order to set the Princess up as the new monarch once her father (and possibly her brothers) had perished in the blowing-up of Parliament. These preparations presumably occupied Grant for most of the intervening time between his induction into the plot in February and the discovery of the plot in October and early November. He joined the "hunting party" at Dunchurch together with his brother-in-law John Wintour and his friend Henry Morgan. During the flight from Dunchurch to Holbeach House, Grant and other members of the party broke into the stables at Warwick Castle to obtain fresh horses, and they also stopped at the houses of Norbrook and Huddington Court to rest and collect weaponry.  Once at Holbeach House, the conspirators prepared themselves for a siege. Some gunpowder which had become wet during the journey was rather foolishly laid out in front of the fire to dry, and it caught fire from an ember and severely injured some of those present. Grant was among those most seriously injured in this accident.  Father Gerard writes that "... [the powder] blowing up, hurt divers of them, especially Mr Catesby, Mr Rookwood, but most of all Mr Grant, whose face was much disfigured, and his eyes almost burnt out".

Grant was among those who survived and were captured at Holbeach House. He was taken to Worcester and from there to London, where he was held together with others of the conspirators who had survived the siege or who were arrested in the aftermath.  During the conspirators' trial, Grant showed his taciturn nature by saying very little, but he "... showed great courage and self-assurance". Grant was executed on 30 January 1606 at St Paul's Churchyard, together with Sir Everard Digby, Robert Wintour and Thomas Bates. Grant was led to the scaffold, as his injuries sustained in the accident at Holbeach House had left him virtually blinded. He showed "great zeal" as he mounted the scaffold; he was asked if he was sorry for his mistake, but his reply was that "... it was not the time or the place to discuss cases of conscience. He had come there to die, not to dispute matters of that kind". He also expressed himself "convinced that our project was far from being sinful" as to afford an "expiation for all sins committed by me" and crossed himself before he fell. His estates were forfeited after his execution, but they were reclaimed in 1623 by his son Wyntour Grant, who promptly sold them to Sir Thomas Pickering.     back to top     back to The Plot
Quote from The Gunpowder Plot Society website

Robert Keyes

Robert Keyes (c1565-1606) was the son of Edward Keyes, Rector of Stavely in North Derbyshire, and his wife, a daughter of Sir Robert Tyrwhitt of Kettleby, Lincolnshire. Although Edward was a Protestant, his wife's family were renowned recusants. Through his mother's family, Robert was related to the staunchly Catholic Babthorpes of Osgodby (who had a household of fifty two, including two full-time Jesuit priests), and the Mallory and Ingilby families of Ripon, and therefore was kin to John and Christopher Wright of Plowland, and to Robert and Thomas Wintour of Huddington Court. Undoubtedly brought up as a Protestant, Keyes was a Jesuit convert at the time of the plot.  Keyes was nearly 40 in 1604, and was described as a tall and red-bearded man. He was employed by Lord Mordaunt, perhaps as a property manager, and his wife Christiana, widow of Thomas Groome, was governess to Lord Mordaunt's children. Keyes had a servant at the time of the Gunpowder Plot, one William Johnson.

Keyes was the sixth conspirator to join, which he did so around October of 1604. His job was to take charge of Robert Catesby's home at Lambeth, where the gunpowder and other necessary items were to be temporarily stored. Keyes apparently was not a wealthy man. During his trial, he maintained that he had tasted persecution himself, having lost his goods because of it. He thought it the lesser of two evils to die rather than to live in the midst of so much tyranny, and the unending persecution of ruthless foes. Oswald Tesimond confirms this: "They could not expect from him any help beyond what he could give in his own person. He had neither possessions nor money more than what was necessary to maintain himself and his wife. Apart from this, he was a man magnanimous and fearless".  It is also claimed that one of the reasons Keyes joined the conspiracy was at the prospect of wealth and riches in a new Catholic state. Certainly Haynes is of the belief he was initiated into the plot with the promise of financial gain, "... and since the Keyes family was not well off, it seems Catesby paid him and then took him into the plot on the conviction that he was a trusted and honest man". John Gerard, in his narrative of the Gunpowder Plot, says of him that "... his virtue and valour were the chiefest things wherin they could expect assistance from him..."

Little is known of Keyes' actual involvement in the early stages of the plot. He probably assisted in the work of digging the mine, and it is thought he continued to oversee Catesby's Lambeth property until virtually the day of the plot's discovery.  The first record of his involvement comes with the discussions on which Catholic peers should be forewarned of the explosion so that they could excuse themselves from parliament that day. Keyes and Francis Tresham spoke on behalf of Lord Mordaunt, whereby Catesby declared "he would not for the chamber full of diamonds acquaint him with the secret, for that he knew he could not keep it". It is possible that Keyes was aware that Lord Mordaunt had written to King James I, excusing himself from the opening of parliament anyway because of business commitments.

On the night of 4 November, Keyes (who had been joined by his cousin Ambrose Rookwood) spent the night at the house of Elizabeth More beyond Temple Bar, not far from Essex House. At about 10.00 p.m., Guy Fawkes visited Keyes, and was handed a watch which Thomas Percy had left for him to time the fuse. During the early morning of 5 November, Keyes and Rookwood became aware of the arrest of Guy Fawkes, but elected to remain a little longer in London until further news arrived. Keyes was the first of the two to leave, but Rookwood, riding a superior mount, caught up with him at Highgate and the two rode together to Bedfordshire before separating, for Keyes intended to ride to Lord Mordaunt's house to inform his wife of the events and to bid her farewell. However, there is evidence to support the claim that at this time Christiana Keyes was holidaying with her Rookwood relatives.

Hugh Ross Williamson depicts Keyes as a deserter, alluding to the idea that he fled the conspirators' group once given his chance on the road to Dunchurch with Rookwood, and was hoping to hide out at the estate of Lord Mordaunt, his employer, knowing he was away on business at the time. Keyes appears to have eventually been caught in Warwickshire on 9 November, perhaps while heading to the Midlands to be reunited with his fellow conspirators. On 12 November, after a "little delay", he was examined by Sir Fulke Greville in Warwick, at which time Keyes told Greville that he had been on his way to visit Rookwood his kinsman, who he had heard was captured. Also on the list of those being interrogated was one Marmaduke Ward, brother-in-law to the Wright brothers.  Keyes is named in a list of prisoners sent by Sir Richard Verney, Sheriff of Warwickshire, in a letter dated 16 November, and he was interrogated in the Tower on 30 November.

