The Will of John Wright
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The Descendants of John Wright - Some Were Gunpowder Plotters
By Daniel L. Wright and David Herber


Descendants of John Wright and Alice Ryther of Plowland Hall settled in Durham, Chester, and London; others remained in the North Riding and the Holderness area of Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. Between 1800 and 1900, over thirty farms, halls and manors, were owned or managed by members of the Wright family. Today, descendants through the line of William Wright, half-brother to the Gunpowder Plot conspirators John and Christopher Wright, live in the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand as well.

This article relates some of the information Daniel Wright (who is descended from William Wright) and David Herber have found on the Wrights of Holderness, how they established themselves in the area, and the historical importance of some of their many descendants, including the conspirators John and Christopher, and the Venerable Mary Ward (neice to the plotters), who rose to prominance during and after the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.

The Acquisition of Plowland Hall

According to several sources, it was in the thirty-third year of the reign of King Henry VIII, that John Wright of Kent, a steward, or seneschal to Henry, moved to Holderness, where as well as purchasing land, he had been granted many lands [1]. This is perhaps an erroneous comment, as the thirty-third year of Henry's reign was 1542, two years after the death of John Wright. Perhaps the source has been misleading and it was the thirty-third year of John's life that he settled in the parish of Welwick, or perhaps it was the thirty-third year of the 16th century, for we know that around this time, part of Thorpe became known as Ploughland (a ploughland is a measurement of land equal to a Hide or approximately 120 acres, used in Danelaw and more frequently called a Carucate), and in 1533 John Wright bought a house and land there (Ploughland [Plowland] Hall) from Gerard Elwyn and George Thorpe and their wives, and that he acquired other property there from the Thorpes in 1538.

Descent of the Main Line

John married Alice Ryther, the 2nd daughter and co-heiress of John Ryther. This is a well documented family that we have traced back to the middle 1100's. You can look at this genealogical line and that of other family members of the Gunpowder Plotter families on Daniel's web pages at:

According to the Visitation of Yorkshire 1584/85, John and Alice had two sons, Robert, and John, although there is mention of a third son, Christopher, of whom little is known.

We know that John Wright senior died in 1540 (his will--a copy of which is transcribed below--is dated 16 August 1540, and was proved on 28 April 1541) and that according to The History of Yorkshire : East Riding, his eldest son and heir Robert, was still a minor, as the lands passed temporarily into the hands of the crown in 1542 (L & P Henry VIII, XVII p.256). John Wright's will mentions a number of well-known recusant families in the Yorkshire area, as well as mentioning other family members who have yet to be identified, but who are probably his other children. Other than Robert, the eldest son and heir, and of course his wife, it would be natural for the next tier of beneficiaries to be his other children. It is therefore probable that this will confirms two other children in John (whose existence we can prove from independant sources), and a daughter Elizabeth.

    "In the name of God, Amen. The xvj day of Auguste, 1540, I, John Wright, of Pleoghlande, within the parishe of Welwicke, holl of mynde and perfite of memorie, make my will in this manner followinge. First I bequeathe my saull to God Almightie, to oure blissed laidie and to the celestiall company of heven, my bodie to be buried within the hallowed grounde. Item I bequeathe to John Wright x li., to Elisabethe Wright x li., to Charles Wright fyve marke, to John Cloughe v marc, to William Buccler xl s., to Richarde Beaniles wif xl s., to every one of Richarde Smyth children, who be fyve, xl s., to Georgie Cloughe xl s., to William Picherde xl s., to Margaret Hent fyve markes, to William Battirsbie v marc, to Richarde Curle xiij s. iiij d., to the vicare of Welwike vi s. viij d., to John Arcules vj s. viij d., to William Hirdman ij s., to Thomas Carter vj s. viij d., to Rollande Murrey vj s. viij d., to Helin vj s. viij d., to Agnes xl d., to Besse ij d., to Julian ij s., to Georgie Thorp wif iiij quarters whet, to John Feron's wif iiij quarters whet, to Sir John Foston to singe for my saull seven yeres xl s. in the yere, to waite one my wif, with mett and drinke, to the churche of Welwike vj s. viij d., to the churche of Pattrington v s., to the churche of Hollym vi s. viij d., to the churche of Holmton vj s. viij d. Item I give to my wif all her plaite and the goodes that she brought with her. To Robert Wright my sone all my plaite. Also I will that Sir William Constable, knyght, Sir Rauf Ellerker, knyght, maister Babthorpe, esquier, and Mr Walter Grymstone, esquier, to be supervysors of this my laste will, and evere one of them to have fyve markes. The residue of all my goodes I bequeathe to Robert Wright, my sone, whom I ordan my full executor. Thes being witnes and recordes, the vicare of Welwike, my curate, Bartilmewe Thorp, gentleman, William Carr and John Parker, yomen."

