Robert Catesby

Robert Catesby


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Robert Catesby, the son of Sir William Catesby, was born in Lapworth, Warwickshire, in 1573. Catesby was educated at Oxford University but as a Roman Catholic left before taking his degree in order to avoid taking the Oath of Supremacy.

In 1596 Elizabeth I became ill. As a precautionary measure, a group of leading Roman Catholics, including Catesby, John Wright, Christopher Wright and Francis Tresham, was arrested and sent to the Tower of London.

In 1601 Catesby was involved with Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, in the failed attempt to remove Elizabeth I from power. Due to the minor role he played in the rebellion he was not executed and instead was heavily fined. In order to pay the fine Catesby had to sell his manor house at Chastleton.

When Elizabeth I died in 1603 without children, Mary's son, was next in line to the throne. As James was a Protestant, Parliament was also in favour of him becoming king. The Roman Catholics in England were upset that there was going to be another Protestant monarch. They also became very angry when James passed a law that imposed heavy fines on people who did not attend Protestant church services.

In May 1604, Catesby devised the Gunpowder Plot, a scheme to kill James and as many Members of Parliament as possible. At a meeting at the Duck and Drake Inn Catesby explained his plan to Guy Fawkes, Thomas Percy, John Wright and Thomas Wintour. All the men agreed under oath to join the conspiracy. Over the next few months Francis Tresham, Everard Digby, Robert Wintour, Thomas Bates and Christopher Wright also agreed to take part in the overthrow of the king.

After the death of James in the explosion, Catesby planned to make the king's young daughter, Elizabeth, queen. In time, Catesby hoped to arrange Elizabeth's marriage to a Catholic nobleman. It was Everard Digby's task to kidnap Princess Elizabeth from Coombe Abbey.

Catesby's plan involved blowing up the Houses of Parliament on 5th November. This date was chosen because the king was due to open Parliament on that day. At first the group tried to tunnel under Parliament. This plan changed when Thomas Percy was able to hire a cellar under the House of Lords. The plotters then filled the cellar with barrels of gunpowder. Guy Fawkes, because of his munitions experience in the Netherlands, was given the task of creating the explosion.

One of the people involved in the plot was Francis Tresham. He was worried that the explosion would kill his friend and brother-in-law, Lord Monteagle. Tresham therefore sent Lord Monteagle a letter warning him not to attend Parliament on 5 November.

Lord Monteagle became suspicious and passed the letter to Robert Cecil, the king's chief minister. Cecil quickly organised a thorough search of the Houses of Parliament. While searching the cellars below the House of Lords they found the gunpowder and Guy Fawkes. He was tortured and he eventually gave the names of his fellow conspirators.

The conspirators left London and agreed to meet at Holbeche House in Staffordshire. News of their hiding place reached the Sheriff of Worcester and on 8th November the house was surrounded by troops. Catesby and his men refused to surrender and gunfire broke out. Over the next few minutes Catesby, Thomas Percy, Christopher Wright and John Wright were killed.


Robert Catesby

Robert Catesby was the ringleader of the 1605 Gunpowder Plot, but his connections with Coventry have been forgotten over time, which is especially surprising if one considers the amount of property that the family owned in the very heart of Coventry.

This forgetfulness appears to have started in 1605 when all property, lands and family documents were seized by the government after the failure of the plot and the subsequent shooting of Robert at Holbeche House. Catesby and Thomas Percy were standing side by side when they were felled by a single shot.

William de Catesby (c.1310-1383) was a member of a Warwickshire peasant family which had managed to acquire some land. He rose from insignificance to a position of prominence with remarkable rapidity in the 1330s, becoming a knight of the shire in 1339, and an escheator in 1340. Naturally, he was extending his property interests at the same time. As well as rural estates (including the manor of Ladbroke, Warwickshire), he acquired an urban base in the most important midland city of the period, Coventry his purchases comprised a substantial town house and thirty to forty city tenements, whose rents conveniently paid the running costs of the mansion. His tenants no doubt also provided support in local affairs, should this be needed by such a powerful man. This pattern was surely repeated many times, but his example is unique for us because of a much later occurrence the attainder of his descendant, Robert Catesby, the Gunpowder Plot conspirator.