During the trial, Keyes spoke little, but he showed plenty of spirit. He claimed that his motive had been to promote the common good. That is, he hoped that his native land would be turned back to the catholic faith. The violence of the present persecution had driven him also to take part in the conspiracy. At the time of his death, he showed, rather to the admiration and surprise of everyone that he was a man of serious and mature disposition, possessing good judgement and intelligence, and also great fervour and devotion.  On 31 January 1606, he was drawn to the Old Palace Yard in Westminster along with Ambrose Rookwood, Thomas Wintour and Guy Fawkes. After Wintour and Rookwood came Keyes "who like a desperate villain, using his speech, with small or no show of repentance went stoutly up the ladder". When he was on the ladder, "not staying the hangman's turn, he turned himself off with such a leap that, with a swing he brake the halter. But after his fall, was quickly drawn to the block, and there was quickly divided into four parts".     back to top    back to The Plot
Quote from The Gunpowder Plot Society website

          Thomas Percy

It is commonly accepted that Thomas Percy (c1563-1605) was the great-grandson of the 4th Earl of Northumberland; his father being Edward Percy of a lower branch of the Percys, and his mother being Elizabeth Waterton and making him the second cousin to Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland. However, there are some who speculate that he was the 9th Earl's illegitimate half-brother, or as put forward by Francis Edwards, that he came from the Percys of Scotton, Yorkshire. However, this seems to be based on little more than the fact that Guy Fawkes also had lived in Scotton, and therefore would make for a tidy explanation of their later acquaintance. Whatever his origins, he was accepted by the Earl of Northumberland as a kinsman, although he was to later say that Percy was known to have 'pretended himself to be of the elder howse".  About his early life, not much is known. He entered Peterson College at Cambridge on July 4 1579 and matriculated the following year, and in 1589 it was perhaps he who sailed with George Clifford to the Azores. As is typical for young men of any age, in his youth he was described by Fr Tesimond as having been 'rather wild and given to the gay life; a man who relied much upon his sword and personal courage". He continues to describe Percy as "tall and well built, of serious expression but with an attractive manner. His eyes were large and lively. He was a man of great physical courage, and pleasing in his ways."

Not everyone was quite so flattering. An informant had described him to Richard Bancroft, Bishop of London, in quite a different light "Briefly, never was he quiet in mind, cheerful in countenance, or any way seeming to take delight by the turmoiling of his body through seldom intermitted vexing, he became often so resolved into sweat that he promised much labour to his laundresses, who report that he changed his shirts twice every twenty-four hours." Percy had a reputation as an enthusiastic, although somewhat reckless swordsman. He and John Wright would travel the country in order to fight other skilled swordsman. Although these fights were just to demonstrate and hone their skills, not fights to the death, as a matter of pride they were performed without any protective equipment whatsoever. By 1595 he was given a position of considerable trust by his kinsman and patron, the Earl of Northumberland, as an agent of his estates in the North responsible for the collection of his rents. He obviously made a good impression as he was made Constable of Alnwick Castle, a Percy stronghold on the Scottish border the following year.

Thomas Percy was far from a scrupulous man, which may have been exactly what the Earl of Northumberland needed in extracting the rents from the often less than cooperative Northern tenants. Although 34 charges of dishonesty were later proved against him by the tenants, including unlawful imprisonment, forgery and questionable evictions, these seem to only have improved his standing in the Earl's eyes. 1596 found Percy in prison apparently for killing a Scot in a border skirmish, and a short while afterwards was involved with the Earl of Essex in an attempt to capture the Scottish Warden of the Western Marsh, Sir Robert Ker. But not only did he continue in his offices, in 1600 he personally joined Northumberland, who held a command in the Low Countries, and was rewarded with the sum of 200 pounds. Despite his actions, Percy seemed to be firmly on the track to success under Northumberland's patronage, and Northumberland placed an increasing amount of trust in him. Thomas Percy's personal life was just as questionable as his professional one. In 1591 he married Martha Wright, sister to two of the other conspirators, Kit and Jack Wright, of a staunchly recusant Yorkshire family. It was reported by Dr. Godfrey Goodman, 40 years after the event  ''It is certain that he was a very loose liver; that he had two wives, one in the south and another in the north. An honourable good lady said that she knew them both. His wife in the south was so poor that she was fain to teach school, and bring up gentle-women. There are some living that were her scholars."

Although Goodman has somewhat of a reputation as an unreliable gossip, the story is held up by a letter from Sir William Waad, Lieutenant of the Tower, to Salisbury in regards to 500 pounds held by Monteagle of Percy's wife. Waad had to enquire as to which of his wives. Father John Gerard, writing in 1897 reported that when Percy's name was published in connection with the Plot, the magistrates in London arrested one wife, while those in Warwickshire arrested the other. However, Paul Durst makes a convincing argument against Percy having been a bigamist. He shows how the wife in London on the 5th November could easily have been the same woman who was apprehended again in Warwickshire on the 12th, and that the question by Waad points to nothing more than Percy having had a wife who died prior to his marriage to Martha Wright. His most convincing argument is that if Percy were a bigamist he would have been quickly dealt with by Martha's brothers, as opposed to being the close co-conspirators that they were. It appears that Percy's pious Catholic wife Martha had a profound effect on her unruly husband, as Tesimond reported that at some point he converted to Catholicism himself. "He then changed his ways in remarkable fashion, giving much satisfaction to Catholics and considerable cause for wonder for those who had known him previously."

Percy then became active in trying to improve the Catholic cause in England. His lord, Northumberland, despite his later protestations to the contrary, was a reputed Catholic sympathiser, described by a French Ambassador as 'Catholic in his soul'. His father, the 8th Earl, had been openly Catholic, and his uncle was beheaded for his part in the Northern Rising of 1572 on behalf of Mary, Queen of Scots. Northumberland, although still an enormously wealthy and powerful magnate, desired to repair the damage to the wealth and reputation of his family during the Elizabethan period, and also to check the ever-increasing influence of Robert Cecil. So when in the last years of Elizabeth's reign Thomas Percy approached him with the idea of making overtures to James VI of Scotland, her likely successor, Northumberland applauded the idea. By promising James the support of the Catholics to ensure a smooth accession in exchange for promises of toleration, Northumberland hoped to improve his station by earning a debt of gratitude from James in the coming reign.

