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William Parker, 11th Baron Morley, 4th Lord Monteagle

Born : 1575
Died : 1 July 1622 - Great Hallingbury, Essex

William Parker came from a family with strong catholic sympathies on both sides. The 8th Baron Morley was a devoted catholic under Henry VIII, and the 9th Baron Morley, William's grandfather, was considered a dangerous recusant who left England in 1569 and lived under Spanish protection [10]. His father, Edward Parker, 10th Baron Morley also spent some time abroad as a recusant, and was forced to resign his hereditary office of Lord Marshal of Ireland. However, William seems to have learned the art of conformation quite well from his father, who later received the exclusive rights to publish a book instructing children on the taking of the Oath of Allegiance, and who served as a commissioner for the trials of Mary Stuart and Philip, Earl of Arundel, in spite of retaining his catholic sympathies [1].

His mother Elizabeth was the daughter and heiress of William Stanley, 3rd Lord Monteagle, and her mother was a firm supporter of the Jesuits [1].

The eldest son of Edward and Elizabeth, he had a younger brother Charles, who served with Ralegh in 1617, and a sister Mary [1] who married Thomas Habington of Hindlip, Worcestershire. Through his mother he was connected to the powerful families of the Stanleys and the Howards, including Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel, both families who were also known for their catholic tendencies [12].

His marriage in 1589 to Elizabeth Tresham, younger sister of the conspirator Francis Tresham brought him a much needed dowry of 3800li [4], including the property at Hoxton [10]. It also brought him more firmly into the recusant world through his new connections to the Tresham, Vaux and Catesby families, and as a brother-in-law to Lord Stourton. His principal residence was at Great Hallingbury, near Bishop Stortford in Essex, but he also kept a town house in the Strand, and owned Hornby Castle in the Vale of the Lune [12].

In spite of his father's conformation, Parker's own record as a recusant was spotless before the accession of James, and his life and actions within the catholic community closely paralleled those of the other plotters.

In 1599 he joined the Earl of Essex in his Irish campaign as a cavalry officer under Southampton. He was involved in the brave, if not foolhardy rescue of Essex's forces in a skirmish near Arklow on 30 June 1599 [14] and was knighted by Essex on 12 July [1]. He became a devotee of the Earl, and assisted him in his abortive rebellion on 7 February 1600. He went with Essex and his entourage to see a specially requested presentation of Shakespeare's play Richard II prior to the rebellion [5], and during the Earl's march on the City, he attempted unsuccessfully to prevent a herald accompanying Lord Burleigh from proclaiming Essex a traitor, his men only driving them away after the proclamation had been read. While trying to make his way back to Essex House with the others, he fell into the river Thames and nearly drowned [14].

He gave himself up with the others after the siege at Essex House, and wrote a letter to Sir Robert Cecil on 13 March 1600 hoping to obtain mercy. "My conscience tells me that I am in no way guilty of these Imputations and that mearley the blindness of ignorance led me into these infamous errors." [16]. This letter, along with his confession that was used to help convict the Earl of Essex [5], perhaps earned him his life. He was released in August [14], however, he was fined the enormous sum of 8,000li [11], leading some to speculate that he became a government spy at this point.

However, he remained involved in catholic activities, helping Robert Catesby to fund a trip by Thomas Wintour and Father Tesimond to Spain in 1602 to seek Spanish aid [8] (unsuccessfully) soon after his release - but there were no repercussions that one would have imagined would have occurred had he indeed been a spy at that point.

The accession of James created a change in fortunes and a change in course for William Parker. He was granted the right to sit in the House of Lords in right of the title on his mother's side as Lord Monteagle, had his estates in Essex restored [11], King James personally asked Henri IV for the release of his brother from prison in Calais [8], he served as a Lord Commissioner who prorogued Parliament on October 3, 1605, a great honor, was appointed to the court of Queen Anne in some capacity [9], and his name appears on the charter creating Prince Charles the Duke of York [1].

These honors in and of themselves need not be suspicious, as James showed great favour to all those involved in the Essex Rebellion, in which James had a hand. But Parker's letter to James professing his conversion to Protestantism could not have hurt, saying "I was breed upp in the Romish religion and walked in that, because I knew no better" and that he had "come to discerne the Ignorance I was formerly wrapped In, as I nowe wonder that ether myself, or any other of common understandinge, showld bee so blynded" [17].