Source:
The Catesbys in Coventry: A medieval estate and its archives, by N. W. Alcock

If it can be assumed that the family would have carried on increasing their ownership of land and property in key areas of the city, then apart from the 'Guilds' they would have been amongst the largest land and property owners in the city. Yet strangely they did not get involved in the running of the city in any way, not even warranting a mention within the membership of the higher ranking officials who ran the city during the 200 or so years of their influence.

It should be noted that Catesby Lane is missing from the list of names in Speed's map of 1610, which was made shortly after the plot, so it is understandable that the name was erased before they produced the map. What a pity there were no newspapers at the time. what headlines would they have seen?

All the lands and property owned by the family were forfeited to the Crown in 1605, along with the complete family archive, but the Public Records Office holds no deeds or records relating to Coventry.


Robert Catesby

Născut în Warwickshire, Catesby a fost educat la Oxford. Familia sa erau importanți catolici recuzanți proeminenți și, probabil pentru a evita depunerea Jurământului de Supremație ⁠( d ) , a părăsit colegiul înainte de a-și lua diploma. S-a căsătorit cu o protestantă ⁠( d ) în 1593 și a avut doi copii, dintre care unul a supraviețuit nașterii și a fost botezat într-o biserică protestantă. În 1601 a luat parte la Răscoala lui Essex, ⁠( d ) dar a fost capturat și amendat, după care și-a vândut moșia de la Chastleton ⁠( d ) .

Protestantul Iacob I, devenit regele Angliei în 1603, era mai puțin tolerant față de catolicism ⁠( d ) decât sperau adepții săi. Prin urmare, Catesby a pus la cale să-l omoare aruncând în aer Camera Lorzilor cu praf de pușcă în timpul deschiderii lucrărilor Parlamentului ⁠( d ) , ca preludiu al unei revolte populare în timpul căreia un monarh catolic să fie restabilit pe tronul englez. La 1604 a început să recruteze alți catolici pentru cauza sa, între care Thomas Wintour ⁠( d ) , John Wright ⁠( d ) , Thomas Percy ⁠( d ) și Guy Fawkes. Descris ulterior ca un om carismatic și influent, în lunile următoare a ajutat la atragerea a alți opt conspiratori în complot, a cărui intrare în acțiune era planificată pentru 5/15 noiembrie 1605 . O scrisoare trimisă anonim către William Parker, al 4-lea baron Monteagle, a alertat autoritățile, iar în ajunul exploziei plănuite, în timpul unei percheziții a Parlamentului, Fawkes a fost găsit păzind butoaiele de praf de pușcă. Vestea arestării sale i-a determinat pe ceilalți complotiști să fugă din Londra, avertizându-l pe Catesby în drumul lor.

Cu grupul de adepți mult diminuat, Catesby s-a cantonat în Casa Holbeche din Staffordshire, împotriva unei companii de 200 de oameni înarmați. El a fost împușcat și mai târziu găsit mort, ținând în mână o imagine cu Fecioara Maria. Ca avertisment pentru alții, trupul său a fost exhumat și ulterior decapitat, iar capul său a fost expus în apropierea clădirii Parlamentului.


The True Story Behind the HBO Miniseries Gunpowder

I n 1605, a group of British Catholics, including Guy Fawkes and Robert Catesby, devised a plan to blow up the Houses of Parliament. They hoped to wipe out the anti-Catholic political establishment and with it King James I, a protestant who introduced strict laws that persecuted Catholics, including the banning of priests.

However &mdashspoiler alert &mdash the plot failed when a group of guards decided to check the cellars and found the conspirators hiding there, moments before they were to set the plan in motion.

The basic story of the failed Gunpowder Plot is a famous one. But although Brits celebrate Bonfire Night with fireworks every year on Nov. 5, the details of that fateful night remain sketchy to many.

Now, the HBO series Gunpowder is shining a light on the events that led to the failed attack, from Catesby’s significant and often overlooked role in masterminding the event, to the cryptic letter that thwarted the entire plot. The three-episode series was originally shown on the BBC in the U.K. and airs in the U.S. on HBO from Dec. 18 through 20. It stars and is produced by Game of Thrones‘ Kit Harington, who is a direct descendant of Catesby through his mother&rsquos side.

But how much do the events depicted in Gunpowder stick to reality, and how much of the show strays from history? Here, we sort the fact from the fiction.

Warning: this post contains spoilers for Gunpowder.

Did Robert Catesby actually come up with the Gunpowder Plot?

