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Robert Catesby

Also Known As: "Robin Catesby", "Robert Catesby (Leader of Gunpowder Plot)*"
Birthplace: Lapworth, Warwickshire, England
Death: November 08, 1605 (28-37)
Holbeach House, Staffordshire, England (Killed in battle)
Immediate Family:

Son of William Catesby and Anne Catesby
Husband of Catherine Catesby
Father of Robert Catesby and William Catesby

Managed by: Private User
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About Robert Catesby

Robert Catesby

Robert Catesby (b. in or after 1572 – 8 November 1605) was the leader of a group of provincial English Catholics who planned the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605.

Most probably born in Warwickshire, Catesby was educated in nearby Oxford. His family were prominent recusant Catholics, therefore presumably to avoid swearing the Oath of Supremacy he left college before taking his degree. He married a Protestant in 1593 and fathered two children, one of whom survived and was baptised in a Protestant church, but in 1598, following the deaths of his father and wife, he may have reverted to Catholicism. In 1601 he took part in the Essex Rebellion but was captured and fined, after which he sold his estate at Chastleton.

The Protestant James I, who became King of England in 1603, was less tolerant of Catholicism than its followers had hoped. Catesby therefore planned to kill him by blowing up the House of Lords with gunpowder, the prelude to a popular revolt during which a Catholic monarch would be restored to the English throne. Early in 1604 he began to recruit other Catholics to his cause, including Thomas Wintour, John Wright, Thomas Percy, and Guy Fawkes. Described latterly as a charismatic and influential man, as well as a religious zealot, over the following months he helped bring a further eight conspirators into the plot, whose naissance was planned for 5 November 1605. A letter sent anonymously to William Parker, 4th Baron Monteagle, alerted the authorities, and on the eve of the planned explosion, during a search of Parliament, Fawkes was found guarding the barrels of gunpowder. News of his arrest caused the other plotters to flee London, warning Catesby along their way.

With a much-diminished group of followers, Catesby made a stand at Holbeche House in Staffordshire, against a 200-strong company of armed men. He was shot and later found dead, clutching a picture of the Virgin Mary. As a warning to others, his body was exhumed and his head exhibited outside Parliament.

Robert Catesby was the third and only surviving son of Sir William and Anne (née Throckmorton) Catesby, and was probably born in or after 1572 at his father's main residence in Lapworth.[1] Robert was a lineal descendant of Sir William Catesby (1450–1485), the influential councillor of Richard III captured at the Battle of Bosworth and executed.[2] On his mother's side he was descended from Sir Robert Throckmorton of Coughton, and his second wife, Elizabeth Hussey.[3] His parents were prominent recusant Catholics; his father had suffered years of imprisonment for his faith,[1][3] and in 1581 had been tried in Star Chamber alongside William Vaux, 3rd Baron Vaux of Harrowden, and his brother-in-law Sir Thomas Tresham, for harbouring the Jesuit Edmund Campion.[4] The head of the Throckmortons, Sir Thomas Throckmorton, was also fined for his recusancy, and spent years in prison. Another relation, Sir Francis Throckmorton, had been executed in 1584 for his involvement in a plot to free Mary, Queen of Scots.[5]

In 1586 Robert was educated at Gloucester Hall in Oxford, a college noted for its Catholic intake.[1] Those either studying at university or wishing to take public office could not do so without first swearing the Oath of Supremacy,[6] an act which would have compromised Catesby's Catholic faith. Presumably to avoid this consequence, he left without taking his degree, and may then have attended the seminary college of Douai.[7]

In 1593 he married Catherine Leigh, daughter of Sir Thomas Leigh of Stoneleigh in Warwickshire.[nb 1] Catherine came from a wealthy Protestant family and brought with her a dowry of £2,000, but also a religious association that offered Robert some respite from the recusancy laws then in effect. From the death of his grandmother the following year he inherited a property at Chastleton, in Oxfordshire. The couple's first son William died in infancy, but their second son Robert survived, and was baptised at Chastleton's Protestant church on 11 November 1595.[nb 2] When Catesby's father died in 1598, his estates at Ashby St Ledgers were left to his wife, while Catesby and his family remained at Chastleton. Catesby had seemed happy to remain a Church Papist[nb 3] but after his wife's death later that year he became radicalised, and reverted to a more fanatical Catholicism.[1][7][9]