Although compromise was not uncommon at the time, and not indicative of Parker's true feelings, it is unlikely that his catholic friends and family ever knew how far he had been willing to go to vindicate himself, as shown by of this particularly strong letter, as he certainly maintained close relations with them. To Catesby he was particularly close, to whom he wrote "in what languishment have we led our life since we departed from the dear Robin whose conversation gave us such warmth as we needed no other heat to maintain our health...ever fast tied to your friendship, W. Monteagle" [13].

Although he initially told Thomas Wintour, who served Monteagle as a secretary, that henceforth he was resolved to stand wholly for the King, and that Wintour should have no speech with him of Spain [9], he was soon indicating his dissatisfaction with the new monarch amongst his catholic friends.

In July of 1605, he was at Fremlands with Father Garnet, Robert Catesby and Francis Tresham, when Father Garnet, concerned (rightly) about possible catholic stirs had questioned the group. "I asked what they three thought of the force of Catholics, whether they were able to make their part good by arms against the King." said Garnet, "My Lord Monteagle answered, if ever they were, they were able now, and then added the reason: 'the king (saith he) is so odious to all sorts'" Monteagle is also reported to have said "What, will the Spaniards not help us? It is a shame." [15] Garnet also claimed in his initial confession that Catesby had shown Monteagle the papal breves of 1603, instructing catholics not to give the oath of allegiance to any non-catholic successor to Elizabeth, and also that Monteagle had given letters along with Catesby's to Baynham to take to Rome [11]. It is also possible that he met up with Catesby and Thomas Percy at Bath in September of 1605 [2].

So Monteagle was playing both sides of the fence very well, and far from seeming the likely saviour of the government, he in many ways seemed more like an ideal conspirator. Robert Catesby must have had suspicions of his own not to include Monteagle in his plans, in spite of being involved in several other schemes together. Some have suggested that Monteagle was a conspirator, however this seems unlikely as he would not then have exposed himself by being the recipient of the letter, nor would have Catesby needed to suspect Tresham as the traitor.

Even if not a plotter himself, the fact that there was more to the circumstances of the letter and the revelation to the plot is obvious, even at the time. The official story from the King's Book has the events of 26 October 1605 as follows:

"...the Lord Monteagle, son and heir to the Lord Morley, being in his own lodging, ready to go to supper, at seven of the clock at night, one of his footman, whom he had sent of an errand over the street, was met by a man of reasonable tall personage, who delivered him a letter, charging him to put it in My Lord his master's hands; which my Lord no sooner perceived, but that having broken it up, and perceiving the same to be of an unknown and somewhat unlegible hand, and without either date or superscription, did call one of his men unto him, for helping him to read it. But no sooner did he conceive the strange contents thereof, although he was somewhat perplexed what construction to make of it, as whether a matter of consequence, as indeed it was, or whether some foolish devised pasquil by some of his enemies to scare him from his attendance at the Parliament, yet did he, as a most dutiful and loyal subject, conclude not to conceal it, whatever might come of it.

Whereupon, notwithstanding the lateness and darkness of the night in that season of the year, he presently repaired to his Majesty's palace at Whitehall, and there delivered the same to the Earl of Salisbury, his Majesty's principal secretary."[18].

The Lord Admiral Howard, Earls Northampton and Worcester, as well as the Lord Chamberlain were also conveniently in attendance, although this fact was omitted from the official version. Salisbury said that this put him in mind of rumors he had received that catholics were to deliver at this Parliament a petition for toleration, in "such order, and so well backed, as the King should be loth to refuse their requests; like the sturdy beggars, craving alms with one open hand, but carrying a stone in the other, in case of refusal." However, it was decided to leave the matter to the King's "fortunate judgement, in clearing and solving obscure riddles and doubtful mysteries", and to do nothing until the King's return from hunting 5 days later. On presenting it to the King, Cecil said "that it was likely to be written by a fool or madman", but the King "did thereupon conjecture, that the danger mentioned should be some sudden danger by blowing up of powder". It was decided to search the Parliament, but in order for the "staying of idle rumours" it was decided to defer it until the day before the opening [18].

Monteagle accompanied Thomas Howard, Lord Chamberlain for the search, and upon discovering that a vault filled with a "great store of billets, faggots and coals" was owned by Percy, he not only exclaimed surprise that Percy should have such a large store, considering he had seldom occasion to stay there, but that due to Percy's "backwardness in religion, and the old dearness of friendship between him and the said Percy, he did greatly suspect the matter, and that the letter should come from him" [18].