Guy Fawkes, played by Tom Cullen, is the man most closely associated with the Gunpowder Plot &mdash and effigies of the notorious conspirator are still burned by Brits annually on Nov. 5. However, although Fawkes’ name is more commonly associated with the story of the Gunpowder Plot than Robert Catesby’s, it was in fact Catesby, played by Harington, who came up with the idea of blowing up Parliament on Nov. 5 &mdash as the show Gunpowder suggests.

Born to a wealthy Catholic family in the early 1570s, Catesby became embittered against the Protestant establishment, including the government and the royal family, when he watched his father being persecuted for refusing to conform to the Church of England. He thought up the plot to destroy both Parliament and King James using exploding gunpowder as early as May 1603, after deciding that the Catholic Spanish government would not help the English Catholics.

In April 1604, Catesby and his fellow Catholic conspirators sent a man to Spain to enlist Fawkes, who was serving in the Spanish military at the time and had a reputation for great courage. He agreed to help execute the treacherous plot, and swiftly returned to England.

Did Catholics really get punished in such brutal ways?

The graphic first episode of Gunpowder shows a woman named Lady Dorothy Dibdale (Sian Webber) being brutally crushed by heavy stones in a public square, for “refus[ing] to enter a plea” that she harbored “a jesuit priest in [her] house.” In the same scene, a young Catholic priest is gruesomely hanged and quartered.

In reality, such punishments did take place during the time of Catholic persecution. John Cooper, a historian who acted as a consultant to the three-part series, told The Times that while crushing was an uncommon punishment, Catholics being hanged, drawn and quartered was “distressingly common.”

Although Lady Dorothy Dibdale did not exist, her character may have been based on a real person: Margaret Clitherow. Clitherow was a Catholic martyr who was similarly pressed to death “under seven or eight hundredweight” for harboring fugitive priests, but her public torture took place in 1586, around 20 years prior to setting of Gunpowder.

Although some viewers complained that the torture scenes were overly graphic and even gratuitous, Harington explained in an interview with the BBC that he thought it was necessary to show the brutal ways Catholics were persecuted in Britain, to help viewers understand “why Robert Catesby embarks upon this very, very violent act.”

“At the time, Catholics were being persecuted and there is nothing in this which is not historically accurate,” he said. “So we needed to see something quite violent from the start which makes us understand why this man might do what he does.”

Did the priest John Gerard escape the Tower of London after his capture?

In episode two, Catesby and his companions are seen helping the priest John Gerard (Robert Emms) escape from the Tower of London in the dead of night. Gerard had been captured by Jesuit hunter William Wade (Shaun Dooley) and questioned over Catesby’s whereabouts &mdash but he refused to disclose any information, resulting in his torture by waterboarding and a barbaric arm-stretching device, known as rack torture. The weak-looking Gerard can be seen escaping through the tower into the moat surrounding it, and then into a boat. But did the priest really escape from the Tower?

In real life, Gerard was indeed captured and hung from a bar in the Tower, but this actually happened years before the Gunpowder Plot was cooked up. The priest was sent to the tower in 1594, during Queen Elizabeth I’s reign, not James I’s. Gerard was tortured during his time as a captive and, in 1597, managed to escape. His jailbreak involved orange-juice invisible ink, string, rope, a boat, a little help from his friends and, presumably in his own estimation, a lot of help from God.


The plot unravels

The conspirators successfully smuggled barrels of gunpowder into the cellar, concealing them with wood and coal. On the evening before the State Opening ceremony, however, their plan hit a snag. Guy Fawkes was discovered in the cellar. One of the men who found Fawkes was Lord Monteagle, a man close to the king. Fawkes tried to hide his identity, giving a fake name: John Johnson. But his presence in the cellars was cause for suspicion. A little over a week earlier, Lord Monteagle – a Catholic – had received an anonymous letter urging him not to attend the State Opening on 5 November. There was going to be trouble, the letter warned. Monteagle shared the letter with the king on 1 November. At first, the king and his government decided not to take action, but to wait to see if more details of the plot came to light.

Following Fawkes’s discovery in the cellars, Sir Thomas Knyvett, the Justice for Westminster, ordered a further search. He discovered 36 barrels of gunpowder. Guy Fawkes was arrested and sent to the Tower of London.