In 1601 Catesby was involved in the Essex Rebellion. The Earl of Essex's purpose might have lain in furthering his own interests rather than those of the Catholic Church, but Catesby hoped that if Essex succeeded, there might once more be a Catholic monarch.[6] The rebellion was a failure however, and the wounded Catesby was captured, imprisoned at the Wood Street Counter,[10] and fined 4,000 marks (equivalent to over £6 million as of 2008)[nb 4][11] by Elizabeth I. Sir Thomas Tresham helped pay some of Catesby's fine,[12] following which Catesby sold his estate at Chastleton.[13][14] Several authors speculate about Catesby's movements as Elizabeth's health grew worse; he was probably among those "principal papists" imprisoned by a government fearing open rebellion,[15][16] and in March 1603 he may have sent Christopher Wright to Spain to see if Philip III would continue to support English Catholics after Elizabeth's death.[nb 5] Catesby funded the activities of some Jesuit priests,[18] and while visiting them made occasional use of the alias Mr Roberts.[1]

Catholics had hoped that the persecution they suffered during Elizabeth's reign would end when she was succeeded in 1603 by James I. His mother, Mary, Queen of Scots (executed in 1587 for treason) had been a devout Catholic, and James's attitude appeared moderate, even tolerant towards Catholics. Protestant rulers across Europe had, however, been the target of several assassination attempts during the late 16th century, and until the 1620s some English Catholics believed that regicide was justifiable to remove tyrants from power.[19] Much of James's political writing was concerned with such matters, and the "refutation of the [Catholic] argument that 'faith did not need to be kept with heretics'".[20] Shortly after he discovered that his wife had been sent a rosary from the pope, James exiled all Jesuits and other Catholic priests, and reimposed the collection of fines for recusancy.[21] Catesby soon began to lose patience with the new dynasty.[22]

British author and historian Antonia Fraser describes Catesby's mentality as "that of the crusader who does not hesitate to employ the sword in the cause of values which he considers are spiritual".[16] Writing after the events of 1604–1606, the Jesuit priest Father Tesimond's description of his friend was favourable: "his countenance was exceedingly noble and expressive ... his conversation and manners were peculiarly attractive and imposing, and that by the dignity of his character he exercised an irresistible influence over the minds of those who associated with him." Fellow conspirator Ambrose Rookwood, shortly before his own death, said that he "loved and respected him [Catesby] as his own life",[23] while Catesby's friend, Father John Gerard, claimed he was "respected in all companies of such as are counted there swordsmen or men of action", and that "few were in the opinions of most men preferred before him and he increased much his acquaintance and friends."[24] Author Mark Nicholls suggests that "bitterness at the failure of Essex's design nevertheless seems to have sharpened an already well-honed neurosis."[1]

Despite the ease with which Catesby seems to have inspired his fellow conspirators, that it was he and not Fawkes (today most often associated with 5 November) who devised what became known as the Gunpowder Plot, has largely been forgotten.[25] The precise date on which he set events in motion is unknown, but it is likely that he first had the idea early in 1604.[1] Sometime around June the previous year he was visited by his friend Thomas Percy. A great-grandson of the 4th Earl of Northumberland, Percy was reported to have had a "wild youth" before he became a Catholic, and during Elizabeth's final years had been entrusted by the 9th Earl with a secret mission to James's court in Scotland, to plead with the king on behalf of England's Catholics.[26] He now complained bitterly about what he considered to be James's treachery, and threatened to kill him. Catesby replied "No, no, Tom, thou shalt not venture to small purpose, but if thou wilt be a traitor thou shalt be to some great advantage." Percy listened while Catesby added "I am thinking of a most sure way and I will soon let thee know what it is." During Allhallowtide on 31 October he sent for his cousin Thomas Wintour, who was at Huddington Court in Worcestershire with his brother Robert. Thomas was educated as a lawyer and had fought for England in the Low Countries, but in 1600 had converted to Catholicism. Following the Earl of Essex's failed rebellion, he had travelled to Spain to raise support for English Catholics, a mission which the authorities would later describe as comprising part of a 'Spanish Treason'. Although Thomas declined his invitation,[27] Catesby again invited him in February the next year.[28][29]

