The story of Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot is one of the most famous of all time. But did you know that the notorious plan had its origins here in Warwickshire?
In November 1605, a group of radical young Catholic men – including Guy Fawkes – conspired to blow up the Houses of Parliament, killing King James I and his government in one fell swoop.Tired of persecution against their faith, their aim was to trigger a countrywide rebellion and restore a Catholic monarch to the throne.
The plan involved hiding 36 barrels of gunpowder under the House of Lords, to be detonated during the State Opening of Parliament. As history documents, the audacious endeavour was ultimately thwarted and the plotters met an untimely end.
But over four centuries later this event is still commemorated by bonfires and fireworks across the country. Who were these men and how did Warwickshire feature in such a stupendous act of treason?
Guy Fawkes is the only individual now popularly associated with the Gunpowder Plot, as the old nursery rhyme ‘Remember, Remember’ and ‘a penny for the guy’ attests.
After all, it was Fawkes who was caught red-handed, lurking in a cellar under the House of Lords in the early hours of 5 November, ready and waiting to light a fuse that would send the King, his nobles, bishops and members of parliament sky-high.
Overall, there were 13 major players in the Gunpowder Plot, with Robert Catesby, a charismatic 32-year old Warwickshire gent their leader. But Catesby, whose family came from Lapworth and had suffered greatly under the persecution of the Protestant state, was not the only local involved. The dastardly plan involved several members of respected Warwickshire families including the Throckmortons of Coughton Court, a fine Tudor country house near the market town of Alcester.
Coughton Court itself was being rented by another chief schemer, Sir Everard Digby, who planned to use the property as a base for the Midlands uprising, whilst the current owner Thomas Throckmorton was overseas.
It was at Coughton Court, early in the morning of 6 November that the women of the extended Throckmorton family – accompanied by Jesuit priests – waited anxiously for news of the plot’s outcome in Tower room above the imposing gatehouse.
Today, Coughton Court with its secret priest hole, stately panelled rooms and magnificent courtyard, is managed by the National Trust. You can discover the gruesome fate of the plotters and uncover the fascinating sequence of events that led up to this defining moment in English history in the very place where the news of the plot’s failure was delivered.
Indeed, Warwickshire has many historic locations associated with the ill-fated plan, including Warwick Castle, Stratford-upon-Avon, Dunchurch and Snitterfield, with a number of properties across the county used to store arms and ammunition for the rebellion that would follow the annihilation of parliament. Many also acted as a refuge for the plotters as they scattered across the county in a bid to escape the pursuing authorities.
The moated manor house of Baddesley Clinton was owned by a leading Catholic family, the Ferrers, but occupied at the time of the conspiracy by the Vaux sisters, kinsfolk of the Throckmortons. It was often used as a Catholic safe house to conceal Jesuit priests, and contains no fewer than three priest holes. It too is managed by the National Trust and open to visitors.
Admission to Coughton Court: Adult £10.05, Child £5 and Family £25. For details of winter opening times go to: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/coughton-court/opening-times/