Were the Mordaunts involved in the Gunpowder Plot?

Drayton House, home of the Mordaunts at the time of the Gunpowder Plot
By John Sutton, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36405051

There has long been a rumour that some, or at least one, of the conspirators of the Gunpowder Plot sheltered in Turvey Church as they fled from London, by various routes, to meet up in Warwickshire.

Robert Catesby whose home was in Ashby St Ledger, about 25 miles north of Turvey, was the inspiration behind the plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament, with the King inside. It was fixed for November 1605 when King James went to open the new session of Parliament. Catesby invited his cousin, Frances Tresham, from Rushton Hall, to help him. Rushton Hall is also in Northamptonshire, and also about 25 miles from Turvey. In total there were thirteen main plotters; Catesby and Tresham, Thomas Percy, brothers John and Christopher Wright, and Thomas and Robert Winter (sometimes spelt Wintour), Guy Fawkes, Thomas Bates, Ambrose Rookwood, Sir Everard Digby, Robert Keyes and John Grant.

Catesby’s plot

Many in the country hoped that King James, the son of the Roman Catholic Mary Queen of Scots, would be more tolerant to Roman Catholics than the Tudor Queen Elizabeth had been. When this didn’t happen, Catesby plotted to kill the King and replace him with a Catholic ruler.

Imprisoned in the Tower

This area of England was staunchly Roman Catholic and the Mordaunts were no exception. In fact Henry, 4th Lord Mordaunt, was imprisoned in the Tower on suspicion of involvement in the plot. His son, John, had already been taken away from him to be raised in a Protestant family. Henry’s wife, Lady Mordaunt is reputed to have had the Pope’s representative in the area, a sort of honorary Bishop, living in her home in Turvey. He is reputed to have travelled round the county in a coach and four accompanied by up to ten Roman Catholic Priests. Although by the time of the Gunpowder Plot the family themselves were supposed to be living permanently at Drayton House in Northamptonshire, it is thought that Lady Mordaunt remained in Turvey.

Mordaunts under suspicion

So why was Henry, Lord Mordaunt under suspicion? The family were loosely associated with or distantly related to a number of the key conspirators. Amongst them was Robert Winter, whose Mother-in-Law, Katherine Petre and her family were neighbours and close friends of the Mordaunts. The Petre family were also distantly related through marriage. Another close friend and neighbour was Eliza Vaux, who devoted her life to her family – and also to rebuilding Harrowden Hall, again in Northamptonshire, to include many hiding places for recusant priests who found a welcome refuge there. The Mordaunts were known to have extreme Roman Catholic views and sympathies.

The link to Robert Keyes

Perhaps the most incriminating evidence, however, was Henry’s link with the conspirator Robert Keyes. Robert was the son of a Protestant Rector from Derbyshire, but by 1604 he had become a Roman Catholic and had married a widow, Christina, who was governess to the children of Henry Mordaunt and was living at Drayton Manor. It is rumoured that Keyes may have ‘gained horses and other amenities’ from the family for use in the conspiracy.

Conspiracy or coincidence?

The plot was foiled when one of the conspirators, worried about Roman Catholic friends in Parliament, who might also be killed with the King, sent a letter to Lord Monteagle with a warning of what was to happen. The cellars underneath Parliament were searched, the gunpowder discovered and Guy Fawkes, the explosives expert, was arrested. The others conspirators fled the scene. Keyes went to Drayton where he was arrested several days later. Was he the plotter who rested in Turvey Church on his way? Or did he get a helping hand from Lady Mordaunt? It may also just be coincidence, but Henry Mordaunt was suspiciously absent from Parliament on November 5th – almost as if he had prior knowledge of what was to happen!
Henry was released from the Tower before his death in 1608. In his will he states that his conscience was clear, and that he had no knowledge of the Gunpowder Plot.

Wright, Evelyn ‘Forgotten Families of Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire’
Northamptonshire Battlefields Society ‘The Gunpowder Plot and the Newton Revolt ‘
UK Parliament websites

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