Northumberland sent Percy to James in Scotland at least three times by 1602 with secret written and verbal correspondence. He told James on behalf of the English Catholics how they would readily accept him as their king if he could accept them as his loyal subjects and release them from the years of persecution they had suffered in Elizabeth's reign. The Catholics had many expectations from James as they had upheld the cause of his mother, the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots, and there were many rumours that his own wife was in fact a Catholic. According to Percy, they were not to be disappointed. After his return from Scotland, he spread the good news amongst the Catholic community that James had given his word as a prince not only to free them from their persecution, but to actively favour them and admit them to every honour and office on an equal par with Protestants.

After James' unobstructed accession to the English throne, it became clear that whatever promises made were quickly forgotten, as far from alleviating the situation of Catholics, he not only increased the prosecution of the existing laws but added new, more stringent ones. This turn of events completely humiliated Thomas Percy. He experienced bitter disappointment and anger at being so deceived by James, as well as a loss of reputation amongst many of the Catholics who now believed that Percy was lying to them all along. He also felt responsible for having convinced his Catholics brothers to accept James as their king.

In hope of reminding James of all that had passed between them, he sent a supplication on behalf of the Catholics that was completely ignored. James went so far as to publicly deny that he had ever made any promises of tolerance to anyone and nor would he ever consider it. Percy's seed of resentment was now deeply sewn. He told his tale of James' two-faced deception repeatedly to people he trusted in the Catholic community, and lost no opportunity to express his bitterness at having been so ill used.  In this manner, his feelings about King James were made crystal clear to Robert Catesby, who could see that Percy would be eager to take revenge. It was apparent that Percy would be willing to do anything to rescue his reputation from the taint of having been a mere puppet and dupe used to neutralize the Catholics arousing the open mockery and castigation of the community. During one conversation with Catesby, Percy burst out that he would kill the king, but the cooler Catesby told him "No, Tom, thou shalt not adventure to small purpose, but if thou wilt be a traitour, thou shalt be to some great advantage". (Hat MSS v18 p73). In April 1604, a few weeks later, Thomas Percy met again with Catesby, who was joined by Thomas Wintour. During their conversation, Percy again could not contain his frustration and exclaimed "Shall we always, gentlemen, talk and never do anything?" Catesby now knew he had his man, and explained to Percy that indeed, they did have a plan to do something, but before he would reveal it, Percy would have to take an oath of complete secrecy. On 13th May, in a house behind St Clements Inn rented by the Jesuit priest, John Gerard, the original five conspirators met to take the oath: Robert Catesby, Thomas Wintour, John Wright, Guy Fawkes and Thomas Percy. After the administration of the oath, they took the sacrament in an adjoining room to seal their compact. This being done, Catesby revealed to Percy his plan to blow up Parliament and Percy joined their number.

Percy definitely had many benefits to bring to the conspiracy. His zeal and dedication to the cause was unquestionable, and his connections with Northumberland gave the group considerable advantages. This standing was further improved when he was conveniently made a Gentleman Pensioner only three weeks later, giving him free access to the court and members of the Royal family, and along with Catesby. Percy soon established himself as a leader of their group.  The first order of the day was to obtain a centre of operations. Catesby had already identified a suitable house adjacent to the House of Lords and close by the Parliament Stairs, a landing on the Thames almost directly opposite Catesby's house in Lambeth. This house was owned by John Whinniard, the Keeper of the King's Wardrobe, and leased to the antiquarian Henry Ferrers. It has been claimed by many writers that because of his position as Gentleman Pensioner it would not be suspicious for Percy to take a house close to Parliament, and that he used the assistance of other influential Pensioners to persuade Ferrers and Whinniard to lease the house to him. However, this ignores the fact that the house was leased by Percy on 24 May, but he was not made a Gentleman Pensioner until the following month.  It is more likely that a personal relationship clinched the deal. Henry Ferrers came from a Catholic family and had in fact rented his property at Baddesley Clinton several years before to relatives of both Robert Catesby and Thomas Wintour, the sisters Anne Vaux and Eleanor Brooksby. It is unlikely that Ferrers was unaware that these sisters had promptly turned the property into a hive of Catholic activities, where the Superior of the Jesuits. Fr Henry Garnet often lived. It doesn't seem that Ferrers made a habit of asking too many questions of his catholic associates.

Guy Fawkes assumed the name of John Johnson and established himself at the Whinniard house as Percy's servant. As parliament had been adjourned until February, and their plans further delayed by their house being taken over temporarily by a Scottish delegation, it was not until December 1604 that the conspirators, according to Guy Fawkes, started work on the mine which was to lead from the Whinniard house underneath the Parliament House. In the meantime, the details of the plot were being worked out. It was decided that as Prince Henry was likely to be attending Parliament and would therefore perish with his father, that Percy would seize his 5 year old brother, Charles, Duke of York, with a view of placing him on the throne. The young Duke would be in residence at Richmond on the day of the opening of Parliament, with only a few household members present. It would be easy for Percy as a Gentleman Pensioner to whisk him away as soon as they heard the explosion, under the pretext of taking him to safety.

The work on the mine, if it ever existed, did not go well according to Fawkes. The walls were thicker than they anticipated and they were having a problem with water seepage. It was at the end of March, as they were working, that they heard a strange sound coming from almost above their heads. It turned out to be the sounds of coals being removed from a cellar that was situated on the ground floor of the House of Lords. A coal merchant named Bright held the lease also of Whinniard, but he was going out of business, therefore it was a simple matter for Percy to lease this cellar as well, claiming it would be a useful place for him to store fuel. Now all the conspirators had to do was to move the gunpowder that they had collected from Lambeth into the cellar, disguise it with fuel that they purchased for that purpose, lock it up and await the coming of Parliament. That being done, Percy continued in his normal duties for the Earl of Northumberland, spending the summer of 1605 in Alnwick in Northamptonshire collecting the rents. In August, at a meeting in Bath he gave permission to Catesby to bring in any other conspirators he saw fit. On October 30th. Percy was in York with four men, arranging for the delivery of the rents that they had collected, however early the following morning he departed abruptly, taking two men with him, and telling the other men that he would be back the following day. As Guy Fawkes admitted that he had "gone northward" between the 31st and the 2nd of November, it is entirely likely that Fawkes was dispatched to warn Percy of the discovery of the Monteagle letter.