Robert eventually became Sheriff of Yorkshire and was granted Arms by patent under the hand and seal of William Flower, Norroy. He married firstly Anne Grimston of Grimston Garth, the daughter of Thomas Grimston and Ursula Podaton, and secondly Ursula Rudston[e] of Hayton about 1567. Ursula was the daughter of Nicholas Rudston[e] and Jane Mallory.

By his first wife Anne, Robert had issue three children;

[1] William Wright of Plowland in co. Eborum. (or York) was born in Plowland, England, and died August 23, 1621. He married Ann Thornton, of E. Newton, daughter of Robert Thornton and by her had issue:

    [1]Francis Wright of Sowerby in co. Ebor., (a quo Wright, of Bolton-upon-Swale; see Dugdale's Visitation of Yorkshire in 1584/5 and 1612, p 98.) born in Sowerby, County of York, England; married into the Markham family (cousins) of Yorkshire, England.
    [2]Robert Wright of Foston, b. 1572; d. 1620; married Ann Girlington of Sandal and had issue:
      [1]Mary Wright who married Ralph Crathorne of Ness, and by him had a son Thomas Crathorne

      [2]Anne Wright
    [3]William Wright, b. abt. 1560; d. 1648; m. Ann Mills
    [4]Nicholas Wright, b. abt. 1550; d. 1648.
    [5]John Wright
    [6]Anne Wright (Marked "o.s.p." on Visitation of Yorkshire in 1584/5 and 1612, pg. 145)

[2] Martha Wright

[3] Anne Wright

By his second wife, he had issue five children:

[1] John Wright of Twigsmore, bapt. Jan. 16, 1568 d. Nov. 8 1605, Holbeche House, Staffordshire, married Dorothy

[2] Christopher Wright, b. 1570 d. Nov. 8 1605, Holbeche House, Staffordshire, married Margaret Ward of Mulwith and had issue:

    [1] John Wright, b. abt. 1593, married Miss BUSFIELD of Lincolnshire and had issue:
      [1]John Wright

[3] Martha Wright, married the conspirator Thomas Percy, who was descended from the Percys of Beverley (and kin to the Earl of Northumberland), and had by him:

    [1]Robert Percy who married Emma Mead, 22 October 1615 in Wiveliscombe, Somerset
    [2]"Daughter" Percy who married Robert Catesby, son of Robert Catesby the conspirator

[4] Ursula Wright, married Marmaduke Ward of the Wards of Mulwith, and by him had a daughter

    [1]Mary Ward, b. 23 January 1585, d. 23 January 1645, Heworth, York

[5] Alice Wright, of Plowland , secretly married William Readshaw of Oulston in 1593 in the home of her sister Ursula Ward.

Robert initially increased the size of the family estates through the purchase of the manor of Weeton from Robert Rudston[e] in 1555-56, however, his eldest son William conveyed property in Weeton, probably including the manor, to Richard Legard in 1579, as it is not included in the list of properties conveyed to William on Robert's death. Robert was buried 18 July, 1594, in Welwick, seised of the manor of Plowland and lands in Weeton, and Pensthorpe.

Of Robert's younger brother John, we know that "John Wright was granted lands by the crown in Sancton in 1553, also parts of the former Acaster property in Selby".

A curious entry is noted in Catholic Recusancy in the City of York 1558-1791 by J.C.H.Aveling:

    "f.6v 19 July Margaret, wife of Jn. Wright of York/suspected in religion/she promised to go to church and was enjoined to do so and certify; no bond".

This is almost certainly a reference to Robert's younger brother and his wife. The entry occured along with entries regarding the arrest of Alice Oldcorne, who we have noted below was imprisoned for recusancy between 1560 and 1580 along with John's sister-in-law. No further details of John are available, but present research is attempting to determine if the Wrights of Skelton, from whom the priests William Wright and his brother Thomas Wright are descended, are descendants of either John or Christopher, the younger brothers of Robert Wright of Plowland.