When Wintour responded to the summons he found his cousin with the swordsman John Wright. Catesby told him of his plan to kill the king and his government by blowing up "the Parliament howse with Gunpowder ... in that place have they done us all the mischiefe, and perchance God hath designed that place for their punishment".[30] Wintour at first objected to his cousin's scheme, but Catesby, who said that "the nature of the disease required so sharp a remedy", won him over. Despite Catholic Spain's moves toward diplomacy with England,[31] Catesby still harboured hopes of foreign support and a peaceful solution. Wintour therefore returned to the continent, where he tried unsuccessfully to persuade the affable Constable of Castile to press for good terms for English Catholics in forthcoming peace negotiations. He then turned to Sir William Stanley, an English Catholic and veteran commander who had switched sides from England to Spain,[32] and the exiled Welsh spy Hugh Owen; both cast doubt on the plotters' chances of receiving Spanish support. Owen did, however, introduce Wintour to Guy Fawkes, whose name Catesby had already supplied as "a confidant gentleman" who might enter their ranks. Fawkes was a devout English Catholic who had travelled to the continent to fight for Spain in the Dutch War of Independence. Wintour told him of their plan to "doe some whatt in Ingland if the pece with Spaine healped us nott", and thus in April 1604 the two men returned home.[33] Wintour told Catesby that despite positive noises from the Spanish, he feared that "the deeds would nott answere". This was a response that in Nicholls's opinion came as no surprise to Catesby, who wanted and expected nothing less.[nb 6][1][34]

On Sunday 20 May in the well-to-do Strand district of London, Catesby met with Thomas Wintour, John Wright, Thomas Percy and Guy Fawkes, at an inn called the Duck and Drake.[33] Percy had been introduced to the plot several weeks after Wintour and Fawkes's return to England.[35][36] Alone in a private room, all swore an oath of secrecy on a prayer book, and then in another room celebrated Mass with the Jesuit priest (and friend to Catesby) John Gerard.[37] Robert Keyes was admitted to the group in October 1604,[38] and charged with looking after Catesby's Lambeth house, where the gunpowder and other supplies were to be stored. Two months later[nb 7] Catesby recruited his servant, Thomas Bates, into the plot,[39] after the latter accidentally became aware of it,[38] and by March 1605 three more were admitted: Thomas Wintour's brother Robert, John Grant and John Wright's brother Christopher.[28][40][41][42]

Although the state opening of Parliament was planned for February 1605, concern over the plague meant that it would instead occur on 3 October. A contemporaneous government account has the plotters engaged in digging a tunnel beneath Parliament by December 1604, but no other evidence exists to prove this, and no trace of a tunnel has since been found. If the story is true, the plotters ceased their efforts when the tenancy to the undercroft beneath the House of Lords became available.[43][44] Several months later, early in June 1605, Catesby met the principal Jesuit in England, Father Henry Garnet, on Thames Street in London. While discussing the war in Flanders, Catesby asked about the morality of "killing innocents".[45] Garnet said that such actions could often be excused, but according to his own account during a second meeting in July he showed Catesby a letter from the pope which forbade rebellion. Catesby replied, "Whatever I mean to do, if the Pope knew, he would not hinder for the general good of our country." Father Garnet's protestations prompted Catesby's next reply, "I am not bound to take knowledge by you of the Pope's will."[46] Soon after, the Jesuit priest Father Tesimond told Father Garnet that while taking Catesby's confession[nb 8] he had learned of the plot. Father Garnet met with Catesby a third time on 24 July at White Webbs in Enfield Chase, the home of Catesby's wealthy relative Anne Vaux, and a house long suspected by the government of harbouring Jesuit priests.[48] Without acknowledging that he was aware of the precise nature of the plot, the priest tried in vain to dissuade Catesby from his course.[49]

By 20 July 1605, 36 barrels of gunpowder had been stored in the undercroft, but the ever-present threat of the plague yet again prorogued the opening of Parliament, this time until 5 November 1605.[50] Catesby had borne much of the scheme's financial cost thus far, and was running out of money.[51] As their plans moved closer to fruition, during a secret meeting at Bath in August, at which he, Percy and Thomas Wintour were present, the plotters decided that "the company being yet but few" he was to be allowed to "call in whom he thought best". Catesby soon added Ambrose Rookwood, a staunch Catholic who was both young and wealthy, but who most importantly owned a stable of fine horses at Coldham. For the plan to work Rookwood and his horses needed to be close to the other conspirators, and so Catesby persuaded him to rent Clopton House at Stratford-upon-Avon. Francis Tresham was brought into the plot on 14 October.[52] Also descended from William Catesby, Tresham was Robert's cousin,[nb 9][53] and as young children the two had often visited White Webbs.[48] Although his account of the meeting is weighted with hindsight (when captured he sought to distance himself from the affair), he asked Catesby what support for the Catholics would be forthcoming once the king had been killed. Catesby's answer, "The necessity of the Catholics [was such that] it must needs be done", in Fraser's opinion demonstrates his unwavering view on the matter, held at least since his first meeting with Thomas Wintour early in 1604. The final conspirator to be brought in was Everard Digby, on 21 October, at Harrowden. Catesby confided in Digby during a delayed Feast of Saint Luke. Like Rookwood, Digby was young, wealthy, and possessed a stable of horses. Catesby told him to rent Coughton Court near Alcester, so that he would "the better to be able to do good to the cause [kidnap Princess Elizabeth]".[52]

