The Gunpowder Plot and the Newton Revolt

The Gunpowder Plot (Spanish Treason)

Robert Catesby (1573–1605), of Ashby St. Ledger in Northants, a man of “ancient, historic and distinguished lineage”, was the inspiration behind the plot. He was a direct descendant of Richard III’s leading supporter, executed after Bosworth. He was described by contemporaries as “a good-looking man, about six feet tall, athletic and a good swordsman”. Along with several other conspirators, he took part in the Earl of Essex’s rebellion in 1601, during which he was wounded and captured. Queen Elizabeth allowed him to escape with his life after fining him 4,000 marks (equivalent to more than £6 million in 2008). on 14 October Catesby invited Francis Tresham into the conspiracy. Tresham was the son of the Catholic Thomas Tresham, and a cousin to Robert Catesby—the two had been raised together. He was also the heir to his father’s large fortune, which had been depleted by recusant fines, expensive tastes, and by Francis and Catesby’s involvement in the Essex revolt.

Catesby and Tresham met at the home of Tresham’s brother-in-law and cousin, Lord Stourton. In his confession, Tresham claimed that he had asked Catesby if the plot would damn their souls, to which Catesby had replied it would not, and that the plight of England’s Catholics required that it be done. Catesby also apparently asked for £2,000, and the use of Rushton Hall in Northamptonshire. Tresham declined both offers (although he did give £100 to Thomas Wintour), and told his interrogators that he had moved his family from Rushton to London in advance of the plot.

The details of the plot were finalised in October, in a series of taverns across London and Daventry including Ashby St. Ledger. Fawkes would be left to light the fuse and then escape across the Thames, while simultaneously a revolt in the Midlands would help to ensure the capture of Princess Elizabeth. Fawkes would leave for the continent, to explain events in England to the European Catholic powers.

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The wives of those involved and Anne Vaux (a friend of Garnet who often shielded priests at her home) also of Northants, became increasingly concerned by what they suspected was about to happen. Several of the conspirators expressed worries about the safety of fellow Catholics who would be present in Parliament on the day of the planned explosion. Percy was concerned for his patron, Northumberland, and the young Earl of Arundel’s name was brought up; Catesby suggested that a minor wound might keep him from the chamber on that day. The Lords Vaux, Montague (also from Northants), Monteagle, and Stourton were also mentioned. Keyes suggested warning Lord Mordaunt, his wife’s employer, to derision from Catesby.

On Saturday 26 October, Lord Monteagle (Tresham’s brother-in-law) received an anonymous letter. Monteagle promptly rode to Whitehall and handed it to Cecil (then Earl of Salisbury). Salisbury informed the Earl of Worcester, considered to have recusant sympathies, and the suspected papist Henry Howard, Earl of Northampton, but kept news of the plot from the King, who was busy hunting in Cambridgeshire and not expected back for several days. Monteagle’s servant, Thomas Ward, had family connections with the Wright brothers, and sent a message to Catesby about the betrayal. Catesby, who had been due to go hunting with the King, suspected that Tresham was responsible for the letter, and with Thomas Wintour confronted the recently recruited conspirator. Tresham managed to convince the pair that he had not written the letter, but urged them to abandon the plot.

The letter was shown to the King on Friday 1 November following his arrival back in London. Upon reading it, James immediately seized upon the word “blow” and felt that it hinted at “some strategem of fire and powder” And on 5 November Guy Fawkes was discovered under the Houses of Parliament.

With the plot uncovered, the group of six conspirators stopped at Ashby St Ledgers at about 6 pm, where they met Robert Wintour and updated him on their situation. They then continued on to Dunchurch, and met with Digby. Catesby convinced him that despite the plot’s failure, an armed struggle was still a real possibility. He announced to Digby’s “hunting party” that the King and Salisbury were dead, before the fugitives moved west to Warwick. They continued on to Holbeche House on the border of Staffordshire, the home of Stephen Littleton, a member of their ever-decreasing band of followers. Tired and desperate, they spread out some of the now-soaked gunpowder in front of the fire, 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 a man named Morgan. The authorities soon caught up with them and 200 men besieged Holbeche House at about 11:00 am on 8 November.

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. Although buried close by, the Earl of Northampton exhumed and decapitated them and their heads were put on display at Northampton.

Tresham was arrested on 12 November. He was transferred to the Tower three days later. He died on 23 December 1605, probably of urinary tract infection, still protesting his innocence. Despite not being tried, his head joined those of Catesby and Percy on display at Northampton while his body was thrown into a hole at Tower Hill.

The Newton Revolt 1607

The Newton revolt was the last peasants revolt in England. In May 1607, Riots broke out throughout Northants, Warks and Leicestershire, protesting against enclosure of common land.

The protesters were led by Captain Pouch, otherwise known as John Reynolds, a tinker said to be of Desborough. He told the protesters he had authority from the King and the Lord of Heaven to destroy enclosures and promised to protect protesters by the contents of his pouch, which he carried by his side.

Sir Thomas Tresham of Rushton, son of Francis, was known as “the most odious man in the county”. The old Roman Catholic gentry family of the Treshams had long argued with the emerging Puritan gentry family the Montagus of Boughton about territory. Now Tresham was enclosing common land – The Brand – that had been part of Rockingham Forest.

Things come to a head on 8 June when over 1000 protesters gather at Newton, just north of Kettering. King James I orders his lieutenants in Northants to put down the rebellion. The local militia, led by the Montagues refuse to take part. So Tresham used his own servants. The rebels refused to obey the orders to disperse, and continued to pull down hedges and fill in the enclosing ditches. The King’s proclamation was read twice. Still the rebels refused to give way. Finally, Tresham and his men charged, and over 40 peasants were killed. Prisoners were taken, imprisoned in St Faith’s Church.The ringleaders were tried, hanged and quartered. Their quarters were hung in towns across Northamptonshire as a clear message. What was in Pouch’s pouch that was claimed to be so miraculous ? A piece of mouldy green cheese!