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The history of Coughton Court

Coughton Court with Phase 2 scaffolding
Coughton Court with Phase 2 scaffolding | © National Trust/Amy Bromage

Twenty-one generations of the Throckmorton family have lived at Coughton Court since 1409, when they inherited part of the estate by marriage. They still live here today, and over the last six centuries there are many stories to tell, including that of the gunpowder plot.

The gunpowder plot

The gunpowder plot was a plan by a small group of young Roman Catholic extremists to blow up the House of Lords, together with King James I and the entire Protestant government during the opening of Parliament on 5 November 1605.

Roman Catholics at that time were persecuted for their faith and hoped that the Gunpowder Plot would trigger a change in regime and allow them the freedom to practise their religion.

Coughton Court and the gunpowder plot

The ringleader of the gunpowder plot was Robert Catesby, son of Sir William Catesby and Anne Throckmorton of Coughton Court, and nephew of Thomas Throckmorton. He spent time at Coughton as a young boy and was a charismatic and forceful character. He conceived the plot and became its inspirational leader, recruiting 12 more members.

Francis Tresham, cousin of Robert Catesby and the son of Sir Thomas Tresham and Muriel Throckmorton of Coughton Court, joined the conspiracy late and came under suspicion of having betrayed it. He also spent time at Coughton as a young boy.

A plan to overthrow the government

Sir Everard Digby had been chosen to plan the Midlands part of the plot, which was to kidnap the daughter of King James I, the eight-year-old Princess Elizabeth. Since he needed a base in the Midlands, Sir Everard leased Coughton Court and moved in with his wife and two sons in October 1605. Thomas Throckmorton and his family were living in one of their other properties.

Guy Fawkes was chosen to prepare and ignite the 36 barrels of gunpowder that had been hidden in the cellars underneath the House of Lords. Early in the morning of 5 November the cellars were searched and Guy Fawkes was captured. He was taken away and tortured to reveal the names of the other plotters.

The Tower Room at Coughton Court, Warwickshire. The Tower Room was used for Mass during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.
The Tower Room at Coughton Court | © National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The plotters retreat

The plotters passed through Warwick around midnight and then went to John Grant’s home at Norbrook House, between Warwick and Stratford. Catesby sent his servant Bates to Coughton Court to let Lady Digby know what had happened.

When Bates arrived at Coughton Court at about 6am he met Lady Digby in the Tower room. They had stayed awake all night anxiously awaiting the news. Also present were Father Garnet, Father Tesimond, Nicholas Owen (the priest's hole expert) and the Vaux sisters from Baddesley Clinton.

On hearing the news, the men fled, Father Garnet and Nicholas Owen went into hiding at Hindlip House and Father Tessimond escaped to France.

The final stand

On arrival at Holbeach House the plotters including Catesby, Percy and the Wright brothers and their gunpowder were soaking wet. In an attempt to dry out they spread the gunpowder in front of an open fire.

The Sherriff and his men, who had been trailing the plotters, saw the resulting explosion and surrounded the house. On the morning of 8 November there was a showdown. Four of the plotters were killed and the others captured. Catesby and Percy were together killed with one musket shot.

The plotters were all tried and convicted of treason and subsequently hung, drawn and quartered at the end of January 1606. The country celebrated the defeat of the plot with bonfires which we continue to this day.

Other stories of Coughton

A volunteer is posing for a photograph while holding the head of a mannequin at Coughton Court, Warwickshire.
A volunteer with a mannequin at Coughton Court | © National Trust Images / Chris Lacey

Head over heels in love

Bess Throckmorton, the daughter of Anne Carew and Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, was Lady-in-Waiting to Queen Elizabeth I. She secretly married Sir Walter Raleigh in 1591, much to the fury of the Queen. They were both sent to the Tower of London. When Raleigh was executed in 1618, Bess was rumoured to carry his embalmed head around with her in a red leather sack.

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Sideboard with silver and china tea set alongside family photographs in Lady Lilian's Room at Coughton Court, Warwickshire.

Coughton Court's collections

Explore the objects and works of art we care for at Coughton Court on the National Trust Collections website.

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