The day after Tresham's recruitment, Catesby exchanged greetings in London with Fawkes's former employer, Lord Montague, and asked him "The Parliament, I think, brings your lordship up now?" Montague told him that he was visiting a relative, and that he would be at Parliament in a few weeks time. Catesby replied "I think your Lordship takes no pleasure to be there". Montague, who had already been imprisoned for speaking out in the House of Lords against anti-Papist legislation, and who had no inclination to be present while more laws were introduced, agreed.[54] Following the plot's failure he became a suspect and was arrested, but after intense lobbying was released some months later.[55]

The recruitment of Rookwood, Tresham and Digby coincided with a series of meetings in various taverns across London, during which the last remaining details were worked out. Fawkes would light the fuse, and escape by boat across the Thames. An uprising would start in the Midlands, during which Princess Elizabeth was to be captured. Fawkes would escape to the continent and explain to the Catholic powers what had happened in England.[54]

Several of the conspirators expressed worries about fellow Catholics who would be caught up in the planned explosion;[56] Percy was concerned for his patron, Northumberland, and when the young Earl of Arundel's name was mentioned Catesby suggested that a minor wound might keep him from the chamber on that day. Keyes's suggestion to warn the Earl of Peterborough was, however, derided.[57] On 26 October William Parker, 4th Baron Monteagle (Tresham's brother-in-law) received an anonymous letter while at his house in Hoxton, warning him not to attend Parliament, and forecasting that "they shall receive a terrible blow this Parliament; and yet they shall not see who hurts them".[54] Uncertain of its meaning he delivered it to Secretary of State Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury.[58] In an extraordinary act of bravado Catesby had planned to go hunting with James, but was warned of the betrayal by Monteagle's servant. He immediately suspected that Tresham was responsible for the letter, a view which was shared by Thomas Wintour. Together the two confronted the recently recruited conspirator, and threatened to "hang him", but Tresham managed to convince the pair that he had not written the letter, and the next day urged them to abandon the plot.[59]

Catesby waited for Percy's return from the north, before making his decision.[60] He thought the letter too vague to constitute any meaningful threat to the plan, and decided to forge ahead. As Fawkes made a final check on the gunpowder, other conspirators took up their positions in the Midlands. Salisbury, already aware of certain stirrings before he received the letter, did not yet know the exact nature of the plot or who exactly was involved. He elected to wait, to see how events unfolded.[61] On 3 November, Catesby met with Wintour and Percy in London. Although the nature of their discussion is unknown, Fraser theorises that some adjustment of their plan to abduct Princess Elizabeth may have occurred, as later accounts told how Percy had been seen at the Duke of York's lodgings, enquiring as to the movements of the king's daughter.[62] Nicholls mentions that a week earlier—on the same day that Monteagle received his letter—Catesby was at White Webbs with Fawkes, to discuss kidnapping Prince Henry rather than Princess Elizabeth.[nb 10][63]

Late on Monday 4 November, Catesby, John Wright and Bates left for the Midlands, ready for the planned uprising. That night however, Fawkes was discovered guarding the gunpowder in the undercroft beneath the House of Lords. As news of his arrest spread, the next day most of the conspirators still in London fled. Catesby's party, ignorant of what was happening in London, paused at Dunstable when his horse lost a shoe. When Rookwood caught them up and broke to them the news of Fawkes's arrest, the group, which now included Rookwood, Catesby, Bates, the Wright brothers and Percy, rode toward Dunchurch. At about 6:00 pm that evening they reached Catesby's family home at Ashby St Ledgers, where his mother and Robert Wintour were staying. To keep his mother ignorant of their situation, Catesby sent a message asking Wintour to meet him at the edge of the town. The group continued on to Dunchurch, where they met Digby and his hunting party and informed them that the king and Salisbury were dead, thus persuading them to continue with the plan.[64]

