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Thomas Habington

Born : 23 August 1560, Thorpe, Surrey
Died : 8 October 1647 - Hindlip House, Worcestershire

Thomas Habington [referred to sometimes as Abingdon] was the second son of John Habington, cofferer to Elizabeth I, and Catherine Wykes. At the age of sixteen he entered Lincoln College, Oxford, where he remained for three years, after which he travelled overseas to Paris and Rheims [1], where it is believed he embraced the Roman Catholic religion.

Upon his return to England, he and his elder brother Edward became involved with a clandestine group of Catholics in London protecting Jesuit missionaries. At the centre of this group was Anthony Babington, the primary force behind the Babington Plot, a conspiracy to murder Queen Elizabeth I and place her rival Mary, Queen of Scots, on the throne of England. Edward not only joined the Babington Plot, but was named later as one of the six conspirators who were charged with the contemplated murder of Elizabeth [1]. Found guilty, Edward was executed on 30 September 1586 along with six others. Babington and five others (including the priest John Ballard, whom Babington had tried to blame for the whole conspiracy) had been executed ten days before.

Thomas was committed to the Tower for his association with the Babington Plot conspirators. There he spent the next six years translating Gildas' De excidio et conquestu Britaniae, and writing a history of Edward IV of England [1]. He was perhaps spared execution as he was Queen Elizabeth's godson.

Upon Thomas' release, he was permitted to retire to Hindlip, near Worcester, where his father had built Hindlip House. On Edward's death, Thomas had become the heir to their father's estates. During this enforced retirement, Thomas devoted his time to antiquarian research, and completed a full survey of the county of Worcester. He also converted his house into a hiding place for Catholic priests, including Father Henry Garnet, and earned a reputation as a zealous papist. Over the next 20 years, Hindlip House became one of the most celebrated priest shelters in England thanks to the work of Nicholas Owen [6], a lay brother who was skilled in building priest holes. Edward Oldcorne is said to have resided there for almost 14 years [5].

After the failure of the Gunpowder Plot, Hindlip House was searched by Sir Henry Bromley, Thomas' neighbour at Holt Castle, at which time a total of 11 priest holes were discovered [6]. Discovered hiding in these holes were Henry Garnet, Edward Oldcorne and two lay brothers (including Nicholas Owen). Thomas Habington was not present when the initial search began, but he returned from business while it was in progress, and told the searchers that he "denied any such men to be in his house", and voluntarily offered to "die at his own gate if any such were found in his house or in that shire" [5].

Although Habington had no part in the Plot, he was arrested for concealing traitors, but was later released owing to the intercession of William Parker Lord Monteagle, his brother-in-law through his marriage to Mary Parker, Lord Monteagle's sister. After his release he was forbidden to leave Worcestershire, and consequently applied himself to further antiquarian research. He lived to the age of eighty-seven, and died at Hindlip House on 8 October 1647. He was succeeded by his son William Habington who rose to become a minor poet and author.

Sources

[1] "Dictionary of National Biography", 1895
[2] Amphlet, John, of Cleat, ed., "A Survey of Worcester", Worcester Historical Society
[3] Fraser, Antonia, "Faith & Treason - The Story of the Gunpowder Plot", 1996
[4] Edwards, Francis, S.J., "The Gunpowder Plot: the narrative of Oswald Tesimond alias Greenway, trans. from the Italian of the Stonyhurst Manuscript, edited and annotated", 1973
[5] Edwards, Francis, S.J., "Guy Fawkes: the real story of the Gunpowder Plot?", 1969
[6] Hodgetts, Michael, "Elizabethan Priest Holes: East Anglia, Baddesley Clinton, Hindlip", Recusant History

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