Kit Harington: My ancestor tried to blow up parliament

George RR Martin's fantasy opus Game of Thrones is famously inspired by a particularly bloody chapter in British history, the War of the Roses. But the hit TV show's producers may not have realised how close to Britain's brutal history their brooding mega-star Kit Harington actually is.

Harington spoke to Front Row about a part of his family's history that helped inspire his latest drama.

"It's been a family curiosity for as long as I can remember".

"Mum used to say 'Robert Catesby was the leader of the gunpowder plot' and not many people know that."

Harington is a direct descendant of Robert Catesby. Catesby was his mother&rsquos maiden name and he even carries the name himself. His given name is Christopher Catesby Harington.

"If you asked someone on the street they'd know the name Guy Fawkes. They know that barrels of gunpowder were put underneath parliament. They know the rhyme &lsquoremember, remember the 5th November&rsquo but that&rsquos pretty much all they know.&rdquo

Born in Warwickshire in 1572, Catesby came from a well-off devout Roman Catholic family and was well educated. He was brought up at a time when England was in religious turmoil. Henry VIII's break away from the Catholic church created terrible tensions and after King James I ascended to the English throne in 1603, it became a criminal act to practice Catholicism.

Catesby organised the Gunpowder Plot in response to the persecution of his own friends and family.

As plots go, and there were many at this time, it came very close to being realised. So why do we only remember Guy Fawkes, an accomplice, and not the leader, Catesby?

The authorities were alerted to the plan and Guy Fawkes was found in the cellars with the damning barrels of evidence all around him.

He was tortured, confessed and died from a broken neck fleeing the brutal execution that awaited him. The demise of Catesby was far less public.

Harington, convinced the story should be dramatised, turned to friend Daniel West and they developed the idea with writer Ronan Bennett.

Harington is an Executive Producer on the three-part series.

So after playing his own ancestor what does he make of Robert Catesby?

"He&rsquos a firebrand. He&rsquos one of those people that really in some ways was intensely arrogant, was incredibly ambitous but also he was driven by a real religious fervour. The fact that he was widower meant that I think he almost had a death wish to go to heaven to be with his wife again."

"He wasn&rsquot happy on this earth. And I don&rsquot&rsquo think he was a particularly good man for those reasons &ndash he took innocent people along with him to their deaths."

"But the context he was in, was that his religion was being persecuted, his friends were hung, drawn and quartered and that has to be taken into account. "

"That's why we have this very, very violent scene at the start which we needed to show why he did this."

&ldquoWhat we&rsquore trying to do is to tell the story from the plotters&rsquo perspective as well, to try to understand what pushes people to do horribly violent things.&rdquo

"It&rsquos important to say &ndash I never wanted to think of these men as terrorists."

"They thought they were revolutionaries. They thought they were bringing direct change to government because how they were being persecuted."

"However there is a comparison to be had with these young men who are disenfranchised from society and go about trying to blow up government."

Mark Gatiss who plays Robert Cecil, the royal spymaster, also stars in the drama:

"It&rsquos not just bad Catholics who want to blow up the King, there are terrible things being done against the Catholics in the name of justice and reason. It&rsquos an extremely interesting and murky time politically."

&ldquoBonfire Night is a big thing, but it feels like all the fireworks and the bonfire itself makes it seem like the actual story is fading in people&rsquos minds.&rdquo

&ldquoIt never occurred to me as a kid that we were burning a Catholic in effigy, you just don&rsquot really think about those things - it&rsquos just a bit of fun involving sparklers and Roman candles.&rdquo


Robert Catesby

On November 5th 1605, Guy Fawkes was arrested in the under croft of the Houses of Parliament in London. He was one of thirteen Catholic conspirators, many associated closely with Warwickshire, who all came together under the powerful leadership of one Robert Catesby.

When Queen Elizabeth I died in 1603, it was hoped that her successor, James I, would be more tolerant of the Catholics than she had been. However it turned out not to be and Catesby’s fight for more Catholic rights took him in a violent direction, culminating in a plot to blow up Parliament and perhaps even kill the King!

Warwickshire-born Catesby was a charismatic leader and not long before the Gunpowder Plot was hatched, had sold his Manor of Ladbroke to pay the excessive fines he had, for constantly getting into trouble with the Crown and Parliament. His wife was Catherine Leigh of Stoneleigh Abbey and he sold Ladbroke to his brother-in-law Robert Dudley, who was married to Catherine’s sister Alice. He was also cousin to the Throckmorton family of Coughton Court and therefore related to Clement Throckmorton who owned half the Manor of Southam at that time.