On 6 November they raided Warwick Castle for supplies, before continuing to Norbrook to collect stored weapons. From there they continued their journey to Huddington. Catesby gave Bates a letter to deliver to Father Garnet and the other priests at Coughton Court, informing them of what had transpired, and asking for their help in raising an army in Wales, where Catholic support was believed to be strong. The priest begged Catesby and his followers to stop their "wicked actions", and to listen to the pope's preachings. Father Garnet fled, and managed to evade capture for several weeks. Catesby and the others arrived at Huddington at about 2:00 pm, and were met by Thomas Wintour. Terrified of being associated with the fugitives, family members and former friends showed them no sympathy.[65]

Back in London, under pain of torture Fawkes had started to reveal what he knew, and on 7 November the government named Catesby as a wanted man. Early that morning, at Huddington the remaining outlaws went to confession, before taking the sacrament — in Fraser's opinion, a sign that none of them thought they had long to live. The party of fugitives, which included those at the centre of the plot, their supporters and Digby's hunting party, by now had dwindled to only thirty-six in number.[66] They continued on through pouring rain to Hewell Grange, home of the young Lord Windsor. He was absent however, so they helped themselves to further arms, ammunition, and money. The locals were unsupportive; on hearing that Catesby's party stood for "God and Country", they replied that they were for "King James as well as God and Country". The party reached Holbeche House, on the border of Staffordshire, at about 10:00 pm. Tired and desperate, they spread in front of the fire some of the now-soaked gunpowder taken from Hewell Grange, to dry out. Although gunpowder does not explode (unless physically contained), a spark from the fire landed on the powder and the resultant flames engulfed Catesby, Rookwood, Grant, and another man.[65]

Catesby survived, albeit scorched. Digby left, ostensibly to give himself up, as did John Wintour. Thomas Bates fled, along with Robert Wintour. Remaining were Catesby (described as "reasonably well"), Rookwood, the Wright brothers, Percy and John Grant, who had been so badly injured that his eyes were "burnt out". They resolved to stay in the house and wait for the arrival of the king's men. Catesby, believing his death to be near, kissed the gold crucifix he wore around his neck and said he had given everything for "the honour of the Cross". He refused to be taken prisoner, "against that only he would defend himself with his sword".[67]

Richard Walsh, Sheriff of Worcester, and his company of 200 men besieged Holbeche House at about 11:00 am on 8 November. While crossing the courtyard Thomas Wintour was hit in the shoulder. John Wright was shot, followed by his brother, and then Rookwood. Catesby and Percy were reportedly both dropped by a single lucky shot, while standing near the door. Catesby managed to crawl inside the house, where his body was later found, clutching a picture of the Virgin Mary. This and his gold crucifix were sent to London, to demonstrate what "superstitious and Popish idols" had inspired the plotters.[67] The survivors were taken into custody and the dead buried near Holbeche. On the orders of the Earl of Northampton however, the bodies of Catesby and Percy were exhumed[68] and decapitated. John Harington, 2nd Baron Harington of Exton, made an opportune study of the heads while en route to London, and later reflected: "more terrible countenances were never looked upon".[69] Placed on "the side of the Parliament House", Catesby's head became one of the "sightless spectators of their own failure."[70]



  • Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 09
  • Catesby, Robert by Augustus Jessopp
  • 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.]
  • From:,_Robert_(DNB00)
  • to ______________
  • Robert Catesby1
  • M, #146614, d. 1605
  • Last Edited=7 May 2005
  • Robert Catesby was the son of Sir William Catesby and Anne Throckmorton.1 He died in 1605.1
  • Citations
  • [S1281] Dr. Andrew Gray, "re: Sir Robert George Maxwell Throckmorton, 11th Bt.," e-mail message to Darryl Lundy, 28 February 2005. Hereinafter cited as "re: Robert George Maxwell Throckmorton."
  • From: _______________
  • Robert Catesby1
  • M, #663417
  • Last Edited=2 Jun 2015
  • Robert Catesby was a Gunpowder Plot consiprator in 1604.1
  • Child of Robert Catesby
    • Robert Catesby1
  • Citations
  • [S37] BP2003 volume 2, page 2941. See link for full details for this source. Hereinafter cited as. [S37]
  • From: _________________
  • Robert Catesby
  • Birth: 1573, England
  • Death: Nov. 8, 1605 Staffordshire, England
  • Gunpowder Plot conspirator. The Gunpowder Plot was hatched by disillusioned Catholics, upset with the new King James who had pledged, but failed, to ease restrictions and punishments for practising Catholics. After assassinating the King by blowing up Parliament during its opening session, the conspirators planned to kidnap the child Princess Elizabeth and install her on the throne as a Catholic Queen. The plot was foiled a few days before it was due to be carried out when authorities received an anonymous letter informing them of the plot. Catesby was the leader of the conspiracy. He was from a strongly and vocally Catholic family and had seen several family members and friends, including his own father, arrested many times for their beliefs. At one point, his father owed over a fifth of the value of his entire estate in recusant fines. He was educated at Oxford but never matriculated as he refused to take the Protestant Oath of Supremacy required to receive his degree. He was a popular and well connected member of society, and considered dangerous enough in his zeal and influence that he was once arrested as a precautionary measure when Queen Elizabeth fell ill as authorities felt he could possibly muster enough support to overthrow the throne while the Queen was weak. He was released on her recovery. Three of the men imprisoned with him later became co-conspirators in the Gunpowder Plot. He was also involved in several other uprisings intended to bring about religious freedom for Catholics, including the Essex Rebellion of 1601 and the Spanish Treason. Even after the Parliament aspect of the Gunpowder Plot was foiled, he still held out hope that the abduction of Princess Elizabeth would take place, and when it became obvious that, too, was doomed to failure, Catesby led the few remaining conspirators who had not fled or been arrested into the Midland countryside to try to effect an uprising among the general public. He was shot and killed by authorities while attempting once again to escape, along with Thomas Percy - the two were apparently killed by the same bullet. He has no grave; his body disappeared after his impromptu execution and it is believed authorities destroyed his remains, as was the general custom with executed traitors. Even at his death he protested that his actions were not intended to benefit or serve himself or any other worldly being, but for the Church and the salvation of mens' souls. (bio by: Mount Hope NY)
  • Family links:
  • Parents:
  • William Catesby (____ - 1598)
  • Anne Throckmorton Catesby
  • Burial: Body lost or destroyed
  • Find A Grave Memorial# 43688666
  • From: _____________
  • Robert CATESBY
  • Born: 1573, Lapworth, Warwickshire, England
  • Died: 8 Nov 1605, Holbeach House, Staffordshire, England
  • Notes: See his Biography.
  • Father: William CATESBY (Sir)
  • Mother: Anne THROCKMORTON
  • Married: Catherine LEIGH (dau. Sir Thomas Leigh of Stoneleigh, Warwickshire) 1592
  • Children:
    • 1. William CATESBY
    • 2. Robert CATESBY
  • From: CATESBY2
  • Robert Catesby was the only surviving son of Sir William Catesby of Lapworth and Anne Throckmorton, dau. of Robert Throckmorton of Coughton, his elder brother William having died in infancy. He had an ancient and illustrious lineage, including being sixth in descent from William Catesby, the influential councillor of Richard III, immortalised not only by Shakespeare, but in the famous satirical rhyme of Colyngbourne:
    • "The Cat, the Rat and Lovel our Dog,
    • Rule all England under a Hog"
  • 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. By Catherine he had two sons, William, who died in infancy, and Robert.
  • 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 Nov 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 thus:
    • "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, 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 Feb 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 Feb 22, 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 Apr 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 Aug 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 Nov 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.
  • From: _________________
  • Sir William Catesby (1450[1] – August 25, 1485) was one of Richard III of England's principal councillors. He also served as Chancellor of the Exchequer and Speaker of the House of Commons during Richard's reign.
  • The son of Sir William Catesby of Ashby St Ledgers, Northamptonshire (died 1478) and Philippa, daughter and heiress of Sir William Bishopston, he was trained for the law in the Inner Temple.[2] As an aspiring lawyer Catesby initially progressed in the service of William, 1st Lord Hastings. He married Margaret, daughter of William La Zouche, 6th Baron Zouche of Harringworth; the couple had three sons. Upon the death of his father he inherited a large number of estates in the English Midlands and was land-agent for many others. He was a member of the Council that ruled during the reign of Edward V. After Richard was enthroned, Catesby was one of King Richard's closest advisors. He served as Chancellor of the Exchequer, and as Speaker of the English House of Commons during the Parliament of 1484, in which he sat as knight of the shire for Northamptonshire. He also received a substantial grant of land from the king, enough to make him richer than most knights.[3]