On November 2nd, Percy wrote three letters from Gainsboro, one to William Stockdall, the auditor for the Earl of Northumberland, claiming that he had to leave abruptly because the Archbishop was about to have him arrested as a chief pillar of papistry. He said that Stockdall should meet him with the rents the following Thursday at Doncaster. However, the dating of these letters must be incorrect, as Percy was seen riding post from Ware that same day, and had somehow managed to make it to London to have dinner at the Angel in St. Clements that same night, a 150-mile trip that defies plausibility.

The following day he met with Catesby and Wintour to discuss the ramifications of the Monteagle Letter. Although there was some discussion of flight, Percy was determined not to succumb to panic, and that he would "abide the uttermost trial". He decided to visit Syon House, which belonged to the Earl of Northumberland, to see if any rumours were circulating. He felt that if their secret was discovered, he would be arrested immediately on his appearance there, and was willing to sacrifice himself to give the others an opportunity to escape. Percy found nothing untoward at Syon House when he went there on the 4th. He spoke for a while with his patron about an imaginary loan, and dined with him and a few other gentlemen without any hint of a discovery of a plot being mentioned. After leaving Syon House, it is possible that this was when he paid a visit to Richmond. As later testified to by a servant, Agnes Fortrun, Percy came to the Duke's lodging there and was asking many questions. She claimed that this took place around the 1st of November, however this would have been impossible. He returned from Syon at 6pm and met with Thomas Wintour, Jack Wright and Robert Keyes, and relayed the good news. Everything was to go ahead as planned. After making arrangements for a watch to be sent to Fawkes, who was standing by at Westminster, so that he could know the time to set the gunpowder the following day, Percy went to Essex House, which also belonged to the Earl of Northumberland. He went under the pretext of seeing his cousin Jocelyn, but was probably trying to keep an ear out for any possible talk of discovery.

According to Tesimond, Percy wisely decided to sleep in a different place that night, but sometime before 5am his sleep was disturbed by Christopher Wright, who had heard that the gunpowder had been discovered, and everyone was now searching for Percy as the tenant of the cellar. As Percy and Wright prepared to flee London, Percy was heard to say by his servant, William Talbois, "I am undone"! During their flight, they were overtaken by another of the conspirators, Ambrose Rookwood at Little Brickhill in Buckinghamshire. Percy is reported to have been astonished to discover that Rookwood was a co-conspirator, and that "I thought no man had been acquainted with it but such as I had known." Although it is possible that the other conspirators had overlooked mentioning it to him, this seems unlikely. And there can be no doubt that the other conspirators were aware. Rookwood had been lodging in London with Robert Keyes, and he and Christopher Wright had both had their sword hilts engraved with the Passion of Christ shortly before.

The conspirators rendezvoused at Dunchurch, where additional men had been gathered together by Sir Everard Digby. The purpose of the gathering was under the guise of a hunt, however the true purpose was to kidnap the Princess Elizabeth from her home at nearby Coombe Abbey after the explosion in London. However, just hours before the anticipated event. Digby was told news of the failure of the plot and that they all had to flee for their lives. Back in London, the first of several proclamations had been sent out for the immediate apprehension of Percy, and almost amusingly, Percy had been claimed to be spotted leaving London in almost every conceivable direction. If not for the conspirators almost suicidal action of breaking into some stables at Warwick Castle in order to obtain fresh mounts, thereby alerting the local authorities, Percy and his friends might have gained a considerable lead over his pursuers, and been able to make their way into Wales, where it is believed they were heading. As it was, the plotters were soon hotly pursued and quickly brought to ground by Sir Richard Walsh, High Sheriff of Worcestershire for their final stand at Holbeache House. On the morning of November 8th, Walsh and his men stormed the house, smoking the conspirators from their hides. As they took up their defensive position in the courtyard, Catesby and Percy were felled by a single shot from the musket of John Streete of Worcester, who later claimed compensation from the government for his marksmanship. Percy was killed instantly, Catesby managing to crawl back inside the house before expiring.   
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Quote from The Gunpowder Plot Society website

Ambrose Rookwood

Ambrose Rookwood (c1578-1606) was the eldest son of Robert Rookwood of Stanningfield, Suffolk by his second wife Dorothea . The family was an old and influential one in the area, having held the manor of Stanningfield since Edward I, and had many members who represented Suffolk in parliament. However, the family remained staunchly catholic and many of them, Ambrose's parents included, were fined and imprisoned for their faith. With the assistance of Father John Gerard, young Rookwood, along with two brothers and a sister, were smuggled to Flanders for their education.

In 1600 on the death of his father, Rookwood inherited his father's considerable estates, all four brothers by his father's first marriage having predeceased him. Along with his beautiful wife Elizabeth, daughter of William Tyrwhitt, he made Coldham Hall a 'common refuge of priests'. He was related by marriage to the Wrights, the Wintours and Robert Keyes.  An easy and cheerful man, "handsome, if somewhat short" and extravagant in clothes, he was one of the youngest and wealthiest of the conspirators, much loved in the catholic community and is described by John Gerard "But that which moved them specially to make choice of Mr Rookwood was, I suppose, not so much to have his help by his living as by his person, and some provision of horses, of which he had divers of the best: but for himself, he was known to be of great virtue and no less valour and very secret. He was also of very good parts otherwise as for wit and learning, having spent much of his youth in study. He was at this time, as I take it, not past twenty-six or twenty-seven years old and had married a gentlewoman of a great family, a virtuous catholic also, by whom he had divers young children"

In February of 1605, Rookwood himself was convicted of recusancy at the Middlesex county sessions, and joined the conspiracy soon after. The exact date of his joining is in dispute, some claiming Easter-time (March 31), some claiming Michaelmas  29 September 1605. Rookwood's task was to take the news of the firing of the gunpowder to Catesby at Dunchurch, using his celebrated stable of horses in relay. Close friends with Catesby, he had earlier provided him with gunpowder believing it to be for the new English regiment of catholics, which James I had reluctantly allowed to be formed to fight with Spain's forces after the conclusion of their peace treaty, and of which Catesby had some hope of being a lieutenant.  Rookwood later claimed to be initially shocked when the plot was revealed, but was persuaded by Catesby that although he had it from an impeachable source that the killing of innocents under such conditions was not sinful, deserving persons would be prevented from attending Parliament by a 'trick', and he became an enthusiastic member. In order to be closer to the center of operations, he rented Clopton Hall, near Stratford-upon-Avon, and moved his household there. Between 29 October and 1 November he moved to London and took up lodging with his relative Robert Keyes at the house of an Elizabeth More. It was here he had delivered at 11pm on November 4 a sword hilt engraved with the Passion of Christ. In the small hours of the morning of the fifth, the conspirators learned of Guy Fawkes' capture. Rookwood was one of the last of the conspirators to flee London. He remained behind to gather information until approximately 11am. Despite his late start, his posting of fast mounts enabled him to make an epic ride, quickly catching up to the other conspirators and continue with them onto Holbeache. At Holbeache he was slightly injured by the accidental firing of the gunpowder, and during the raid was further injured by a John Street, who tried later to claim a reward for his services.