Guy Fawkes was a mercenary soldier who was fighting in Europe and was drawn into Catesby’s group because of his knowledge of gunpowder. Whilst the other conspirators had travelled to the Midlands, it was Fawkes who was caught in the early hours of the morning on November 5th in the cellars under the House of Lords with thirty-six barrels of gunpowder. Hence it is his name (rather than Robert Catesby’s) that is now associated with the gunpowder plot and ‘bonfire night’.

Robert Catesby was shot and killed in the siege that followed Fawkes’ capture, along with most of the other conspirators. The rest were imprisoned, tortured and then ‘hung, drawn and quartered’ in the most horrific way as a warning to others. Still today, the reigning monarch will only enter Parliament once a year at the ‘State Opening of Parliament’ and then only after the Yeoman of the Guard has searched the cellars of the Palace of Westminster.

To celebrate the failure of the gunpowder plot, bonfires were lit all over England that night in 1605. Over 400 years later, bonfires and fireworks are still lit on November 5th to commemorate the event. In the early 1600s at Southam, records in the churchwarden’s accounts show that the town followed the rest of the country, and as well as having a bonfire, the church bells were rung. For years afterwards, we know Southam rang St James’ Church bells each November 5th and for this the bell ringers were paid as much as 2 shillings each. This was more than the 1 shilling and 6 pence (1s 6d) usually paid on festival days, and also more than the 1 shilling and 10 pence (1s 10d) paid to each bell ringer for ringing when the Bishop visited Southam.


Facts about Robert Catesby 3: Essex Rebellion

He had to sell his estate at Chastleton to pay the fine for participating at the Essex Rebellion in 1601.

Facts about Robert Catesby 4: Catholicism

The tolerance for Catholicism was less spotted during the reign of James I. He was a Protestant who served as the King of England in 1603.


Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Catesby, Robert

CATESBY, ROBERT (1573–1605), second and only surviving son of Sir William Catesby of Lapworth, Warwickshire, by Anne, daughter of Sir Robert Throckmorton of Coughton in the same county, was born at Lapworth in 1573. He was sixth in descent from William Catesby [q. v.], of the household to Henry VI (Rot. Parl. v. 197) and speaker of the House of Commons in the parliament of 1484 (vi. 238), who, being on the side of Richard III, escaped from the battle of Bosworth only to be hanged at Leicester a few days afterwards ( Gairdner , Richard III, 308). The attainder against him being reversed, his estates reverted to his family, and the Catesbys added largely to them in the century that followed. Sir William Catesby, in common with the great majority of the country gentry throughout England who were resident upon their estates and unconnected with the oligarchy who ruled in the queen's name at court, threw in his lot with the catholic party and suffered the consequences of his conscientious adherence to the ​ old creed. He was a recusant, and for the crime of not attending at his parish church and taking part in a form of worship which he regarded as worse than a mockery, he suffered severely in person and substance during the latter half of Queen Elizabeth's reign. He had become compromised as early as 1580 by his befriending of the Roman emissaries (Cal. State Papers. Dom. 1580, p. 322), and he certainly was a liberal contributor to their support (Troubles of our Catholic Forefathers, 2nd ser. p. 156). There is some reason to believe that Robert, his son, was for a time a scholar at the college of Douay (Diary of the English College, Douay, ed. Dr. Knox, 1878, p. 206), but in 1586 he entered at Gloucester Hall, now Worcester College, Oxford, which was then a favourite place of resort for the sons of the recusant gentry, as Peterhouse was at Cambridge. The young men of this party rarely stayed at the university more than a year or two, the oath of supremacy being a stumbling-block to them and Catesby never proceeded to the B.A. degree. In 1592 he married Catherine, daughter of Sir Thomas Leigh of Stoneleigh, Warwickshire, and with her had a considerable estate settled to the uses of the marriage. Next year, by the death of his grandmother, he came into possession of the estate of Chastleton, where he continued to reside for the next few years. His wife died while he was living at Chastleton, leaving him with an only son, Robert an elder son, William, having apparently died in infancy. In 1598 his father died, and though his mother, Lady Catesby, had a life interest in a large portion of her husband's property, Catesby was by this time a man of large means and much larger expectations but it seems that the pressure of the persecuting laws, which had been applied with relentless cruelty upon the landed gentry in the midland counties, had produced an amount of irritation and bitterness which to proud and sensitive men was becoming daily more unsupportable, and the terrible fines and exactions which were levied upon their estates, and the humiliating espionage to which they were subjected, tended to make them desperate and ready for any risks that promised even a remote chance of deliverance. As early as 1585 Sir William Catesby had compounded with the government, to the extent of a fifth of his income, for the amount of impositions to be levied upon him for his recusancy (Hist. MSS. Comm. 7th Rep. 640). Nevertheless we find him three years after a prisoner at Ely along with Sir Thomas Tresham and others of the recusant gentry, and indignantly protesting against the cruel treatment to which he was exposed. In 1593 he was still in durance, and with some difficulty obtained a license for fifteen days' absence to go to Bath for the recovery of his health, which presumably had suffered from his long confinement (ib. 5th Rep. 311). Matters did not mend for the recusants during the next few years, and the penal laws were not relaxed, though the victims were perforce kept quiet. When the mad outbreak of Robert, earl of Essex, in 1601 brought that foolish nobleman to the scaffold, Catesby was one of his most prominent adherents, and in the scuffle that took place in the streets he received a wound. He was thrown into gaol, but for once in her career the queen did not think fit to shed much blood in her anger. More money was to be made out of the conspirators by letting them live than by hanging them, and Catesby was pardoned, but a fine of 4,000 marks was imposed upon him, 1,200l. of which was handed over to Sir Francis Bacon for his share of the spoils ( Spedding , Bacon Letters, iii. 11). It was an enormous impost, and equivalent to a charge of at least 30,000l. in our own times. Catesby was compelled to sell the Chastleton estate, and seems then to have made his home with his mother at Ashby St. Legers, Northamptonshire. Growing more and more desperate and embittered, he seems after this to have brooded fiercely on his wrongs and to have surrendered himself to thoughts of the wildest vengeance. Casting aside all caution he consorted habitually with the most reckless malcontents and brought himself so much under the notice of the government that a few days before the queen's death he was committed to prison by the lords of the council, and was probably under arrest on the accession of James I ( Camden , Ep. p. 347 Cal. State Papers, Dom. James I, 1603–10, p. 1). During the first six months of his reign the new king seemed inclined to show favour to the catholic gentry, or at any rate inclined to relax the cruel harshness of the laws. The fines and forfeitures upon recusants almost disappeared from the accounts of the revenue, and a feeling of uneasiness began to spread among the protestant zealots that toleration was going too far. This forbearance lasted but a little while. Continually urged by the outcries of the puritan party to show no mercy to their popish fellow-subjects, and worried by his hungry Scotchmen to bestow upon them the rewards which their poverty needed so sorely if their services did not merit such return, James, who soon discovered that even English money and lands could not be given away without limit, began to show that he had almost as little sympathy with the romanising party as his predecessor, and the old enactments ​ were revived and the old statutes put in force. The catholics, who had begun to hope for better days, were goaded to frenzy by this change of attitude. The more conscientious and the more sincerely desirous they were simply to enjoy the liberty of worshipping God after their own fashion, the more sullenly they brooded over their wrongs. The catholics by this time had become divided into two parties somewhat sharply antagonistic the one to the other. The one party consisted of those who had a vague idea of setting up an organised ecclesiastical establishment in England which should be placed under the discipline of its own bishops appointed by the pope, and which should occupy almost exactly the same position occupied by the Roman catholics in England at the present moment. They hoped that by submitting themselves to the government and taking the oath of allegiance they might purchase for themselves a measure of toleration of which they suspected that in process of time they might avail themselves to bring back the nation to its allegiance to the see of Rome.