Robert Wright of Foston's daughter Mary married Ralph Crathorne of Ness as we indicated in the tree above. The estates of the Wright family were eventually devised by Francis Wright (son of Nicholas and great-grandson of Robert) on his death in 1664, to his cousin Thomas Crathorne, and hence passed out of the Wright family, curious indeed as there were several potential male heirs through other lines. These properties included Plowland Hall, the manor of Thorpe (purchased by William Wright from Robert Thorpe in 1608), the manors of Pensthorpe, Welwick Thorpe and Thorpe Garth (the original covenant of sale for these four properties was dated 8 October 1607, but Robert Thorpe must have died soon after as the sale was confirmed on 20 April 1608 by Robert's widow Frances Thorpe), and the manor of Welwick Provost, which was sold in 1623 to John Wright by William Whitmore and Edmund Sawyer, and the rectory estate of Orwithfleet, purchased in 1637 by William Wright, from Francis Braddock and Christopher Kingscote.

Faith and the Tainted Blood

The strength of the Wright's Catholic faith is well documented. Ursula Wright, wife of Robert, was incarcerated for a total of 14 years, chiefly in Hull prison with a number of other recusant wives including one of her Babthorpe cousins, and Alice Oldcorne, a relative of the Jesuit Father Edward Oldcorne. It is said that "the courage and cheerfulness of this forceful old lady provided great moral uplift for the other prisoners". William and his wife Ann were likewise attainted several times for recusancy. An interesting anecdote from The Yorkshire Papists says Ann was considered a "lunaticke person" and subsequently absented herself from church. Whether she was indeed mentally unbalanced, or merely employing thoughtful subterfuge against church services that were contrary to her belief we cannot say, but given her previous record it is not difficult to believe her maintaining some charade to avoid attending church.

John and Christopher were related not only to the Wintour brothers of Huddington through their Mallory grandmother, but also to the Rookwoods and the Keyes' through their Babthorpe and Tyrwhitt connections. In fact, John is occassionally referred to as "John Wright of Twigsmore", a manorial estate in the parish of Manton, Lincolnshire, owned in the latter part of the sixteenth century by the Tyrwhitt family. Ex-school colleagues of Guy Fawkes and the priest Oswald Tesimond, and tied by marriage through their sister to the Percys of Spofforth, this completes the picture of these two young men and helps us in understanding how they became involved in Catesby's plot to kill James I.

John Wright married Dorothy, perhaps a close family friend, and is said to have had a family (Poulson's work The History and Antiquities of the Seigniory of Holderness refers to him thus "John, an unfortunate victim to the Gunpowder Plot, had issue, ut pater Welwick Register", but the source for this entry is still being researched. His younger brother Christopher married Margaret Ward, a sister of Marmaduke Ward, of the Wards of Mulwith, and by her he had issue, a son, John (born abt. 1593), who married into the Busfield family of Lincolnshire, and himself had a son called John (Visitation of Yorkshire 1612). As a point of interest, Christopher Wright's widow then married a noted papist, Sir Henry Curwen of Northumberland (the marriage is reported in Cecil Papers 192/63 HMC Vol. XIX accompanied by the date 8 January 1606). This would indicate that Margaret Wright (nee Ward) remarried less than two months after her first husband's death.

The two brothers have variously been described as excellent swordsmen, but hot-headed and often spoiling for a fight. Whether this is a legend or merely propaganda to help explain their later actions is unsure, but John Wright is described as one of the finest swordsmen of his day, and is generally regarded as the first of Robert Catesby's recruits for the Gunpowder Plot. John Wright's part in the Gunpowder Plot is somewhat unclear, although his devotion to the cause was clear. He had formed part of the entourage of the Earl of Essex along with his friend Catesby, and after the aborted uprising in 1601, had spent time in solitary confinement for his crime.

His younger brother Christopher (who was brought into the circle of the conspirators along with John Grant and Robert Wintour in March 1605) was selected by Catesby, Garnet, and several other discontented Catholics to plead their case to the King of Spain in 1603 by means of the Jesuit Joseph Creswell, and to proceed with the invasion of England that had been negotiated by Thomas Wintour the previous year. Wright may have met up with yet another old ally in Anthony Dutton, although Father Albert Loomie, S.J., in his work Guy Fawkes in Spain : The Spanish Treason argues that Anthony Dutton was merely an alias of Wrights, much like Thomas Wintour had used the alias Timothy Browne. Unfortunately no example of Christopher Wright's writing exists to prove either way.

Christopher Wright is also acknowledged as the first of the plotters to learn of Fawkes' capture and the discovery of the gunpowder beneath the Parliament building. Escaping from London early on the morning of Tuesday 5 November 1605, the band of conspirators rode north then north-west, eventually arriving at Holbeche House in Staffordshire, where they planned to make their final stand. On Friday 8 November, the Sheriff of Warwick surrounded the house with the intention of arresting the men for a theft of horses from Warwick Castle whilst fleeing, supposedly unaware that within lay most of those who had plotted to blow up the King three days before. After a series of brief skirmishes, the Wright brothers, Robert Catesby and Thomas Percy lay dead. Today, no stone or plaque marks the spot where these men died.

