Robert Catesby was the real mastermind behind the gunpowder treason of 1605, where he, Guy Fawkes and several other conspirators plotted to kill King James I and many members of his family and parliament.
Robert Catesby was born in Warwickshire around 1572 to Roman Catholic parents with close links to many other Midlands Catholic families. His mother was a member of the Throckmorton family, who lived at Coughton Court.
Catesby was reputedly very charismatic and made friends easily – many of whom remained loyal and devoted to him. He was said to be a bit of a wild character in his younger days, before he became strongly religious.
In 1601, along with the Wright brothers, Catesby was mixed up in the doomed rebellion of the Earl of Essex against the dominance of Robert Cecil. In the failed rebellion he was wounded, imprisoned and fined. From then on he was viewed as a dangerous character by the government. He had, it seems, been involved in discussions with the Spanish government in 1602 about arranging a rebellion in England. He was one of many arrested as a precaution by the English government in 1603 after the death of Queen Elizabeth. Catesby formed the Gunpowder Plot, after having realised that the Spanish would not help the English Catholics. He disclosed it initially only to Thomas Winter and the brothers Christopher and John Wright then later to Guy Fawkes and Thomas Percy, in May 1604, at Catesby’s lodgings in the Strand in London. Catesby, the driving force behind the Plot, recruited others in 1604 and 1605.
On news of the discovery of the Plot, Catesby and several of his companions fled from London. He tried and failed to rally the Catholic gentry of the Midlands to join him in the rebellion before he reached Holbeach House in Staffordshire where they hid from the authorities. Several of the conspirators, including Catesby, were injured in an accident while trying to dry out their damp gunpowder.
When the authorities tracked down the conspirators and circled the house, the gang decided to die fighting. The same musket ball hit Catesby and Thomas Percy and both died soon after, despite efforts to save their lives so they could be brought to London for interrogation and trial. Catesby’s head was later cut off and taken to London, to be stuck on the roof of the House of Commons.