Region's central role in Gunpowder Plot - The Rugby Observer

Region's central role in Gunpowder Plot

Rugby Editorial 5th Nov, 2023   0

Karl Quinney outlines the locations close to Rugby which played a role in one of England’s most notorious acts of treason, which is remembered today on Guy Fawkes’ Night.

THE FIFTH of November is a reminder of one of England’s most notorious acts of treason in 1605 – The Gunpowder Plot, the failed attempt to kill King James I and his courtiers by blowing up the Houses of Parliament.

On that date, a solitary figure was arrested in the cellars of Parliament House – Guy Fawkes, one of 13 who conspired to blow up Parliament, the King, and his Lords. By doing so, they were looking to throw the whole country into turmoil and raise a new monarch who was sympathetic to their cause and return England to its Catholic past.

Central England has several locations which played a part in the events, and many of them are close by.

Ashby St Ledgers: the ‘Command Centre’

The village of Ashby St Ledgers on Warwickshire’s border with Northamptonshire was a key location in the plot’s build-up.

The Manor House in the village was the home of the Catesby family – and it was here in 1605 that Robert Catesby and his fellow conspirators, including Guy Fawkes, gathered in the Manor’s gatehouse during the planning of the Gunpowder Plot.

Ashby St. Ledgers also became a repository for the arms, munitions and gunpowder that the plotters were amassing. Catesby claimed that he was organising a regiment, of which he was the captain, to fight in the Low Countries. As we now know, that was not the case.

Dunchurch: within striking distance

Equally prominent was the village of Dunchurch, an important staging post on two major coaching routes, one of those being from London to Holyhead.

The stone marker which you can see in the centre of the village today gives the distance to London as 79 miles – a safe distance from the capital, so thought the plotters.

They stayed at the Red Lion Inn, awaiting news of Fawkes’s attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament.

A property in the centre of the village is now a private residence called ‘Guy Fawkes House,’ but back then it was a hub of activity and within striking distance of another of their key targets as part of the plot – Coombe Abbey.

Had the Gunpowder Plot been successful, the plan was they would abduct Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia, James I’s nine year-old daughter, from Coombe Abbey and proclaim her as Queen Elizabeth II, use her as a puppet queen and figurehead to reintroduce the Catholic faith to England.

Coombe Abbey

The Coombe Abbey estate was purchased in 1581 by Sir John Harrington. Harrington became the guardian of the young Princess Elizabeth, daughter to James I, around late 1603 or early 1604.

On the night of November 4, 1605, the conspirators headed for Dunsmore Heath for a mock hunt – a cover for the capture of Princess Elizabeth – to which they invited Lord Harrington and his friends to make sure he would be out of the house.

However, Harrington refused – and then heard that a group of Catholic men were meeting at Dunchurch on November 4. When Harrington was then told his friend’s horses had been stolen, he said that ‘it cannot be, but some great rebellion is at hand’.

In the early hours of November 5, Harrington received word of the plot to kill the King, and the ‘Hunting Party’ who were en route from Dunchurch to capture the young Princess.

Harington had Elizabeth’s belongings packed and moved, before the conspirators were captured and arrested following Fawkes’ foiled plan.

Catesby and his entourage rode to Staffordshire where, three days later, he made his last stand along with three other of the conspirators before being shot by his pursuers.

The remaining eight of the plotters were executed in January of the following year after being found guilty of treason. Their executions proved a fitting deterrent to rebels, and strengthened the reign of King James who believed a miracle had taken place and confirmed his divine right as King.

Princess Elizabeth became Electress of the Palatine upon her marriage to Frederick V Elector Palatine and briefly reigned as Queen of Bohemia.

The Craven family acquired the Coombe Estate in 1622 and it remained with them for 300 years. The Abbey was extensively developed with various buildings added, and renowned landscape gardener Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown redesigned the surrounding gardens and land.

The estate was sold in 1921, and two years later the house and its grounds were bought by a builder named John Gray.

Coventry City Council took ownership of the estate in 1964, and after a series of restorations, in 1966 the park many of us continue to enjoy today was opened to the public, with the hotel opening in 1995.

Today, the elegance of the estate’s gardens and woodlands are a far cry from those turbulent days over 400 years ago which nearly changed the course of history.

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