At his trial, Rookwood said that he had been induced into the plot for the catholic cause alone, and that he believed that it would help restore catholicism to England, although his friendship with Catesby, whom he 'loved above any worldly man', had made him much more open to the idea. He admitted his offences were so terrible that he could not expect any mercy, but because he had been neither 'author nor actor', he asked for mercy so as not to leave a 'blemish and blot unto all ages'.  He was executed on January 31, 1606 in Old Palace Yard at Westminster along with Thomas Wintour, Guy Fawkes and Robert Keyes.  While being dragged to his execution, he asked to be told when they were passing his house in the Strand so he could have one last look at his beloved wife. He cried to Elizabeth 'pray for me, pray for me'. She replied "I will, and be of good courage. Offer thyself wholly to God. I, for my part, do as freely restore thee to God as He gave thee unto me." 

At the scaffold, he made a speech where he freely confessed his sin, and asked God to bless the King and his family, that they might 'live long to reign in peace and happiness over this Kingdom', and beseeched God to make the King a catholic. "The onlookers could scarcely restrain their tears since he had been well known and loved for his exemplary behaviour while he lived". This speech earned him his mercy, as he was hanged until he was almost dead.   back to top    back to The Plot
Quote from The Gunpowder Plot Society website

Francis Tresham

Francis Tresham (c1567-1605) was the first son, and oldest of eleven children of Sir Thomas Tresham of Rushton, Northamptonshire and Muriel Throckmorton, daughter of Sir Robert Throckmorton of Coughton, Warwickshire. Francis was descended from a long line of respected ancestors. His great-grandfather, Sir Thomas Tresham, was appointed by Queen Elizabeth I as the Prior of the Order of St John of Jerusalem. Francis was educated at either St John's College or Gloucester Hall, or both, but the religion of his father and himself prevented his graduation. As early as 1586 he is mentioned as frequenting the French Ambassador's house with Lady Elizabeth Strange, Lady Compton, and other Catholics. Sir Thomas Tresham, his father, at this stage had begun to suffer extreme persecution for his stubborn adherence to the Catholic Faith. In August 1581, he was arrested for the first time, committed to the Fleet prison and tried in Star Chamber for the harbouring of Father Edmund Campion, along with his brothers-in-law William, Lord Vaux of Harrowden and Sir William Catesby of Lapworth. He spent the next seven years incarcerated in the Fleet, under house arrest at his home in Hoxton, and at Ely. Released on bail on 29 November 1588, he was later imprisoned again for unpaid recusancy fines in 1597 and 1599. With a penchant for building, Sir Thomas eventually left a legacy of some of the finest buildings in England, another factor that contributed to the dwindling finances of his family.

The young Francis Tresham, deprived of parental control, grew up embittered by the treatment meted out to his father; a perpetual malcontent, with none of his father's constancy and forbearance, and so ready to join in any desperate scheme against the government. The consequences of his disaffection further impoverished the family.  In June 1591 Tresham was arrested and committed to the Fleet prison 'for the abusing of the authority of a warrant from their Lordships'. Apparently he had altered a Privy Council warrant for the summons of one Barnewell, clothier, and replaced his name with a tenant of the Tresham's who owed them a great sum of money. Francis, and a group of henchmen ransacked the tenant's property, and violently assaulted his pregnant daughter. Eventually on 4 December 1591, Francis was released, although no apparent reason for this is forthcoming. Francis Tresham's reckless and unstable character must be reckoned a major cause of Sir Thomas's financial difficulties. He lived an extravagant and restless life in London; by 1593 he was already one of the circle at Essex House, young men of fashion, 'hunger-starved for innovations'. In this year his debts were such that he was in danger of great losses unless he could have 1000 pounds immediately.

Father John Gerard indicates Tresham was arrested again in 1596 along with Robert Catesby, John Wright and his younger brother Christopher Wright in the infamous 'poisoned pommel' conspiracy. This measure taken by the government was an attempt to round up known Catholic malcontents in order to avert any possible action during the Queen's illness.  In 1601 he participated in the Essex Rebellion, and only escaped a charge of treason by a bribe of 1000 pounds to Lady Katherine Howard. In addition , some payment was probably given to Egerton and the Lieutenant of the Tower (Lord Thomas Howard, later Earl of Suffolk), before the pardon could be procured. Records of Sir Thomas Tresham indicate the reverberation of Francis' incarceration. He was forced to sell a number of properties in order to come up with the 2000 pound fine. It has also been questioned whether he assisted in paying some of Robert Catesby's fine also.

Tresham's involvement in the Essex Rebellion was much to the disgust of his Jesuit advisors, one of whom declared if 'Tresham had had so much witt and discretion as he might have had, he would never had associated himself amongst such a damnable crew of heretics and atheists'. Left in Essex House with two others to guard Egerton on 8 February 1601, while the rest of the Essex supporters marched through London, Tresham was imprisoned first in the White Lion, Southwark, then in the Tower. His release was effected on 21 June 1601. Tresham was in Newgate in 1601 probably during the course of his arraignment where he contracted a dangerous sickness, but we have only Salisbury's word that Tresham had been "a long time subject to the natural sickness of which he died".  In 1602, Tresham, Catesby and Thomas Wintour consulted with Father Henry Garnet at White Webbs as to the propriety of sending someone to the Spanish Court and inducing Phillip II to attempt an invasion of England, presumably on the Queen's death. Known more popularly today as the Spanish Treason, Christopher Wright was sent on their behalf to attend the court of Phillip. While in Spain, he renewed his acquaintance with an old schoolfellow, Guy Fawkes.  Francis Tresham appears to have led a dissatisfied and not very creditable life. His father had allowed him the use of the manor of Hoxton, but he was not above entering into a conspiracy with one of his father's servants to deceive him about the extent of some lands they were to exchange. His father, in spite of his own political loyalty to James I, evidently suspected by October 1603 that Francis was going far beyond what such loyalty could normally permit. Francis was defaming his own father to the King. He was also spying for the court on his Catholic relations either then or sometime later.