  • In July 1484, William Collingbourne, a Tudor agent, tacked up a lampooning poem to St. Paul's Cathedral, which mentions Catesby among the three aides to King Richard, whose emblem was a white boar:
    • " The Catte, the Ratte and Lovell our dogge rulyth all Englande under a hogge. "
  • (The dog here refers to a Lovell family heraldic symbol.)[4][5] The poem was interpolated into Laurence Olivier's film Richard III, a screen adaptation of William Shakespeare's play. Collingbourne was hanged, drawn and quartered for this and other alleged treasonable activities.[citation needed]
  • William Catesby was one of the two councillors (the other was Richard Ratcliffe) who are reputed to have told the king that marrying Elizabeth of York would cause rebellions in the north.[6] He fought alongside Richard at the Battle of Bosworth and was captured. Alone of those of importance he was executed three days later at Leicester. The suggestion that he might have made a deal with the Stanleys before the battle comes from his will when he asked them "to pray for my soul as ye have not for my body, as I trusted in you."[7]
  • After his death his estates were largely confiscated by Henry VII. Catesby was succeeded by his eldest son, George, to whom the family seat of Ashby St Legers was later restored. Robert Catesby, leader of the Gunpowder Plot, was a descendant.[citation needed]
  • From: ______________
  • Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 09
  • Catesby, William by James Gairdner
  • CATESBY, WILLIAM (d. 1485), councillor of Richard III, was the son of Sir William Catesby of Ashby St. Legers, Northamptonshire, by Philippa, daughter and heiress of Sir William Bishopston. His father died in 1470, but nothing seems to be known of Catesby till after the death of Edward IV, twelve or thirteen years later. Certain it is that he possessed great influence with Richard III before he became king. More speaks of him as a man well versed in the law, who, by the favour of Lord Hastings, possessed great authority in the counties of Leicester and Northampton; and it seems to have been owing to his presence in the Protector's councils that Hastings, relying on his fidelity to him, was lulled into a state of false security. For Richard, we are told, endeavoured through Catesby to ascertain if Hastings would acquiesce in his intended usurpation of the crown, and Catesby went so far as to broach the subject to him; but Hastings answered with such ‘terrible words’ that Catesby not only saw it was hopeless, but feared a diminution of his own credit with Hastings for having spoken of it. He therefore, if More has not maligned him, stirred up the Protector to get rid of his patron. There is no doubt that he profited by his fall, for immediately after Richard's accession he obtained an office which Hastings had previously held, that of one of the chamberlains of the receipt of exchequer. On the same day (30 June 1483) Richard appointed him chancellor of the exchequer, and also chancellor of the earldom of March for life. Next year he was chosen speaker in Richard's only parliament. His influence with the usurper was pointed at in the satirical rhyme made by Colyngbourne, who suffered, though not, as commonly supposed, for that cause only, the extreme penalties of treason—
    • The cat, the rat, and Lovel our dog
    • Rule all England under a hog—
  • showing that of three leading councillors he was believed to be the first. His name appears on commissions for the counties of Warwick, Northampton, Leicester, Gloucester, and Berks, and on 15 Feb. 1485 he obtained a grant from the crown of the hundred of Guilsborough in tail male. That he must have been unpopular as the minister of a tyrant we may well believe; yet it is remarkable that Earl Rivers, one of the victims of Richard's tyranny, names Catesby among his executors in a will made just before his execution (Excerpta Historica, 248). On 22 Aug. 1485, when the usurper fell at Bosworth, Catesby was taken prisoner fighting on his side. Three days afterwards he was beheaded at Leicester. Just before his execution he made his will, dated 25 Aug. 1 Henry VII, leaving its fulfilment entirely to his wife, ‘to whom,’ as he says in the document, ‘I have ever been true of my body.’ Evidently this instrument of tyranny had some virtue in him, of a kind not too common among courtiers. He desired to be buried in the church of St. Leger in Ashby, and wished his wife to restore all the land he had wrongfully purchased, and to divide the rest of his property among their children. ‘I doubt not,’ he added, ‘the king will be good and gracious lord to them; for he is called a full gracious prince, and I never offended him by my good and free will, for God I take to my judge I have ever loved him.’ At the end are these remarkable passages: ‘My lords Stanley, Strange, and all that blood, help and pray for my soul, for ye have not for my body as I trusted in you. And if my issue rejoice (enjoy) my land, I pray you let Mr. John Elton have the best benefice. And (if) my Lord Lovel (another of Richard's adherents) come to grace, then that ye show to him that he pray for me. And, uncle John, remember my soul as ye have done my body, and better.’ Uncle John is Sir John Catesby, the justice [q. v.]
  • This William Catesby is often erroneously called Sir William, and spoken of as a knight. He was only an esquire of the royal body. The wife whom he left as his executrix was Margaret, a daughter of William Lord Zouche. His attainder was reversed by Henry VII in favour of his son George, and the family continued to flourish until the days of James I, when Robert Catesby [q. v.], fifth in descent from the subject of this notice, was attainted as the projector of the Gunpowder plot.
  • [Dugdale's Warwickshire, 788; Baker's Northamptonshire, i. 241, 245; Sir T. More's History of Richard III (in Cayley's More, ii. 199, 200); Fabyan's Chronicle (ed. 1811), 672; Rolls of Parliament, vi. 238, 276.]
  • From:,_William_(DNB00)
  • to ______________

