Henry Percy 9th Earl of Northumberland

 
 
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The Tainted

With the increasing control exerted by the government over religious freedom, those Catholics who were members of the peerage and were known to be sympathisers came under closer and closer scrutiny. The revelation of the Gunpowder Plot was a convenient vehicle by which the government was able to further violate their freedoms. As had been the case with the Bye and Main Plots, key Catholic peers were questioned, and in some cases, arrested.

The mini biographies within this section represent the lives of many of those peers and nobles who were caught up in the plot's aftermath. Most were able to clear their names, but some, like the Earl of Northumberland paid a heavy price through incarceration.

Almost all of the interrogations and subsequent punishments of the peerage were politically motivated, certainly an indictment of the political and religious climate of the times.

Henry Percy - 9th Earl of Northumberland

Born 1564, Tynemouth Castle, Northumberland - Died 5 November, 1632, Petworth, Sussex

Known as the "Wizard Earl" on account of his devotion to the study of chemistry and astronomy. He was a man of great ability and learning, a close friend of Sir Walter Raleigh, and associate of other Elizabethan luminaries such as Dr. John Dee and Thomas Harriot and it is therefore argued that Percy was a member of the infamous "School of Night".

Percy was 21 years of age when he succeeded to the earldom in 1585. He soon afterwards joined the army in the Netherlands and took part in some of the conflicts of the Eighty Years War. In 1588 he hired a ship and participated in the victory over the Spanish Armada. He used all his influence to support the claims of James I to the throne of England, and was treated with great favour by that monarch after his accession in 1603. Unfortunately, Northumberland had in 1594 appointed his cousin, Thomas Percy, to be Constable of Alnwick Castle. In the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot, when Thomas Percy was discovered to be one of the principal conspirators, suspicion naturally fell upon the Earl himself who, although nothing could be proved against him, was confined in the Tower for seventeen years and only released on payment of a heavy fine.

Edward Stourton - 10th Baron Stourton of Stourton

Born about 1555 - Died 1633

Edward Stourton had strong Catholic connections from both sides of his family. The second son of the 8th Earl Charles Stourton and his wife Anne Stanley (daughter of the 3rd Earl of Derby Edward Stanley), he acceded to the earldom after the death of his brother John in 1588. Around this time he also married Frances Tresham, daughter of Sir Thomas Tresham of Rushton, making him brother-in-law to the future conspirator Francis.

Stourton was committed to the Tower on 26 November 1605 along with Henry Huddlestone [PRO SP 14/18/111 the interlocution of 23 February 1606] as he had been reported by several to have consorted with Catesby in thw weeks and months leading up to the failed plot. Eventually he was fined 6,000 marks by Star Chamber and imprisoned on 3 June 1606, all on the confession of Fawkes that claimed Catesby had told the plotters Stourton would be absent from the opening of parliament. Stourton apparently had said nothing of the sort, but had begun his journey to London late due to his wife's illness. The disbelief of this story, coupled with Fawkes' confession was enough to condemn him.

In August 1606 he was transferred to the Fleet and eventually released in 1608.

Henry Mordaunt - 4th Baron Mordaunt of Turvey

Born About 1564, Peterborough - Died 13 February, 1609

Like Stourton, Mordaunt was caught in several compromising situations in the weeks and months leading up to the failed plot. Like many peers, his religious influences were varied, his father, a staunch Catholic, his mother, niece to the staunchly Puritan Earl Henry Hastings 3rd Earl of Huntingdon. Around 1585 Mordaunt married into the Compton family, whose religious affiliation was questionable. Listed by both Robert Persons in his autobiography, and the government in connection with Mary Stuart, Compton was considered a Catholic, but the authorities certainly ignored this.

Mordaunt had Robert Keyes under his employment, and Keyes' wife Christiana was nanny to his children (the eldest of whom became the 5th Baron, and 1st Earl of Peterborough). On at least three occassions in the month leading up to the plot, Mordaunt was in the company of Catesby and others, but when Keyes, concerned for the safety of his employer, asked if Catesby would be ensuring he remained absent from the opening of parliamaent, Catesby replied that he would not tell him "for a room full of diamonds", indicating the obvious lack of trust.

Mordaunt however had already written to Compton seeking absence from the opening on business grounds, a request that was interpreted by the government as complicity. He was soon arrested and placed in the Tower. At his trial he was fined 10,000 marks and imprisoned, but like Stourton was transferred to the Fleet in August 1606. Unfortunatelky Mordaunt died in the Tower before being released.

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