Sir Thomas Tresham died intestate on 11 September 1605. Francis, his heir was already 'much subject and in danger for debts by judgement, executions and outlays'. He had inherited the estate but found himself liable for most of his father's debts since he had been bound with him for their repayment.  Sir Thomas had entailed all (including Rushton, and the Lyvedon estates) but a few of his properties in 1584 as a precautionary measure against the escalating tide of recusancy fines and even though his properties were confiscated upon the arrest of Francis, Muriel Tresham successfully petitioned the government to have them returned to the family. In time they passed to Francis's brother Lewis (created a Baronet in 1611, and knighted in 1612), who was not liable for his father's debt, although Muriel took it upon herself to spend the rest of her life trying to clear her husband's debts.  On his father's death however, Francis Tresham secured at least a 400-pound annuity from the Lyvedon properties, as well as a number of other income sources. Even though it was estimated the estate of Sir Thomas was in debt to almost 11500 pounds, the gunpowder plotters had a great need for money, and their lack of it prompted them to involve additional men, including the cousin of Robert Catesby, Francis Tresham. Tresham certainly had access to some funds, but the exact amount he promised, and whether this amount was ever paid are in question. According to the written confession of Francis Tresham, he was drawn into the plot on 14 October 1605 at his brother-in-law Lord Stourton's house in Clerkenwell. Although the government claimed he was made privy to it in May 1604, the other plotters, namely Guy Fawkes and Thomas Wintour, declared in their confessions that Tresham was the last to be admitted into the group.  He at first tried to discourage Catesby and the plan he had formulated, even going so far as to offer him money to leave the kingdom. He was then most vocal in outlining his support for warnings being sent to certain Catholic peers, including his two brothers-in-law William Parker, Lord Monteagle, and Lord Stourton.

Soon after news of the Monteagle Letter broke, the conspirators immediately suspected Tresham. As a consequence of this, they summoned him to come without delay to meet Catesby and Thomas Wintour at White Webbs. The meeting occurred on 1 November. Tresham 'exonerated himself with such oaths and emphatic asseverations of innocence that his companions were convinced, at least for the time being, of his basic fidelity'.  On 2 November, Tresham was still trying to convince the other conspirators that the plot was discovered and that they should all take safety in flight. According to Tesimond, Tresham's argument appeared to indicate to them that he knew more than he was prepared to say. On the same day Tresham received a licence to travel abroad for two years "with two servants, three horses or geldings, and 50 pounds in money, with all other his necessaries". This in itself has fuelled speculation over the years that Tresham seems to have become the principal double agent in the piece. Edwards claims 'The Writer's [Tesimond] reserve with regard to Francis Tresham is surely significant. Alone of the plotters, his character receives no eulogy', implying the popular, and generally accepted theory that Tresham was the author of the letter, and the plot's betrayer. When news of Fawkes' capture spread through London, all the conspirators, except Tresham, left with haste. There is also reason to believe that far from attempting to hide, Tresham offered his services to the government. Nonetheless, he had time to return to Northamptonshire and hide his personal papers. The first news of Tresham's complicity is mentioned in a letter from Sir William Waad dated 8 November 1605, in which he spoke of Tresham as "long a pensioner of the King of Spain, and a suspicious person".

Tresham was arrested on 12 November. The following day, he wrote a long five page statement in his own hand of his relations with the conspirators, including his introduction to the plot by Catesby, and that he had been guilty of concealment, but had tried to have the plot postponed until after the present sitting of parliament to see how the Catholic's would fare under the new recusancy laws. On 29 November 1605, he confessed his own and Father Henry Garnet's complicity in the Spanish Treason.

In the end, Tresham died in the Tower without having ever been publicly examined. It is not known if he died of a strangury (an acute and painful inflammation of the urinary tract resulting in retention of fluid), or that he was helped on to his death by the hand of those who, after forcing him to do what he did for them, did not wish that he should say anything more, or to reward him as he deserved. Certainly he was attended in his last days by a number of physicians, all of whom corroborated the governments statement as to his death, and his wife Anne. Knowing he was about to die, he dictated to William Vavasour, his servant, a declaration denying Garnet's knowledge of Wintour's mission to Spain. Vavasour had also transcribed a copy of Blackwell's "Treatise of Equivocation" for Tresham, an issue that Garnet was confronted with at his own trial. Although he had not been indicted, he was treated as a traitor; he was attainted with the other conspirators, and his goods and land forfeited. Speculation still surrounds the death of Tresham even to this day. Francis Edwards, SJ, is one of several leading scholars who support the theory that Tresham did not perhaps die in the Tower, and was allowed to escape to Spain, where he travelled under the alias Matthew Brunninge.  back to top    back to The Plot
Quote from The Gunpowder Plot Society website

Robert Wintour

Robert Wintour (aka Winter) (c1565-1606) was the eldest son of George Wintour of Huddington Court and his first wife, Jane Ingleby. When George Wintour died in 1594, Robert inherited the bulk of the estate as the eldest son. This estate included the manor house of Huddington Court, near Droitwich in Worcestershire, which was the main seat of the Wintour family, hop yards and 25 salt-evaporating pans at Droitwich. The salt produced from these pans was said to be the best in England, and thus the pans were very profitable and formed a major source of revenue for the Wintour family.

Robert married Gertrude Talbot, daughter of Sir John Talbot of Grafton in Worcestershire. Talbot was heir to the earldom of Shrewsbury and was one of the wealthiest landowners in the region, owning, among other estates, much property in Shropshire near Albrighton. He was also a firm Catholic, and had spent 20 years in prison for recusancy. Robert had thus allied himself with one of the strongest catholic families in the region, and Huddington Court under his care became a known refuge for priests. Two priest holes, which were probably constructed by Nicholas Owen, can be seen there to this day. John Gerard described Robert as "esteemed in his life to be one of the wisest and most resolute and sufficient gentlemen in Worcestershire". In the proclamation issued for his capture, he was described as "a man of meane stature, rather low than otherwise, square made, somewhat stooping, neere fortie yeares of age, his hair and beard browne, his beard not much and his hair short". Perhaps because he was the eldest son and heir, he seems to have been more settled than his younger brother Thomas.  Robert "tended to follow where Thomas, younger but more clever, wittier and more restless, tended to lead, ...".

