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Plotters & Conspirators

Gunpowder Plot

Guy Fawkes was born in 1570 and though his father was a staunch Protestant, his mother married a second time into a strongly Catholic family. He went to St Peter's School at York (like his fellow plotters, the Wright brothers) and later became a soldier, fighting for the Spanish against the Dutch. Although not a senior officer, he gained a reputation for his technical expertise and, on behalf of some of the English Catholics, he discussed with the Spanish an invasion of England.

In 1604 he was recruited by Hugh Owen to join in the Gunpowder conspiracy and came to London. Catesby initiated him and Thomas Percy into his plans in May.

Once Percy had rented the house next to the House of Lords later that month, it was decided that Fawkes would pretend to be Percy's servant, and stay in the house. He adopted the false identity of John Johnson, and was closely involved in the business of digging a tunnel under the House of Lords and procuring gunpowder.

Once the cellar was rented, in the House of Lords basement, the tunnel was abandoned. Fawkes went abroad during the middle of 1605, but was back in London in late October to finalise the plan, and was ready on 4th November to carry it out. When the basement was searched on that day Fawkes was found looking after a large pile of firewood. His explanations were initially accepted. But suspicions were subsequently aroused and in a second search later that evening, the gunpowder was found under the wood and Fawkes was arrested.

Guy Fawkes was interrogated several times, but - to the admiration of government members, including the King - admitted almost nothing. The King authorised the use of torture on 6th November and his testimonies of 7th, 8th and 9th November revealed much more information which the authorities used to begin to pick up some of the other conspirators. Fawkes was tried with the other surviving conspirators on 27th January 1606 and executed in Old Palace Yard, Westminster, on 31st January.

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.

Thomas Percy was born in 1560. He was a wild and quarrelsome character, who was briefly jailed for killing a Scotsman in a brawl in 1596. A Catholic convert, his marriage to Martha Wright, the sister of later fellow conspirators Christopher and John Wright, probably had something to do with his conversion.

Percy came from a grand aristocratic family; his great-grandfather had been the fourth Earl of Northumberland and was trusted and given a job by his cousin, the ninth Earl, who made him constable of his castle at Alnwick, Northumberland.

Northumberland even used him in political missions, such as discussing on his behalf with King James the future position of Catholics in England. The Earl was appointed captain of the King's bodyguard early in the new reign. He made Percy one of the bodyguards, but did not make Percy take the obligatory oath which Percy, as a Catholic, would have been unable to do.

In addition to being related to the Wright brothers, Percy was a friend of Catesby. He was said to have been aggravated by the King's failure to deliver a promise of leniency towards Catholics and was brought into Catesby's plot in May 1604. Percy leased the house next to the House of Lords from Henry Ferrers of Baddesley Clinton House and later on in 1605 rented the cellar under the House of Lords.

Percy dined with the Earl of Northumberland on the evening before 5th November, in an attempt to find out whether the Plot had been discovered. Because Percy had rented the property in which Guy Fawkes was found, he was quickly identified as one of the conspirators. He was found at Holbeach House with the others, and killed in the shoot-out on 8th November. His head was removed and, like Catesby's, was stuck on the roof of the House of Commons.

Francis Tresham was born around 1567. He was the eldest son of the eccentric and fearsome Sir Thomas Tresham, a prominent Catholic, who lived at Rushton Hall in Northamptonshire and designed a pair of extraordinary buildings - which still exist - exploring Catholic symbolism.

Tresham was cousin to Robert Catesby, and friendly with the Wright brothers. With them, he was involved in the Essex plot of 1601 - which for his part he received imprisonment and a hefty fine - and in further secret discussions with the Spanish court in 1602 and 1603.

Catesby and the other plotters didn't let Tresham into the secret of the Plot until very late - in October 1604 - as they were worried he wasn't completely trustworthy. They told him about the Plot then because his father had recently died, and they believed that he now had access to a lot of money. But Tresham claimed he was appalled by the Plot, and later maintained that he tried to stop it and was planning to leave the country.

Tresham was probably the writer of the 'Monteagle letter' warning his brother-in-law not to attend Parliament on the 5th November, though he denied it when challenged by the co-conspirators on 1 November. After the Plot's discovery, he feigned complete innocence, but was named by Guy Fawkes and arrested on 12th November. He supposedly died in the Tower on 23rd December 1605 of a natural illness, although some believe that this was a cover up and that he actually fled the country with the aid of the government.

John Wright was born in 1568; his brother Christopher Wright we think was born in 1570. Both of them went to St Peter's School in York, which Guy Fawkes also attended. Their sister, Martha, was married to Thomas Percy. The two brothers also knew Robert Catesby very well. John was especially close to him.

The establishment saw the Wright brothers as treacherous Catholics, although it is possible that John was not converted until 1601. Both of them were arrested under suspicion of conspiracy against the Queen in 1596 and like Catesby and Tresham, they were part of the Essex rebellion in 1601, and imprisoned for their involvement. They were put in prison again as a precautionary measure while Elizabeth was dying in early 1603.

John was the first to be initiated into the scheme by Robert Catesby. It was much later that Christopher was drawn into the Plot. After the discovery of the Plot, both left London with Catesby and both were killed with him at Holbeach.

Thomas Winter was born around 1571 into a Worcestershire Catholic family. An uncle of his was executed as a Catholic priest in 1586. He fought as a soldier in Flanders and France during the 1590s, and visited Rome in 1600. By 1602 he had become involved with his cousins - Robert Catesby and Francis Tresham and with Lord Monteagle in discussions with the Spanish government to procure military help for the Catholics in England.

