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Robert Catesby - leader of the Gunpowder plot, son of Anne Throckmorton of Coughton Courthis mother was

Robert Catesby - leader of the Gunpowder plot, son of Anne Throckmorton of Coughton Court.

Members of the Throckmorton family from Coughton Court (See our earlier post) were involved in the Gunpowder plot, along with other Catholic families in the Midlands.  The ‘Powder Treason’, or Gunpowder Plot, of 1605 was a failed assassination attempt by a group of English Catholics belonging to the gentry, against King James I of England and VI of Scotland.

James I

James I

A single blow

The plot was intended to kill the king and his family, and most of the Protestant aristocracy in a single blow, by blowing up the Houses of Parliament during the State Opening on 5 November 1605. The conspirators had also planned to kidnap the royal children, and lead a popular revolt in the Midlands – before installing Princess Elizabeth, the eldest daughter of King James, a child at the time, on the throne.  She was to be Queen Elizabeth II, a Catholic Queen – having been converted by her guardians.  This was not to be – however our current Queen Elizabeth II is directly descended from this Princess Elizabeth rather than her brother Charles I who took the throne after James I.

Coughton – A cold November morning in 1605

Early in the morning of the 6th November In the cold early hours of November 6th, Thomas Bates, servant to Robert Catesby, who had been overseeing the plot from May 1604, rode over the moat bridge of Coughton Court.  He climbed the stairs to the Drawing Room where a group of people, all closely involved in the then illegal Catholic community, were waiting for news.

Fr Henry Garnet

Fr Henry Garnet

There were two Jesuit priests – Father Henry Garnet, who had celebrated a clandestine mass for the Feast of All Saints in the house just a few days before, and Father Oswald Tesimond, the confessor to Robert Catesby.  Nicholas Owen, the priest-hide builder, was also present.  Thomas Bates told them that the plot had failed, and that the conspirators were now running for their lives.

A warning ignored

Father Garnet had warned against the plot from the beginning on a matter of principle, and had said that the failure of the plan could only mean extreme hardship for the already beleaguered Catholic community.  Despite his opposition Father Garnet was implicated in the Plot and later captured at Hindlip House along with Nicholas Owen.  Father Garnet was executed, whilst Nicholas Owen died under torture in the Tower – without ever revealing the secrets of the hides he had built at Coughton, Harvington and elsewhere.

Coughton Court (Duncan Walker on Flickr: Click image)
Coughton Court (Duncan Walker on Flickr: Click image)

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Coughton Court has an impressive west front which is shown at its best in the warm evening light. (Photo by Kate & Drew on Flickr: Click image)

Coughton Court has an impressive west front which is shown at its best in the warm evening light. (Photo by Kate & Drew on Flickr: Click image)

On Saturday I paid a visit to Coughton Court in Warwickshire.  I have often driven past it on my way out of Birmingham into the countryside, but had never stopped before to have a look round.  I have to admit it has always distracted me from driving as I should, as it looks spectacular from the road.

The Throckmortons

Like Harvington Hall Coughton (pronounced Coe-ton) was home to a Catholic family who refused to renounce their faith and practice during the reformation.  The Throckmorton family were very highly connected.  henry8england-50pc-smallerSir George Throckmorton (d. 1553) was a knight at the court of Henry VIII, and was in charge of the royal Forest of Arden.  He spoke out vociferously against the annulment of Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon, and was imprisoned several times without trial for his outspoken views – being released once Henry believed he had calmed down – only to end up back in prison again!

George’s aunt, Elizabeth, the abbess of Denny, came to live at Coughton when her convent was closed in 1537 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries.  Another sister came with her, and together they lived a secluded life, continuing with the daily office in two rooms in the house.  The dole-gate from the convent is now at Coughton Court, having been found relatively recently.  You can see the hatch through which the sisters would have spoken to visitors, and given out alms.

Coughton Court (Kate & Drew on Flickr: Click image)

Coughton Court (Kate & Drew on Flickr: Click image)

Recusants

In the time of Sir Robert Throckmorton, and his son and heir Thomas (1533-1614), Coughton became a centre for Catholic recusants. It is believed that Mass was celebrated in the Tower Room from which you can see in all directions.  There is a priest hole there, built by Nicholas Owen who made many of the priest holes at Harvington Hall.  The hide at Coughton was so secret that members of the Throckmorton family did not know where it was even when it was in use.  Its location was so closely guarded that it was not discovered until work on the house in 1945.

The family were subjected to heavy fines for their non-attendance at the established Church of England, and Thomas spent 16 years in prison (on and off) for the same offence.  In the Tower Room you can see the Tabula Eliensis – rediscovered in the mid-twentieth century – which is a tapestry showing the names and portraits of Catholics imprisoned for their faith.  It is believed this was displayed during mass in the house.

Coughton Court Bluebell wood (Ruthsophe on Flickr: Click image)

Coughton Court Bluebell wood (Ruthsophe on Flickr: Click image)

Other Treasures

Coughton Court houses many other historical treasures including a chair reputed to be made of the wood of the bed where Richard III spent his last night before the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, a chemise which has stitched upon it ‘of the holy martyr, Mary, Queen of Scots’ (carbon dating tests prove that the linen was woven in the year of Mary’s death in 1587), a perfectly preserved and beautiful velvet cope embroidered in gold by Queen Catherine of Aragon and her ladies-in-waiting, and the original abdication letter of King Edward VIII in 1936.

NB See the second part of this post

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