The other party consisted of those who were under the paramount influence of the jesuits, and these were vehemently opposed to any submission or any temporising they would have all or nothing, and any concession to the heretics or any weak yielding to laws which they denounced as immoral they taught was mortal sin, to be punished by exclusion for ever from the church of Christ in earth or heaven. It was with this latter party—the party who, not content with toleration, could be satisfied with nothing but supremacy—that Catesby had allied himself, and of which he was qualified to be a leading personage. At the accession of James I he was in his thirtieth year, of commanding stature ( Gerard , p. 57) and great bodily strength, with a strikingly beautiful face and extremely captivating manners. He is said to have exercised a magical influence upon all who mixed with him. His purse was always at the service of his friends, and he had suffered grievously for his convictions. Moreover, he was a sincerely religious man after his light, a fanatic in fact, who subordinated all considerations of prudence to the demands which his dogmatic creed appeared to him to require. A catholic first, but anything and everything else afterwards. Such men get thrust into the front of any insane enterprise that they persuade themselves is for the advancement of a holy cause, and Catesby when he girded on his sword took care to have that sword engraved ‘with the passion of our Lord,’ and honestly believed he was entering upon a sacred crusade for the glory of God. In the confused tangle of testimony and contradiction, of confession under torture, hearsay reports and dexterous prevarication on which the story of the Gunpowder plot is based, it is difficult to unravel the thread of a narrative which is told in so many different ways. Thus much, however, seems to be plain, viz. that the plot was originally hatched by Thomas Winter about the summer of 1604, first communicated to Guy Faux and soon after to Catesby, who was always to be relied on to furnish money that it was not revealed to any of the Roman priesthood except under the seal of confession, which rendered it impossible for them as priests to divulge it that the two jesuit fathers Garnett and Gerrard, who were a great deal too astute and sagacious not to see the immeasurable imprudence of any such attempt, revolted from its wickedness, and did their best to prevent it, foreseeing the calamitous issue that was sure to result from it finally, that it never would have gone so far as it did but for the ferocious daring of Faux, supported by the immovable obstinacy, amounting to monomania, of Catesby. The Gunpowder plot is, however, a matter of history, not of biography, and into its details it is not advisable here to enter. The full particulars are to be read in the confession of Thomas Winter, among the documents at the Record Office (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1603–11, pp. 262, 279). It is sufficient to say that about midnight of 4 Nov. 1605 Faux was apprehended at the door of the cellar under the parliament house by Sir Thomas Knyvett, who found thirty-six barrels of powder in casks and hogsheads prepared in all readiness for the explosion. Catesby obtained information of his confederate's arrest almost immediately and lost no time in getting to horse. He was joined by the two Wrights, Percy, and Ambrose Rookwood, and the party reached Ashby St. Legers, a distance of eighty miles, in less than seven hours. On the evening of the 7th the whole company, about sixty strong, reached Holbeach, on the borders of Staffordshire. Next morning occurred the remarkable explosion of the gunpowder which the conspirators were getting ready for their defence of the house against assault, whereby Catesby himself was severely scorched. Some few hours after this Sir Richard Walsh arrived with his force, surrounded the house, and summoned the rebels to lay down their arms. On their refusal the attack commenced, and Catesby and Percy, standing back to back and fighting furiously, were shot through the body with two bullets from the same musket. Catesby, crawling into the house upon his hands and knees, seized an image of the Virgin, and dropped down dead with it clasped ​ in his arms (8 Nov. 1605). Of course the property of the unhappy man was forfeited, and fell to the courtiers who scrambled for their reward but the settlement of that portion of the estates which had been made by Sir William upon Lady Catesby preserved them from alienation, and though an attempt was made in 1618 (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1611–18, p. 580) to set that settlement aside, it seems to have failed, and Robert Catesby the younger, recovering the fragments of his inheritance, is said to have married a daughter of that very Thomas Percy who perished fighting ingloriously back to back with his father when they made their last stand at Bostock. Of his subsequent history nothing is known.

The old Manor House of Ashby St. Legers is still standing, and a portrait reported by tradition to be a likeness of the conspirator is to be seen at Brockhall, Northamptonshire.

[Gairdner's Richard III Notes and Queries, 6th series, xii. 364, 466 Genealogist, v. 61 et seq. Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1580 Jardine's Narrative of the Gunpowder Plot, 1857 The Visitation of Warwickshire (Harl. Soc.) Morris's Condition of Catholics under James I, 2nd edit. 1872 Knox's Diary of the English College at Douay, 1878.]


Coughton Court

The Throckmortons, originally from Worcestershire, came to Coughton in 1409, on the marriage of John Throckmorton to the heiress Eleanor Spiney. The Throckmortons gradually increased in wealth and power through the fifteenth century, by service to the Beauchamp Earls of Warwick, and to the Crown. Marriage to heiresses was always welcomed, too!

