Warwickshire and the Gunpowder Plot 1605

The agreement between Robert Catesby and Sir John Throckmorton to sell Catesby land in Ladbroke, Southam and Napton.
Warwickshire County Record Office reference DR 85A/2/Bundle2/2

At Easter 1596 the Court of Common Pleas at Westminster issued this Final Concord1 (so-called from its opening phrase: ‘This is the final concord…’) to confirm the sale of property and lands in Ladbroke, Southam and Napton by Robert Catesby. Though it is Guy Fawkes who has become synonymous with the Catholic conspiracy to assassinate James I and England’s nobility at the state opening of Parliament on 5th November 1605, in fact it was the largely forgotten Catesby who masterminded and led the infamous plot.

Robert Catesby and Warwickshire

Catesby is believed to have been born at Lapworth in 1573. Though the Catesbys principal seat was Ashby St. Ledgers in Northamptonshire, their connection with Warwickshire stretched back centuries and the family had owned Ladbroke since 1349. Moreover, Robert Catesby’s maternal family were the Thockmortons, lords of the manor of Coughton since the fifteenth century. Catesby was closely associated with the county throughout his short life, in 1593 marrying Catherine (d. 1598), the daughter of Sir Thomas Leigh of Stoneleigh Abbey.

Strikingly handsome and hypnotically charismatic, Catesby was also a devout Catholic. Elizabethan England was a dark place for anyone who continued to adhere to the country’s old faith. Those who refused to attend Protestant services were classed as ‘recusants’ and subjected to heavy fines. To hear Mass or have one’s children baptised into the Catholic Church was illegal, while those who imported or displayed such devotional tokens as rosaries risked life imprisonment. Many Catholics had hoped that the accession of James I in 1603 would herald a period of greater tolerance, but this optimism was quickly shattered, and the failure of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605 marked the start of a period of even less tolerance towards Catholics in England.

Warwickshire and the Plot

In May 1604 Catesby first revealed his deadly scheme to a loyal band of followers, including his cousin Thomas Wintour and Guy Fawkes. The destruction of Parliament was to coincide with a Catholic uprising in the Midlands which would see the plotters kidnap James I’s nine-year-old daughter Princess Elizabeth from Coombe Abbey, near Coventry, and use her as their puppet monarch. To this end Catesby recruited such plotters as John Grant, whose house, Norbrook, was conveniently situated at Snitterfield. Similarly, Catesby persuaded two other conspirators, Sir Everard Digby and Ambrose Rookwood, to rent Coughton Court and Clopton House (near Stratford), respectively.

On 4th November 1605 Sir Everard Digby installed himself at the Red Lion Inn at Dunchurch, from where the strike on Princess Elizabeth at Coombe Abbey would be launched. When news reached Catesby that Guy Fawkes had been caught red-handed in the cellars at Westminster in the small hours of the 5th November he refused to admit defeat and rode to Dunchurch where he successfully rallied Sir Everard’s flagging spirits. However, most of the local Catholic gentry that Digby had assembled now fled.

With a meagre force numbering around 50, Catesby and his fellow conspirators plundered Warwick Castle for fresh horses on the night of the 5th and spent the following two days riding frantically across Warwickshire and Worcestershire, vainly trying to incite rebellion. On 8th November the High Sheriff of Worcestershire, Sir Richard Walsh, caught up with Catesby’s dwindling band at Holbeach House in South Staffordshire. In the skirmish which followed Catesby was shot dead. He thus escaped the ghastly fate which befell most of his fellow conspirators, who were hanged, drawn and quartered.

Translation of the concord

This is the final concord made in the court of the Lady Queen at Westminster in the fifteen days of Easter day in the thirty-eighth year of the reign of Elizabeth by the grace of God Queen of England France & Ireland defender of the faith etc from the conquest before Edward Anderson Thomas Walmysley Francis Beaumont & Thomas Owen justices and other faithful men of the Lady Queen then there present between John Throgmorton esquire and Thomas Thorneton gentleman plaintiffs and Robert Catesbie esquire defendant concerning thirty-four messuages, thirty tofts, three dovecotes, thirty gardens, thirty orchards, eighty acres of land, three hundred acres of meadow, forty acres of pasture, forty acres of heath and broom, with appurtenances in Ladbrooke, alias Lodbrooke, Sowtham and Napton. The aforesaid Robert has acknowledged the aforesaid lands to be the right of the same John and Thomas, gentlemen, being those which the said John and Thomas have of the gift of the aforesaid Robert, and he has remised & quitclaimed them from himself and his heirs to the aforesaid John and Thomas and their heirs for ever and moreover the same Robert gives warranty against himself and his heirs and also against Sir William Catesbie, knight, and his heirs and for this acknowledgement remise quitclaim warrant fine and agreement the same John and Thomas have given the aforesaid Robert one thousand pounds sterling.

1 Warwickshire County Record Office reference DR 85A/2/Bundle2/2 

This article was Document of the Month for the Warwickshire County Record Office in September 2011. Further articles can be found on their website.

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