Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Throckmortons: Catholic Recusants (and one exception)

Author Nancy Bilyeau writes about the Throckmorton family and conspiracies against Elizabeth I and James I on her blog:

This was not the last time the name “Throckmorton” surfaced in a plot against a Protestant English ruler. In 1605, a servant to Robert Catesby, a key conspirator in the Gunpowder Plot and the son of Anne Throckmorton, rode directly to the Throckmorton estate, Coughton Court, to tell a group of Catholics, including two Jesuit priests, of Guy Fawkes’ arrest in the plan to blow up King James I and his Parliament. He said those Fawkes plotted with were now running for their lives.

These failed English conspiracies in support of Mary Queen of Scots (ranging from the fourth Duke of Norfolk’s efforts to marry the Scottish queen to Anthony Babington’s plot to murder Elizabeth and rescue Mary) along with the infamous Gunpowder Plot formed a strong impression in some minds that Catholics were conspiratorial and dangerous, controlled by France, Spain and, of course, the Pope. These fears hardened into bigotry throughout the 17th century. The despicable Titus Oates, who fabricated the “Popish plot” against Charles II and brought about at least 15 executions, wouldn’t have been possible without the Gunpowder Plot. Moreover, the Glorious Revolution and the arrival of the Hanovers—the direction the country took that leads us to today—were born, in large part, from fear of what James II, a Catholic king, would do. Those fears originated in the 16th century.

Before Sir Francis Throckmorton plunged into violent plotting, his family had made a far different sort of impact in England, one of service to the crown and country. To best understand the Throckmortons, who’ve popped up in so many interesting times and places in the reigns of the Tudors and Stuarts, we must take a closer look at the patriarch, Sir George Throckmorton, Sir Francis’s grandfather, a strong-minded man who had a blunt conversation with Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell that is well known even today.

She comments on how Sir George Throckmorton responded to Henry VIII's religious changes and notes one reason he would have certainly been opposed to the Dissolution of the Monasteries:

Another possible factor in George Throckmorton’s traditional stance was sympathy for the fate of his aunt, Elizabeth. She was the abbess of a house of Poor Clares in Cambridgeshire. A woman of intellect, she exchanged letters with the famous humanist, Erasmus. After her abbey was destroyed, Elizabeth, more than 60 years old, went to live at Coughton, perhaps bringing one or two nuns with her who had nowhere else to go. She also brought a “dole-gate,” through which help was given to the local poor, and upon which her name was carved.

The practice of the Throckmortons’ “staunch” Catholic faith went in and out of fashion, depending on the Tudor ruler. After Cromwell was executed, religious traditionalists felt a little safer in England. The reign of Edward VI was so difficult that some left the country to live in exile. Mary’s reign was a brief respite. George’s seventh son, Sir John, was active in her Parliament and a witness to the queen’s will. During the reign of her successor, Elizabeth I, they fell into a defensive position again and a “priest hole” was built in Coughton Court, where priests could hide during inspections. The family became “recusants,” those who refused to attend Anglican services and paid heavy fines for it. People who could not pay the fines were imprisoned. With their money, the Throckmortons avoided that humiliation. Some became Protestants, most famously Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, a skilled courtier.

Read the rest there.

Sir Nicholas Throckmorton was not just a skilled courtier and Protestant: he was able to obtain a verdict of "not guilty" in his treason trial during the reign of Mary I, a most unusual achievement, according to this book, published by the Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies (Victoria University in the University of Toronto):

In the autumn of 1553, a new queen reigned in England. The Roman Catholic Mary Tudor had succeeded her sickly young brother Edward VI, and Protestant Englishmen — among them Sir Thomas Wyatt the younger — were trying desperately to engineer her fall. Wyatt’s rebellion was unsuccessful, and in the wake of his execution one of those put on trial for treason was Sir Nicholas Throckmorton: courtier, parliamentarian, and member of the Warwickshire gentry. According to the custom of the time, he was not permitted counsel and had to defend himself. The Trial of Nicholas Throckmorton records, virtually in dramatic form, Throckmorton’s spirited and skillful resistance to his accusers. So learned and quick-witted was his defence that he was acquitted by the jury, an almost unheard-of occurrence in Tudor treason trials. The record of Throckmorton’s trial ― “expressed in a dialogue for the better understanding of every man’s part” ― would become a canonical text in the legal history of England, and particularly important in Whig and liberal history and thought.

Annabel Patterson has edited this important political trial from the version in Raphael Holinshed’s The Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland (London, 1587), a revision and expansion of the first edition of 1577. Her introduction sets the political scene, provides a biography of Throckmorton, analyzes the trial’s place in the fabric of the Tudor law of treason, and considers its aftermath in the experiences of the jury who acquitted Throckmorton, and of later figures such as William Walwyn, John Lilburne, and Algernon Sidney. Two appendices provide Tudor writings relating to the trial, and there is a bibliography of related studies.

Note that Throckmorton served as Elizabeth I's emissary to Mary, Queen of Scotland and was also suspected in the Duke of Norfolk's conspiracy to marry the deposed Queen of Scotland and supplant Elizabeth. Thomas Howard, the Duke of Norfolk lost his head; Sir Nicholas Throckmorton spent some time in the Tower of London but survived, never to regain his queen's favor.

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