Baddesley Clinton in Warwickshire is a moated house now owned by the National Trust. The house which partly dates from the 15th Century experienced one of it’s most dramatic events during the Tudor period.
During this time it was an offence to attend Catholic mass, people were fined for not attending Church of England services and Priests could suffer savage punishment. In an attempt to maintain the faith, priests were trained abroad, smuggled into the country and then hidden by a covert network of sympathisers. In Warwickshire, as elsewhere in England, many of the gentry continued to practice what they saw as the true faith. One such family were the Ferrers who owned Baddesley Clinton.
A secret conference.
In 1591, the house was the scene for a secret conference of Catholic Priests. Amongst those at the conference were the well known Jesuit Priests John Gerard, and Henry Garnet as well as seven or eight fellow Jesuits, other Priests and a few fugitive sympathisers. All of these people were being actively sought by the authorities and the capture of such a group would have dealt a serious blow to the secret Catholic mission to England.
Partly because of concern about the possibility of such a large group being captured the conference broke up early. Several people departed leaving only John Gerard, Father Southwell and five others at Baddesley Clinton. At five o’clock in the morning whilst preparations for Mass were being made the house was raided by the authorities.
Four armed Priest hunters ( known as Pursuivants) had arrived and were loudly threatening a servant who had barred the door to them. Because the servant had delayed their entry the Priests inside the house had time to hide their vestments and the altar stuff. The Priests even had time to turn the mattresses on their beds so that they would not feel warm to a searchers touch.
By the time the mistress of the house had come downstairs and allowed the searchers to enter, the Priests were hidden in a secret hide underneath the house. They had to remain crouched here for four hours whilst the search went on above them. Eventually the searchers tired of their efforts and left after they had extracted payment from the household for their troubles.
A close escape.
Once it was certain the Pursuivants were gone, the Priests were called up out of the hide. Care still had to be taken though to guard against the searchers appearing to leave and then returning which was a common tactic.
John Gerard wrote the account of this search in his memoirs when he escaped England and returned to live the rest of life on the continent. Robert Southwell and Henry Garnet were not so lucky as both of them were later caught and executed by being hung, drawn and quartered.
As you can see from the pictures, Baddesley Clinton is a really beautiful place to visit. If you go there, you can still see some of it’s hiding places as well as it’s beautiful rooms and gardens. The hide that was used in 1591 was originally part of the house sewer and is though to have been converted to a hide by Nicholas Owen, the master builder of such places.
You may well find it hard to imagine such a peaceful and secluded place being the scene of dramatic and perilous events.
See our earlier post ‘Tyburn Martyrs‘