Winter was one of the first to be drawn into the Gunpowder Plot by Robert Catesby. Although cynical about its chances of success, he went to Flanders to find out if the Spanish would help with it. Whilst in Flanders he met Fawkes. Winter was directly involved in all the planning, including helping to dig the tunnel under the House of Lords.

When Parliament was prorogued on 3rd October, as a friend of Lord Monteagle he was allowed to attend the ceremony, which took place in the House of Lords, directly over the already hidden gunpowder. Winter found out about the betrayal of the Plot from one of Monteagle's servants and tried to persuade the other conspirators to abandon it. After Fawkes' arrest, he immediately fled London and met with the others at the Winter’s family home at Huddington.

After a futile attempt to encourage support from local Catholics, Winter joined the other conspirators at Holbeach House. In the short battle with the authorities on 8th November, he was injured several times and captured. After being taken to London, he provided the most complete account of the Plot, which was then published in the 'King's Book' in November. He was tried on 27th January 1606, and executed in Old Palace Yard 4 days later.

Robert Winter was born around 1566 and was Thomas Winter’s older brother. He was a devout Catholic with strong links to many other Catholic families. He inherited the family home of Huddington Court, which was used as a refuge for Catholic priests. Sometime around January 1605 Robert Winter was drawn into the Plot, this may have been because the conspirators realised they would need more men to dig the tunnel under the Lords.

After the unearthing of the Plot, Thomas Winter evaded the authorities and ran to his brother's house at Huddington. Robert did not stay with the other plotters at Holbeach House for their last stand and was eventually taken into custody in January 1606 at Hagley, Worcestershire. He was tried on 27th January with his brother and executed in St. Paul's Churchyard on the 30th.

Thomas Bates, Robert Catesby's faithful servant, appears to have been told about the plot in December 1604. He claimed to have revealed the details to a Jesuit priest, Oswald Tesimond, while making his confession shortly afterwards.

On the Plot's discovery he hurried with Catesby to the Midlands but was not with the others for the shoot out at Holbeach. He was arrested shortly afterwards in Staffordshire. His trial was heard on 27th January 1606, and he was executed on the 30th in St Paul's Churchyard, along with some of his fellow conspirators.

Ambrose Rookwood was born around 1578 into a wealthy Suffolk Catholic family. His elder brother became a Franciscan friar and moved to Europe. Rookwood himself was educated among Catholics in Flanders and married into another Catholic family, the Tyrwhitts of Lincolnshire. He inherited his father's estates in 1600 and spent much of 1605 living among Catholic families in the Midlands. He was initiated into the plot by Catesby in September 1605.

Rookwood was valuable to the conspirators as he was wealthy and owned many fine horses. After the uncovering of the plot, he fled with the others to the Midlands and was one of those injured in the gunpowder accident at Holbeach on 7th November. In the clash with the authorities on the 8th he was wounded, captured and brought to London. He was tried on 27th January and executed in Old Palace Yard beside Thomas Winter four days later.

Sir Everard Digby was born in about 1578, into a Roman Catholic family although he only seems to have adopted the Catholic faith later in his life. He gained an estate at Gayhurst, Buckinghamshire, through marriage.

Like Rookwood and Tresham, he appears to have been drawn into the Plot by Catesby because he had money. He was told about it in October 1605 and although he was uncertain of the plans likelihood of success, he entered entirely into the conspiracy - turning up on 5th November at the previously arranged meeting in Northamptonshire. He stayed with Catesby and the others for a short while, but left them before the final battle at Holbeach. He was captured nearby. While he was in prison, Digby wrote many letters to his wife and family. These were published in 1675.

Digby was tried on 27th January, though separately from his co-conspirators due to a technicality. Since he pleaded guilty, he was permitted to make a speech, in which he referred to the Catholics feeling that the King had broken promises from the beginning of his reign - a claim which the government was eager to deny. He was executed on the 30th in St Paul's Churchyard.

Robert Keyes was the son of a Protestant clergyman and his mother came from a Catholic family, the Tyrwhitts, from Lincolnshire. He was connected by marriage to Ambrose Rookwood and was a close dependent of the Catholic Lord Mordaunt.

It looks as if he was brought into the Plot late in October 1604. His role was to look after the gunpowder and other equipment stored in Thomas Percy's house in Lambeth. He left London on the morning of 5th November but was not at Holbeach House for the shoot out on 8th November. Arrested soon afterwards and tried on 27th January 1606 he was also executed in Old Palace Yard on the 31st. It is said that with his last words - spoken from the scaffold from which he was to hang - he passionately protested that the Plot was justified.

John Grant lived in Warwickshire, where he owned Norbrook, a house close to Stratford-on-Avon, which was considered by the conspirators to be an advantageously positioned stronghold. He was married to the sister of Robert and Thomas Winter. It may be enough to mention here that Grant, along with Catesby, Tresham and the Wright brothers, had been a part of the Essex rebellion of 1601.

He was brought into the Plot in March 1605, around the same time as Christopher Wright and Robert Winter. In fact, he purchased a number of weapons over the course of 1605 and on 4th November, he joined others including Sir Everard Digby, at the pre-set meeting point in Northamptonshire.

Grant was with the other conspirators at Holbeach House, where they had an accident while trying to dry their damp gunpowder, the accident blinded him. He was captured and brought to London, tried on 27th January and executed in St Paul's Churchyard three days after the trial.



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