Robert Catesby – the real brains behind the Gunpowder Plot Posted on November 8, 2012 by History In An Hour Unlike the notorious Guy Fawkes, the name Robert Catesby is not one familiar to many. This is rather surprising when one considers that it was in fact he, and not Fawkes, who was the principal architect of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.

Born in 1573 to a wealthy Catholic landowning family from Warwickshire, Robert Catesby (also known as Robin) was the only surviving son of Sir William Catesby and Anne Throckmorton. The Catesby family were highly respected and well-established. However, their Catholic faith meant that they were in constant conflict with England’s Protestant establishment. Robert’s father was subjected to crippling fines and frequent imprisonments for his recusant ways. It is not surprising, then, that the young Catesby adopted an anti-Protestant stance from a relatively young age.

It is believed that Robert studied for a time at a Jesuit seminary in Douai, where he was taught theology and classical languages. He also attended Oxford University but his refusal to take the Oath of Supremacy (which declared Elizabeth I to be Supreme Head of the Church in England) meant that he left without gaining a degree.

Mrs Catesby

His marriage to Catherine Leigh in 1593 was a significant departure from Catesby’s vehemently Catholic stance. Catherine was a Protestant from a well-connected family. The marriage was a happy one, with Catherine bearing Catesby two sons, one of whom died in infancy. Although Robert continued the recusant traditions of his family, his wife’s Protestantism shielded him from the full force of the severe recusancy laws which had so beset his father.

The year 1598 was a momentous one for Catesby. His father died, leaving his considerable fortune to his son. The same year also saw the death of his beloved wife, a loss which was to profoundly affect Catesby and influence his future direction. Grief-stricken, Catesby once more wholeheartedly embraced his faith, and from that point on, devoted his life to the Catholic cause.

The New King

When James I of England succeeded Elizabeth I in 1603, Catholics were hopeful that the new king would be more sympathetic to their plight. When this hope proved to be futile, Robert Catesby decided it was time for action. On 20 May 1604, he gathered together a group of cousins and close friends for a meeting in London. It was at this meeting that Catesby unveiled his plan to use copious amounts of gunpowder to blow up the Palace of Westminster. The attack would mean certain death for the new King, members of the Royal Family and the sitting Government. In the chaos which would inevitably follow, Catesby hoped that the oppressed Catholic nobility would stage an uprising and seize the reigns of power from the Protestant establishment.

The date was set for 5 November 1605 – the official opening of Parliament. Over the course of the next year, Catesby’s attack was meticulously planned. But it wasn’t to be. Late in the night of 4 November, the Plot was uncovered by the King’s men. When news of the plot’s failure reached Catesby, he fled to the country with some of his fellow conspirators.

Over the next couple of days, Catesby and his men rode into the Midlands, relentlessly pursued by the authorities. On the night of 7 November, the group reached Holbeach House in Staffordshire, where their luck finally ran out. A group of around 200 government forces descended on their hiding place, and a brief gunfight ensued. All of the conspirators were injured, and Catesby was no exception. His wounds, however, proved fatal. Before he died, Robert Catesby managed to escape the fracas into the house, where he found a picture of the Virgin Mary. He died on 8 November with it in his arms, utterly devoted to his faith to the bitter end.

Sinead Fitzgibbon

The Gunpowder Plot: History In An Hour, published by Harper Press, is available in various digital formats

See also Sinead’s articles on Guy Fawkes and James I.

See also Sinead’s blog.

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Robert Catesby's Timeline

Lapworth, Warwickshire, England
November 11, 1595
Chastleton, Oxfordshire, England
November 8, 1605
Age 33
Holbeach House, Staffordshire, England