Huddington Court

Home The GPS Archives Library Links Contact Us

Thomas Wintour

Born : c. 1571
Died : 31 January 1606 - Old Palace Yard, Westminster

Thomas Wintour was the second son of George Wintour of Huddington Court and his first wife, Jane Ingleby (Ingilby), daughter of Sir William Ingilby of Ripley Castle. [1]. Janes brother Francis, a missionary priest, was executed at York on 2 June 1586. A family descent is traced from Wintor, castellan of Caernarfon, the name originally being spelt Gwyntour. The family seat moved from Wych to Huddington in the reign of Henry VI. Thomas's father was the son of Robert Winter of Cavewell, Gloucestershire, and his wife, Catherine, daughter of Sir George Throckmorton of Coughton, Warwickshire. It is through this Throckmorton connection that the Wintour's claimed kinship to Robert Catesby, Francis Tresham, and the Wright brothers John and Christopher.

Little is known of Thomas Wintour prior to the late 1590's. What little information we have comes from the Jesuit Father John Gerard who states that Thomas Wintour was a man

    ..of mean stature, but strong and comely and very valiant. Zealous, discreet, and devout, he was a reasonable good scholar, well educated, and able to speak Latin, Italian, Spanish, and French.

He is known to have fought in the wars in Flanders for the United Provinces against the Spanish, and quite possibly in central Europe against the Turks. According to Tesimond, 'for his great courage as well as discretion he acquired such a reputation that in the opinion of many he could have become one of the most outstanding and widely talked of 'condottieri' in that field of war.' Yet in 1600 he appears to have changed considerably and believed that not only was the war unjust, but that it was impossible for him to remain part of it, because he was a Catholic. Later that year he travelled to Rome for the jubilee and he was by his own confession the ‘Mr Winter of Worcestershire’ who is entered in the pilgrims' book of the English College at Rome, residing there for thirteen days from 24 February 1601 [10]. This seems to dispel the belief held by many, that Wintour was yet another of the future Gunpowder conspirators involved in the Essex Rebellion.

Later that year and into 1602, Wintour travelled to Spain under the alias Timothy Browne. He had received letters of introduction from Father Henry Garnet to the English Jesuits and was went to contact the council on behalf of Catholic dissidents left behind 'after the execution of their patron Essex' [4]. Those behind the trip, primarily Robert Catesby, Lord Monteagle and Francis Tresham had all been involved in the abortive Essex Rebellion, and paid heavy fines for their dalliance with treason. According to his own account he supplied military intelligence and was promised money for pensions payable to key Catholic gentlemen and military aid by Philip III himself [13]. But the money was not forthcoming, and with Philip edging towards peace with England after Queen Elizabeth's death in March 1603, Catesby and Wintour soon reached the conclusion that English Catholics would have to act on their own if they wished to re-establish a Catholic England [3].

In early 1604, after the reinforcing of the penal laws, and banishing all priests from the country, Catesby sent a messenger to Thomas Wintour, requesting his company in London. Wintour writes

    I remained with my brother in the country for Allhollantide, in the year of our Lord 1603, the first of the King's reign, about which time, Mr. Catesby sent thither, entreating me to come to London, where be and other friends would be glad to see me. I desired him to excuse me, for I found not myself very well disposed, and (which had happened never to me before) returned the messenger without my company. Shortly I received another letter, in any wise to come. At the second summons I presently came up and found him with Mr. John Wright at Lambeth, where he brake with me how necessary it was not to forsake my country (for he knew I had then a resolution to go over), but to deliver her from the servitude in which she remained, or at least to assist her with our uttermost endeavours.

Catesby was aware of Wintours interest at this time in living abroad. Bitterly frustrated as were all Catholics at James's change of heart, he declared that he had ventured his life on far less, and would be willing to join any affray. A short while later in the Spring of 1604, Wintour travelled to Flanders at the behest of Catesby and the other maligned Catholics, in order to meet with the Constable to inform him of the condition of the Catholics and ask for inclusion in the peace treaty. Failing that, to arrange with James to allow them to pay off their oppresion. Wintour told the constable that they "would be overpowered and uprooted before their complaints reached the ears of Catholic princes. They would be destroyed before they could be heard or believed. This would happen all the more easily when the persecutors began to tell the world that Catholics were not persecuted at all, or else that the persecution was only slight" [7].