Robert was introduced to the circle of Gunpowder Plot conspirators because he was an "esquire and a man of substance". Besides contributing financially, he and his brother-in-law John Grant were to collect weapons and prepare horses for use in the uprising which was expected to occur in the Midlands once the act of blowing up the Houses of Parliament had succeeded. Initially Robert refused to join the plot. He eventually agreed to be sworn in, together with John Grant, at a meeting with Robert Catesby at the Catherine Wheel inn in Oxford in February 1605. Throughout the course of the campaign, however, he often showed what appears to be a lack of commitment to the cause. For example, he was not enthusiastic about the theft of horses from Warwick Castle during the flight from Dunchurch to Holbeach House, and hoped that he might be able to turn back. Catesby's answer to this was, "Some of us may not look back." Robert replied, "Others of us, I hope, may, and therefore I pray you, let this alone."

At Huddington Court, Robert's residence, it was decided to approach Sir John Talbot at Grafton to ask his assistance. Robert was asked to write a letter of introduction but he declined, saying "My masters, you know not my father Talbot so well as I ... I verily think all the world cannot draw him from his allegiance. Besides, what friends hath my poor wife and children but he? And therefore satisfy yourselves, I will not." Eventually he agreed to write a letter to one of Talbot's servants, a Mr Smallpiece, and it was left up to his brother Thomas and Stephen Littleton to visit Sir John after the arrival at Holbeach House, an embassy which was to prove fruitless, as Sir John would have nothing to do with the conspirators. While at Holbeach House, an accident occurred in which some gunpowder that had been laid out to dry in front of the fire caught alight and exploded, badly burning some of those present. Robert claimed to have had a premonition of this accident in a dream the previous night, and he declared that as in the accident he "clearly recognised the finger of Almighty God".

On 7 November Robert and Stephen Littleton slipped away from Holbeach House and met up with each other an hour or so later at a point half a mile distant. From there they decided to make for Hagley Park, which was the home of a relative of Littleton's. Although the other principal plotters had been killed at Holbeach House or captured soon after, Wintour and Littleton managed to stay on the run for two months. At one place they stayed, they were discovered by a drunken poacher whom they themselves had to imprison in order to make their escape. Eventually they reached Hagley Park, which was occupied at the time by Humphrey Littleton, an uncle of Stephen. Humphrey had sworn his servants to secrecy, but the cook, one John Fynwood, betrayed the fugitives to the authorities. When the authorities arrived to arrest the fugitives, Humphrey Littleton denied that Robert and Stephen were present, but a servant called David Bate led the authorities to the courtyard behind the house where the two fugitives were found attempting to flee into the woods.

Robert and Stephen were sent to the Tower, and Humphrey was arrested along with some of his tenants who had assisted in sheltering the fugitives. The date of Robert and Stephen's capture was 9 January, two months after their flight from Holbeach House. Fraser mentions a tradition that Robert and his wife Gertrude had a number of secret rendezvous while Robert was on the run, but questions whether the couple would have dared to take such risks. During his imprisonment Robert admitted that while staying at Huddington Court en route to Holbeach House, the party had made their confessions to Father Hammond, the alias of Father Hart, a Jesuit priest who was the chaplain at Huddington Court. This part of Robert's confession was later cited as evidence of the Jesuits' complicity in the Gunpowder Plot. Robert Wintour was executed on 30 January 1606 at St. Paul's Churchyard, together with Sir Everard Digby, John Grant and Thomas Bates. On the scaffold, he was quiet and withdrawn, and did not speak much. Although he appeared to be praying to himself, he did not publicly ask mercy of either God or the King for his offence. Despite Robert's conviction for his role in the Gunpowder Plot, it appears that the Wintour family were not immediately deprived of Huddington Court and their other estates. They remained in the hands of Robert's widow Gertrude, who forfeited them for recusancy in 1607, although they were later regained by Robert's son John who died in 1622.   back to top    back to The Plot 
Quote from The Gunpowder Plot Society website

             Thomas Wintour  (aka Winter)

31st Jan 1606 at Old Palace Yard, Westminster 
The marriage between Thomas Wintour and Elizabeth Catesby and the subsequent birth of a son George is more of a legend than proved fact. It is mentioned on page 100 of Wyntours of the White Cross, but it's by no means sure if it is true.  

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Christopher Wright

Christopher (Kit) Wright (1570-1605) was the third and youngest son of Robert Wright of Plowland in Holderness, and the second son of Robert's second wife Ursula Rudston of Hayton. He was probably born at Plowland Hall in the parish of Welwick along with his elder brother John. He also attended the free school of St Peter in York with John, Guy Fawkes, Oswald Tesimond, Edward Oldcorne, and Robert Middleton. Christopher was tall and strongly built, his large features having a somewhat ruddy tan. He was discreet, a man of few words in fact, and well able to keep a secret. He was also devoted and fervent in religious matters, and after he became a Catholic, lived a life that was exemplary. Tesimond also say's of him, "He resembled his brother in all his valour and gallantry, and was a close and loyal friend of Mr Catesby".

"He was very like to the other [his brother John] in conditions and qualities, and both esteemed and tried to be as stout a man as England had, and withal a zealous Catholic and trusty and secret in any business as could be wished". Christopher Wright was married to Margaret Ward, sister of Marmaduke Ward of Mulwith who married his sister Ursula Wright. He was thus brother-in-law to Thomas Ward, the servant in Lord Monteagle's household who told the plotters about the letter. By her he had at least one son, John, who married into the Busfield family of Lincolnshire. Spink makes the claim that four children born between 1589 and 1601 in the parish of Ripon were also his - Edward, baptised 6 October 1589; Elizabeth, baptised 23 July 1594; Francis, baptised 12 July 1596; and Marmaduke, baptised 3 February 1601. Spink uses this strong family connection between Christopher Wright, the Wards, and Monteagle as the basis for his argument that Christopher Wright was the conspirator who betrayed his friends and coerced the Jesuit Oldcorne into writing the famous letter. In 1601, Kit Wright was one of a number of Catholic's involved in the failed rebellion of Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, and like his brother, he escaped a more serious punishment.