The problems with this official account are well laid out by Father Oswald Tesimond, who writes:

"...who can really believe that the Earl of Salisbury and his friends, men who showed the utmost astuteness in everything else, would have proved so dense when interpreting a letter that was clear enough?...even a schoolboy would have found it easy enough to guess at , without taking it to the King as if he were some prophet...on the night he received the letter, Baron Monteagle supped in a house of his a mile outside of London. This was something he did rarely. In fact, he had neither dined nor supped there for more than a month previously. Whoever took the letter to him was, therefore, someone who knew the Baron intimately, and consequently was well known to his household. How was it, then, that the page did not know the man to whom he spoke and gave the letter? One could add to this the incredible foolishness of anyone who entrusted a letter of this kind, being of such importance, to the hands of a page. It also showed monumental carelessness on the part of the baron to have such a letter read out in the presence of all who were at supper. This letter had been sent to him confidentially, and as something of the utmost significance. The secretary was at least right when he said that whoever wrote it showed great stupidity, if only for having written so openly of a secret so enormous." [3]

Given these and other problems with the official story, it is certain that the circumstances were contrived. Edmund Church, a reputed confidant of Monteagle, claimed that he knew there was a letter to be sent to him [7]. But the circumstances and extent of his foreknowledge can only be speculative at this point.

What is certain is the degree to which the government lauded, rewarded and protected him. He was hailed as a national hero, and received an annuity of 500li for life, plus lands worth a further 200li per year [11]. The government also went to great lengths to shield his reputation, making Garnet revise his confessions implicating Monteagle in his statements against the King and involvement in the Spanish Treason [6], and papering over or striking his name if it appeared in any confessions. The King banned the use of Garnet's original testimony in any trial [6]. The whole statement of Thomas Wintour that Monteagle had told him that the Prince would not be attending Parliament was stricken from the official copy (it appears in the Hatfield copy). In fact, Salisbury wrote to Coke:

"Lastly, and this you must not omit, you must deliver, in commendation of my Lord Monteagle, words to show how sincerely he dealt, and how fortunately it proved that he was the instrument of so great a blessing,...because it is so lewdly given out that he was once of this plot of powder, and afterwards betrayed it all to me." [7]

Further rumors continued to circulate about Monteagle, including that he had Francis Tresham poisoned in the Tower. Although from the confessions it was clear that Frances had wanted to warn him about the plot, Monteagle made no effort to help his brother-in-law, although he did intervene to spare the life of his other brother-in law Thomas Habington, the husband of his sister Mary [11].

After the plot, Monteagle continued to attend parliament regularly and inherited the title of Lord Morley upon his father's death in 1618 [2]. He invested in the second Virginia Company and was elected to member of its council in 1609. He also invested in the East India and Northwest Passage companies [9].

In spite of his part in the Gunpowder Plot, it seems that he continued in his catholic practices. On 1 August , 1609 Waad complained that "the disorders of Lord Monteagle's house were an offence to the country", and he was suspected of sheltering students from St. Omer's seminary [7]. His eldest son of 6 children [1], Henry, was a known catholic and Monteagle gave permission for his crippled daughter Frances to become a nun [9]. Further, on his death at his residence in Great Hallingbury on 1 July, 1622 [1], he was reported to have received the last rites of the Roman church [2]. His estate claimed that his annuity at that time was 2000li in arrears [9].


[1] "Dictionary of National Biography"
[2] Sidney, Philip, "A History of the Gunpowder Plot"
[3] 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
[4] Finch, Mary E., "The Wealth of five Northamptonshire Families 1540-1640"
[5] Harrison, G.B., "The Life and Death of Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex" 
[6] Nicholls, Mark, "Investigating Gunpowder Plot"
[7] Gerard, John, S.J., "What Was the Gunpowder Plot? The traditional story tested by original evidence."
[8] Haynes, Alan, "The Gunpowder Plot", 1994
[9] Fraser, Antonia, "Faith and Treason - The Story of the Gunpowder Plot" , 1996
[10] Parkinson, C. Northcote, "Gunpowder Treason & Plot", London, 1976
[11] Durst, Paul, "Intended Treason: What really happened in the Gunpowder Plot" , 1970
[12] Spink, Henry Hawkes, "The Gunpowder Plot and Lord Mounteagle's Letter", 1902
[13] Archaelogia
[14] Akrigg, G.P.V., "Shakespeare and the Earl of Southampton"
[15] Caraman, Philip, "Henry Garnet 1555-1605"
[16] British Museum MSS Add 6177
[17] British Museum MSS Add 19402, f. 146
[18] "King's Book", Cobbett's Complete Collection of State Trials

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