Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Remember, Remember the 5th of November!

By virtue of its connection to Elizabeth of Bohemia, Ashdown House has a link to the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 and the 5th November Guy Fawkes’ celebrations. Coombe Abbey, the main family seat of the Cravens, has a far greater connection, being the house in which Elizabeth was living at the time of the Gunpowder Plot.

It was the intention of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 conspirators to kill King James I and his eldest son and heir, Prince Henry, plus all the nobility sitting in the House of Lords and all the members of parliament sitting in the House of Commons. They wanted to put a Catholic monarch on the throne. The plot was thwarted when Henry Parker, 4th Lord Monteagle, received an anonymous letter warning him not to attend parliament:

“My lord out of the love i beare to some of youere frends i have a caer of youer preseruacion therfor i would advyse yowe as yowe tender youer lyf to devys some excuse to shift of youer attendance at this parleament for god and man hath concurred to punishe the wickednes of this tyme… for thowghe theare be no appearance of anni stir yet i saye they shall receyve a terrible blowe this parleament and yet they shall not seie who hurts them…”

Monteagle was married to the sister of one of the Gunpowder Plotters, Thomas Tresham. Monteagle took the letter to Robert Cecil, who informed the King. The king ordered a search of the cellars at the Palace of Westminster. The plot was discovered and Monteagle became the hero who saved Parliament. He was rewarded to the sum of £700 a year - £500 in cash and £200 in the value of land donated to him. He invested the money in business ventures in Virginia.

One of the lesser-known aspects of the Gunpowder Plot is what the plotters intended to happen if they had
actually succeeded. Their aim was to put James I’s daughter Elizabeth on the throne as a catholic figurehead. In 1605 the nine-year-old Elizabeth was living at Coombe Abbey in Warwickshire.  Lord and Lady Harington, staunch Protestants, had been charged with "the keeping and education" of the young Princess, as was the wont with royal children in those days. At Coombe, Elizabeth was taught amongst other things, French and Italian, music and dancing. King James did not approve of the education of women, stating that: "to make women learned and foxes tame had the same effect - to make them more cunning." However I think we may assume that by most people's standards Elizabeth was very well educated.

In late October 1605 strange rumours of a plot to overthrow the monarchy were circulating in Warwickshire, which was a stronghold of Catholicism. Lord Harington was warned of a threat to the princess and Elizabeth was taken for her own safety to the city of Coventry, for it was suspected that she might be seized should a rebellion take place. She was lodged in the city with an armed guard. Later, after the gunpowder plotters had been arrested and tortured, it emerged that it had been their intention to kidnap "the person of the Lady Elizabeth, the king's daughter, in Warwickshire, and presently proclaim her queen." The plan had been to seize her from Coombe Abbey and carry her off to Ashby St Legers, a Catholic safe house and the home of Lady Catesby, mother of one of the conspirators.

It is said that when Elizabeth heard of the plot she said: “What a Queen I should have been by this means! I had rather been with my royal father in the Parliament House than wear his crown on such condition.”

For the blog post about other houses connected to the Gunpowder Plot, click here:


Happy November 5th!


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