Wintour was astute enough to realise that the peace was all but a forgone conclusion, and his trip had as a secondary goal, recruitment. After being fobbed off with general assurances of goodwill from the constable of Castile, Winter sought out Guy Fawkes, a soldier in Spanish service who had undertaken a mission to Spain on behalf of English Catholics less than a year earlier. Encountering him at Ostend, Winter told Fawkes that ‘some good frends of his wished his company in Ingland’ [14]. At a subsequent meeting in Dunkirk he dropped a few further hints, saying that certain gentlemen ‘were uppon a resolution to doe some whatt in Ingland if the pece with Spain healped us nott’. Fawkes took the bait. He and Wintour travelled together to London, where they met Catesby and the earl of Northumberland's Catholic cousin and trusted estate officer, Thomas Percy. By now Catesby had come up with a means of carrying through his plan. The two new recruits were sworn to secrecy and admitted to the conspiracy, and in May 1604 Percy took the lease of a house adjacent to parliament. ‘Mr Fawks underwent the name of Mr Percies man, calling him self Jonsons, becaus his face was the most unknown, and receaved the keys of the howse.’ [3].

Over the next few months, interrupted by the lodging in the house of members of the council negotiating the union of England and Scotland, Wintour was instrumental in assistance with the digging of the mine. As time wore on, and Catesby recruited new conspirators to assist them in the manual labour (including Thomas's older brother Robert) and helping to defray the costs that until now Catesby had all but borne alone, Wintour and Fawkes replaced some of the powder that had become dank. The discovery of the empty vault above them was somewhat of a godsend, and when the powder was stowed and everything set, Wintour returned to Huddington.

On 3 October 1605 parliament was again prorogued, though this time only for one month. Wintour attended the ceremony of prorogation in the entourage of his friend Lord Monteagle, and the presence of the earl of Salisbury and most leading English noblemen in the House of Lords, right over the stockpiled gunpowder, must have reassured him that the authorities still suspected nothing. About this time Wintour is found in the company of Henry Lord Mordaunt, Sir Josceline Percy, Ben Jonson, and Tresham, supping with Catesby at William Patrick's house in the Strand. In September he visited his brother's father-in-law, John Talbot of Grafton, and in October he spent a number of days in the company of Christopher Wright at his lodging in Spur Alley.

On 27th October however, a servant of Monteagle's, Christopher Ward visited upon Wintour at his lodging and told him of the letter that his master had received. Wintour and Catesby immediately believed it had been Tresham that had betrayed them, but the two met him at Barnett early in November and he convinced them that he was not the traitor. On the morning of November 5th however, Christopher Wright came to Wintour's lodging early to announce that all had been discovered. Wintour made his way to the Parliament buildings only to discover them secured by soldiers. He returned to his lodgings and fled for the Midlands.

He caught up with his fellow confederates at his brothers house at Huddington on the 6th, took communion with them in the early hours of the 7th, and then was with the main force as it made its way to Holbeache House where the plotters made their last stand. Thomas Wintour was struck in the shoulder by a crossbow bolt, losing the use of his right arm, and in the ensuing melee which claimed the lives of Catesby, Pervy, and the two Wright brothers, he was captured.

    Then sayd Mr Catsby to me standing before the dore they were to enter stand by me Tom and wee will dye togeather. Sir, quoth I, I have lost the use of my right arme and I fear that will cause me to be taken. So as we stood close togeather Mr Catsby Mr Percy and my self they two were shot (as far as I could gess) with one bullett, and then the company entered uppon me, hurt me in belly with a pick and gave me other wounds untill one came behind and caught hoult of both mine armes.

Much of what is known from the perspectives of the plotters comes from the lengthy and detailed confessions of Thomas Wintour. Although some historians have attempted to discredit them as works of government forces, their authenticity remains intact. Wintour was tried along with the other seven principle conspirators at Westminster Hall on 27 January 1606. They pleaded not guilty, but only because they questioned some of the detail in the indictment; neither man made any attempt to deny his manifest treason.

On 31st January 1606 Thomas Wintour was executed at Old Palace Yard, Westminster, sharing the scaffold with Ambrose Rookwood, Robert Keyes, and Guy Fawkes. There is no evidence to support the idea that he married, and although some claim that he married Catesby's sister Elizabeth, this is pure conjecture.


[1] Stonyhurst Magazine No. 96, March 1898
[2] Edwards, Francis, S.J., 'Guy Fawkes: The real story of the Gunpowder Plot?', 1969
[3] Dictionary of National Biography, 1895/2004
[4] Fraser, Antonia, 'Faith and Treason - The Story of the Gunpowder Plot', 1996
[5] Morris, John, 'Condition of Catholics Under James I: Narrative of John Gerard'
[6] Nicholls, Mark, "Investigating Gunpowder Plot", Manchester University Press, 1991
[7] 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
[8] Haynes, Alan, 'The Gunpowder Plot', 1994
[9] Durst, Paul, "Intended Traason", A.S. Barnes, 1970
[10] Thomas Wintour's Confession - SP14/216 - 114, 164 and 170
[11] Sidney, Philip, 'A History of the Gunpowder Plot'
[12] Gardiner, Samuel. R., "What Gunpowder Plot Was", Longmans, Green and Co., 1897, republished 1970
[13] Salisbury MS 112/91
[14] Salisbury MS 113/54

All material copyright© The Gunpowder Plot Society