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Humphrey Littleton

Born :
Died : 7 April 1606 - Red Hill, Worcester

Humphrey Littleton (nicknamed "Red Humphrey" [1]) was the eighth son of Sir John Littleton of Frankley (d. 1591). Humphrey's elder brother George was the father of Stephen Littleton of Holbeche House, Staffordshire [2]. Thus Humphrey and Stephen were uncle and nephew, although some sources refer to the two Littletons as "cousins" [3].

Humphrey was also related to John Littleton, M.P. of Hagley House, Worcestershire, who had been arrested for his role in the Essex Rebellion and who had died in prison in 1601 [3]. Alan Haynes makes Humphrey and John brothers [3], but it is more likely that they were cousins [4][5].

Humphrey was known to have recusant sympathies -- he had been among those who had tried to get a Catholic MP elected locally in 1604 [1]. He and his nephew Stephen were friends, possibly even cousins, of the brothers Robert> and Thomas Wintour, but they were not considered to be suitable for the principal engineering of the plot. The two Littletons were told by Robert Catesby of the plans to raise a regiment to fight in Flanders, and Catesby offered to take one of Humphrey's illegitimate sons as his page. It is likely that until the gathering at Dunchurch, this was the extent of Humphrey Littleton's knowledge of the plot [3].

With this limited degree of knowledge of what was really being planned, Stephen and Humphrey Littleton joined the Midlands group of conspirators whose aim was organise themselves into a company to reinforce the Flanders regiment. Besides the Littletons, the members of this group included Robert Wintour, John Grant, Henry Morgan and Robert Acton.

Stephen and Humphrey joined the party which had collected at the Bull Inn in Coventry and which later moved on to the Red Lion at Dunchurch [3][5]. Stephen stayed with the party, but Humphrey left them at Dunchurch and returned to Hagley House in Worcestershire, a house which was owned by Muriel Littleton, widow of John who had died in prison [3][5][6].

After the discovery of the Plot, Humphrey was not initially sought after by the authorities, because he had played no direct part in the events of Guy Fawkes capture or the siege at Holbeche House. However, he gave a great deal of assistance to Stephen Littleton and Robert Wintour during their two months of hiding. He bribed one of his tenants near Rowley Regis to hide Stephen and Robert for a while [3]. He also acted as an intermediary between the fugitives and Father Oldcorne during this time [5].

Eventually the fugitives came to Hagley House and were sheltered by Humphrey directly. Muriel Littleton, the house's owner, was away in London at this time [7]. Humphrey made his servants swear to secrecy, but in the end they were betrayed by Humphrey's cook, John Fynwood, who had become suspicious of the amount of food being delivered to his master's room [5][8].

When the authorities arrived at Hagley House to arrest Robert and Stephen, Humphrey refused them entry and denied that any fugitives were being harboured in the house. However, a servant called Daniel Bate led the authorities to the courtyard behind the house where the two fugitives were found attempting to flee into the woods. Humphrey attempted to escape on horseback after the two were found, but was seized at Prestwood in Staffordshire. He was imprisoned first at Stafford, then at Worcester [1].

Humphrey tried to bargain for his life with the authorities by revealing the possible hiding place of the Jesuits Father Edward Oldcorne and Father Henry Garnet.

Two days before Robert and Stephen's capture, Humphrey had briefly visited Hindlip House, the residence of Thomas Habington. There he had heard Mass and a sermon by Father Edward Oldcorne. He thus notified the local magistrates that he believed Father Oldcorne, and possibly Father Garnet, could still be found at Hindlip [2][5][7].

Oldcorne and Garnet were eventually discovered hiding at Hindlip House, exactly where Humphrey had suggested they would be. Although Sir Henry Bromley, the local magistrate who was conducting the search at Hindlip, suspected that there were priests in hiding at Hindlip, he had already spent several days searching there in vain and might have given up the search if he hadn't been encouraged by Humphrey's testimony [1].

In the end, Humphrey's betrayal of the priests was not enough to save his life. Humphrey was arraigned at the Lent Assizes at Worcester, together with Father Oldcorne, Ralph Astley and Mr Thomas Habington, and was condemned to death for harbouring Robert Wintour and Stephen Littleton. He acknowledged these facts, but "yielded he had much more deserved death for his treason to God in betraying his servants those two good Fathers, than in any ill intention he had unto the state, in no delivering up those two for whom he was condemned". He publicly asked Oldcorne for forgiveness during Oldcorne's trial [7].

Humphrey was executed on 7 April 1606 at Red Hill, Worcester, together with John Wintour, and ironically two of those who he had helped to discover, Father Oldcorne, Ralph Astley, and a tenant farmer of his called Perkes who had assisted in hiding the fugitives [3][8].

Government sources claim that Humphrey was only offered a reprieve if he would tell the authorities of the priests' whereabouts, but Sidney discounts this as absurd, saying that no man would betray his best friends, unless he received some very strong inducement to do so [8].


> [1] Fraser, Antonia, "Faith & Treason - The Story of the Gunpowder Plot", 1996
[2] 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
[3] Haynes, Alan, "The Gunpowder Plot", 1994
[4] Nash, Thomas, "The History and Antiquities of Worcestershire", 2 Vols, 1781
[5] Edwards, Francis, S.J., "Guy Fawkes: the real story of the Gunpowder Plot?", 1969
[6] Spink, Henry Hawkes, "The Gunpowder Plot and Lord Mounteagle's Letter", 1902
[7] Morris, John, S.J., "Condition of Catholics under James I, Gerard's Narrative"
[8] Sidney, Philip, "A History of the Gunpowder Plot"

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