The Venerable Mary Ward

Ursula Wright, the eldest of Robert Wright's daughters by his second marriage, first married John Constable of Hatfield. Secondly she married Marmaduke Ward, Lord of Givendale, who was brother-in-law to her brother Christopher, and they had a daughter, Mary Ward, who was born on 23 January 1585, and died on 23 January 1645 at Heworth, near York.

In 1590, Marmaduke Ward's house was raised by fire, and he took his daughter to live with her grandmother at Plowland, before going on the run to avoid capture by Henry Hastings who had sworn to rid Yorkshire of all papists. Mary then went to live with her cousins, the Babthorpes, who had a household of fifty-two, including two priests. She entered a convent of Poor Clares at St. Omer as a lay sister in 1606 along with her cousin Barbara Babthorpe. The following year she founded a house for Englishwomen at Gravelines where she became a lady of fashion and society and a harbourer of Jesuit priests. In 1609 she and her devotees established themselves as a religious community at St.Omer called the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which was based along the lines of the Society of Jesus, and opened schools for rich and poor.

The venture was a success, but it was a novelty, and it called forth censure and opposition as well as praise. Mary advocated things such as freedom from enclosure, from the obligation of choir, from wearing a religious habit, and from the jurisdiction of the diocesan. Moreover her scheme was put forward at a time when there was much division amongst English Catholics, and the fact that it borrowed so much from the Society of Jesus increased the mistrust it inspired. Pope Pius V had declared solemn vows and strict papal enclosure to be essential to all communities of religious women, and this clearly went against what Mary was trying to achieve. As her order gained ground in Flanders, Austria and Italy, she received great praise for her work from a number of quarters, and was allowed to plead her case for formal approbation in front of the congregation of cardinals appointed by Pope Urban VIII. Unfortunately, there was also much opposition to her schemes, and the order was supressed in 1630.

In time, the order gained more momentum, and in 1703 was approved by Pope Clement XI, and became an institute in 1877 under Pope Pius IX.

Mary eventually returned to England in 1639 with letters of introduction from Pope Urban to Queen Henrietta Maria and established herself in London, before moving north to Heworth near York in 1642, where she died.


Holderness was a wapentake and seigniory, over which the family of Constable have resided as lords and chief bailiffs. It was divided into three divisions or chief constableries, middle, north, and south, each of which may be considered as separate wapentakes, and contained the following number of townships, parishes, &c. viz. Middle Division, 36 townships, 15 of which are parishes, 11,942 inhabitants. North Division, 30 townships, 18 of which are parishes, 7577 inhabitants. South Division, 22 townships, 14 of which are parishes, including Sunk Island, 7,007 inhabitants.

"Holderness is bounded on the east by the German ocean, on the south, by the Humber; on the west, by the divisions of Hunsley and Bainton-Beacon; and on the north, by the wapentake of Dickering. Although the general surface of this district, viewed from the Wolds, appears low and flat; when examined upon the spot, it is found to possess a surface capable of being made dry, and every part of it adapted to the purposes of cultivation. The drainages in this district since the year 1762 have been very extensive, and though effected at an immense expense, not less than 190,000L. have proved very beneficial to the country. The seigniory of Holderness was given by William the Conqueror to Drew de Bruerer, a Fleming, on whom William bestowed his niece in marriage; it was afterwards given to Ode de Campania, who had married the King's sister; at his death it devolved upon his son Stephen, whom the King created Earl of Albermarle and Holderness; and after passing through various hands, we find it, in 1682, in the family of the Coniers, Lord Darcy and Coniers, created Earl of Holderness by King Charles II.; in that family it continued many years, and now belongs to Sir Thomas Constable, Bart. for whom the town of Hedon is obliged to find a prison for such malefactors as are taken in this liberty, till they can be sent to the castle of York; and an hall to hold therein a court, called the wapentake court for the trial of actions under 40s. (Source: Magna Brit).

Sources and Bibliography

[1] Dictionary of National Biography
[2] Dugdale, ed., Visitation of Yorkshire 1584/85 & 1612
[3] The History of Yorkshire : East Riding
[4] North Country Wills
[5] Aveling, J.C.H., Catholic Recusancy in the City of York 1558-1791
[6] The Yorkshire Papists
[7] Poulson, George, The History and Antiquities of the Seigniory of Holderness
[8] Cecil Papers - 192/63 HMC Vol. XIX
[9] Loomie, Albert J., S.J., Guy Fawkes in Spain : The Spanish Treason
[10] Magna Brit.

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