Edward Coke claimed at the conspirators trial that in 1603, upon the death of Elizabeth, Christopher Wright was sent into Spain in accordance with the arrangement made by Thomas Wintour and John Gerard to inform Phillip III of the Queen's death and to solicit the aid of the Spanish forces in a catholic uprising. He was, like Thomas Wintour who was also earlier sent on a similar mission, furnished with letters of introduction and recommendation by Garnet to Father Joseph Creswell, the Jesuit Superior in that country. It is believed that during this visit, Christopher Wright rekindled his old school friendship with Guy Fawkes, who had been sent on a similar mission by Sir William Stanley, Hugh Owen, and the Jesuit Superior of Flanders, Father William Baldwin. Like the missions of Fawkes and Wintour, Christopher Wright's failed to gain the support the catholics had hoped for. Although they supported the uprising against the new monarch, they would not commit resources to an invasion. By 31 July 1603, the date of their final verdict, the time was well passed to act anyway as Spain was by now negotiating peace with her old enemy.

Christopher Wright was not drawn into the Gunpowder Plot until after Christmas 1605, as late as 25 March according to Fraser, at the same time as Robert Wintour and John Grant, when it is believed the original five, plus Robert Keyes, had become weary, and needed additional help in the mine. He spent a great amount of time in London, probably at the property he owned in Lambeth, but towards the end of October, he was residing temporarily at White Webbs with his brother and Robert Catesby.  Upon the discovery of the plot, Kit was sent by Thomas Wintour to warn Thomas Percy and "bid him begone", who had been named in a proclamation through the capture of Fawkes. He and Percy left London together before daylight, eventually meeting up with Catesby and John Wright, and Ambrose Rookwood travelling firstly to Ashby St Ledgers, then Huddington, and lastly Holbeche House in the late evening of 7 November.

On the morning of the 8th November the house was surrounded and laid siege to by the Sheriff of Worcester's men. In a brief stand, Christopher was killed outright, along with Catesby and Percy, while his brother John received a mortal wound, lingering at death's door for almost a day. In the fracas surrounding the storming of the house, the moribund bodies of the traitors were crudely stripped, Kit's boots and fine silk stockings were taken, as well as a number of souvenirs. Fraser claims that even though the victims were "in extremis", they might have been kept alive despite their "many and grievous wounds" had a surgeon been available.  back to top    back to The Plot
Quote from The Gunpowder Plot Society website

John Wright

John (Jack) Wright (1568-1605) was probably born at Plowland Hall in Holderness [in the parish of Welwick]. Along with his younger brother Christopher, he was said to have been a school fellow of both Oswald Tesimond and Guy Fawkes at the free school of St. Peters in York, known as "Le Horse Fayre". Robert and Ursula were staunch Catholics who suffered imprisonment in Hull Prison in York for a period of "fourteen years together" during the time which Henry Hastings, the Puritan Earl of Huntingdon, was Lord President of the North. They had three daughters also, including Martha, who married Thomas Percy the conspirator, and Ursula, who married firstly John Constable of Hatfield, and secondly Marmaduke Ward of Mulwith, the suspected brother of Thomas Ward, servant to William Parker, Lord Monteagle. By his first marriage to Anne Grimston, Robert Wright also had a son William, and two daughters, Martha and Anne. Very little is known of the early life of the two Wright brothers and a great deal of what is written is often attributed to either or both of them, so accuracy and specifics in detail between the two brothers are often blurred, but later, Father John Gerard described John as a "strong, stout man, and of very good wit, though slow of speech". Renowned from his youth for his courage, "he was somewhat taciturn in manner, but very loyal to his friends, even if his friends were few".

By all accounts he was an excellent swordsman, considered by some to be the best swordsman of his day. He was purported to be much disposed to fighting until he was reconciled to the Catholic faith, which according to Gerard occurred during, or just prior to, the time of the Essex Rebellion.  Prior to the Essex Rebellion however, John, his brother Christopher, and a number of others, including Robert Catesby and Francis Tresham, were arrested as a precautionary measure during an illness of Queen Elizabeth I. This was later dubbed the "Poisoned Pommel" incident, although no evidence of a plot or conspiracy was ever truly uncovered that implicated either these four or any others.

John, along with his friend Robert Catesby, had formed part of the entourage for Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex. After the abortive Essex Rebellion of 1601, John spent an amount of time imprisoned in solitary confinement. After his release, he moved his family from the ancestral home of Plowland Hall to Twigmore Hall in northern Lincolnshire, which, even before the Essex Rebellion was noted as a "resort of priests for his [John's] spiritual and their corporal comfort", which seems to imply his religious position was established even before Father John Gerard's claim. (Spink also makes the claim that it would be difficult for the son of such devout religionists who suffered persecution for their faith to be brought up with anything other than a Catholic background).  A government report put it in less flattering terms: "This place is one of the worst in her Majesty's dominions and is used like a Popish college for traitors in the northern parts".

Esteemed by Catesby for his valour and secrecy, John was the third to be initiated into the Gunpowder Plot, some time in May 1604. Along with Thomas Wintour, he was given the task of officially telling Guy Fawkes of the conspirators' intentions to blow up the Houses of Parliament, at which time he removed his family from Twigmore Hall to a house belonging to Catesby at Lapworth in Warwickshire. John's official position in the conspiracy is somewhat unclear, although by all accounts he was an active participant in all its events.

On 4 November, the eve of the plot's discovery, John fled London with Catesby to take the news to Sir Everard Digby and the hunting party which had gathered at Dunchurch in Warwickshire. Meeting several of their confederates on the way to the Midlands, their party eventually numbered almost 60 strong. After receiving Mass at Huddington Court on November 6th, they finally reached Holbeche House, the home of Stephen Littleton, in the late evening of 7 November. The conspirators by now were weary, and according to their confessions, had all but given up hope that their plans would succeed.  On the morning of 8 November, the house was surrounded and laid siege to by the Sheriff of Worcester's men. In a brief stand, Christopher Wright was killed outright along with Catesby and Percy. However, according to Tesimond, who was later told by the Wintours' priest Father Hart (alias Hammond) who had administered the Mass two days previous, John was also mortally wounded, but "lingered for a day, if not longer". After the capture and imprisonment of the conspirators, the bodies of those who had died at Holbeche were exhumed, and the heads removed for display at Westminster Palace.   back to top    back to The Plot
Quote from The Gunpowder Plot Society website



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