In the 1480s Robert Throckmorton (c. 1451 – 1519) was knighted after supporting Henry VII at the Battle of Stoke.Appointed to the Privy Council, Sir Robert’s marriage to the daughter of a London Alderman, Katherine Marrowe, produced twelve children. Now with a knighthood and plenty of money, all Sir Robert needed was a smart new country house.

The Gatehouse from the Lime Walk

Building began at Coughton in the early 1500s, but Sir Robert did not see it completed, dying on pilgrimage to Rome in 1519. Sir Robert’s son, Sir George (c. 1489 – 1552) entered royal service and was also an MP. In 1512, he married Katherine Vaux. Katherine was the half-sister of Sir Thomas Parr, and thus half-aunt to Queen Katherine Parr.

Unlike her niece, however, Sir George and Lady Throckmorton remained resolutely Catholic in the face of Henry VIII’s reformation, resisting the annulment of Katharine of Aragon’s marriage. Sir George was apparently the author of the remark that Henry should not marry Anne Boleyn because

it is thought that you (Henry VIII) have meddled with both the mother and the sister.

To which Henry could only deny any ‘meddling’ with Anne’s mother. Following this rather unwise discussion with Henry, Sir George retired somewhat, but his open sympathy with the Pilgrimage of Grace earned him arrest, although not execution.

Sir George and Katherine Vaux had 19 children. These children divided along confessional lines. The oldest son, Sir Robert (d. c1580), adhered to the faith of his fathers and was probably responsible for the priest hole. Another son, Sir Nicholas (1515 – 1571), who was employed in the household of his cousin, Katherine Parr, embraced Protestantism. He was knighted by Edward VI on bringing the news of the Battle of Pinkie to court. A supporter of Lady Jane Grey, he was also involved in Wyatt’s Rebellion of 1554 against Mary I, but was acquitted at his trial (somewhat to the Queen’s displeasure.)

Discretion being the better part of valour, Sir Nicholas went into self-imposed exile until the accession of Elizabeth. He became Elizabeth I’s ambassador to France, and, whilst there, became personally acquainted with Mary, Queen of Scots. After Mary’s return to Scotland, he served as one of Elizabeth’s envoys to her.

Church where Sir George Throckmorton and his wife, Katherine Vaux, are buried

Whilst initially Sir Nicholas appears to have supported the deposition of Queen Mary by the Scottish Lords, he later became embroiled in the Duke of Norfolk’s plot to marry her – although many of those involved sincerely believed that Elizabeth would be informed of the plans, and welcome them.Throckmorton spent some time under arrest, but was released, although Elizabeth was no longer inclined to favour him.

Meanwhile, three of the sisters of Sir Robert and Sir Nicholas had married into Catholic families - the Catesbys, Treshams and Ardernes, and their cousin, Sir Francis (1554 – 1584), mounted a full blown plot to overthrow Elizabeth in favour of Mary, Queen of Scots, backed by Spanish troops. Arrested in 1584, he was tortured, confessed, and hanged at Tyburn.

Sir Nicholas’ wife was Anne Carew, and, amongst their 13 children was Elizabeth (or Bess), who became a maid-of-honour to Elizabeth, but also lost favour, and was thrown into the Tower for marrying Sir Walter Raleigh without royal consent. Anne Carew’s second husband was Adrian Stokes, who had previously been married to Lady Frances Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk and niece of Henry VIII (read about Lady Frances and Mr Stokes here).

The Bog Garden

Bess’s cousin, Sir Thomas (1533 – 1614), inherited from Sir Robert. Like his father and grandfather, he rejected the Reformation and suffered from years of fines and imprisonment for recusancy (refusal to attend the Anglican service, as prescribed by law). He and his sisters were among the many Midlands’ gentry who hid the Catholic missionaries who were attempting to strengthen the weakening ties of the ancient religion.

Coughton became one of the chain of places across the country between which the priests would move. Their second cousin, Anne Vaux, was a key player in this traffic (read more about Anne in Jessie Childs’ article “The Woman who kept Catholicism Alive” here)

Whilst no Throckmortons were directly linked to the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, Sir Thomas’ nephew, Robert Catesby, and Tresham, Wintour and Digby relatives were the prime movers behind it. Coughton had been rented to Sir Everard Digby, and the plotters, on discovery, tried to flee there but were captured.


Watch the video: GUNPOWDER. Robert Catesby