The raid on Baddesley Clinton remembered

The house at Baddesley on a frosty morning

Episode one of BBC’s Gunpowder series features a dramatic raid on a country house where a group of priests hid for four hours. This house was thought to be Baddesley Clinton in Warwickshire – a hiding place for many Catholics in the 16th century. Read a first-hand account of the raid by Father John Gerard, the Jesuit superior, taken from the National Trust Baddesley Clinton Guidebook.

‘It was about five o’clock the following morning. I was making my meditation, Father Southwell was beginning Mass and the rest were at prayer, when suddenly I heard a great uproar outside the main door. Then I heard a voice shouting and swearing at a servant who refusing them entrance. But a faithful servant held them back, otherwise we should all have been caught. Father Southwell heard the din. He guessed what it was all about, and slipped off his vestments and stripped the altar bare. While he was doing this, we laid hold of all our personal belongings: nothing was left to betray the presence of a priest. Even our boots and swords were hidden away – they would have roused suspicions if none of the people they belonged to were to be found.

'Our beds presented a problem: as they were still warm and merely covered in the usual way preparatory to being made, some of us went and turned the beds and put them cold side up to delude anyone who put his hand in to feel them.

The priest hole beneath the kitchen at Baddesley Clinton was used to shelter Jesuit priests in the mid-16th century
The priest hole, formerly a medieval sewer, beneath the kitchen, at Baddesley Clinton, Warwickshire
The priest hole beneath the kitchen at Baddesley Clinton was used to shelter Jesuit priests in the mid-16th century

‘Outside the ruffians were bawling and yelling, but the servants held the door fast. They said the mistress of the house, a widow, was not yet up, but coming down at once to answer them. This gave us enough time to stow ourselves in a very cleverly built sort of cave. At last the leopards were let in. They tore madly through the whole house, searched everywhere, pried with candles into the darkest corners. They took four hours over the work but fortunately chanced on nothing…

‘When they had gone, and gone a good way, so that there was no danger of their turning back suddenly as they sometimes do, a lady came and called us out of our den, not one but several Daniels. The hiding place was below ground level: the floor was covered with water and I was standing with my feet in it all the time. Father Garnet was there, also Father Southwell and Father Oldcorne, Father Stanney, and myself, two secular priests and two or three laymen.'

The Gunpowder Plot Conspirators, 1605
An illustration of the Gunpowder Plot conspirators
The Gunpowder Plot Conspirators, 1605

The priest hole where the priests hid for four hours lay below the floor level of the house and can still be seen today in the floor of the kitchen.

Three of the named Jesuits hiding were later executed for treason, a barbaric execution to modern ears that included being hung by the neck till nearly dead, drawn, or disembowelled while still alive and then cut into four quarters.

Father Garnet was captured in 1606 and executed after the Gunpowder Plot, which he had known about through the confession of Robert Catesby and opposed and advised against but under the sacrament of confession was unable to expose. His Baddesley hostess Anne Vaux herself rushed from the crowd to try to speak to him on the day of his execution in London. In his last minutes an onlooker shouted out accusing him of being married to Anne Vaux. Such was the sympathy that the crowds, both Catholic and Protestant, felt for Garnet, that they refused to let him be cut down to be drawn while still alive.