Winter, Thomas (1572-1606) (DNB00)

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WINTER or WINTOUR, THOMAS (1572–1606), conspirator, born in 1572, was a younger brother of Robert Winter of Huddington, Worcestershire. They were descended from Wintor, the castellan of Carnarvon, their name being originally Gwyntour, and their crest a falcon mounted on a white tower. The family settled at Wych in the reign of Edward I, and there remained till Roger Wintor in the reign of Henry VI married the coheiress of Huddington and Cassy (Nash, Worcestershire, i. 591). George Winter, the father of Robert and Thomas by his first wife, Jane Ingleby, was the son of Robert Winter of Cavewell, Gloucestershire, by Catherine, daughter of Sir George Throckmorton of Coughton, Warwickshire (Foley, Records, vi. 573). The two brothers were thus related to both Robert Catesby [q. v.] and Francis Tresham [q. v.] Their sister married John Grant of Norbrook, Warwickshire, another of the gunpowder plotters.

Thomas was a short man, but ‘strong and comely, and very valiant,’ says his contemporary, Father Gerard, who adds that he had spent his youth well, was ‘very devout and zealous in his faith, and careful to come often to the sacraments’ (Gerard, Narrative, p. 58). For several years he served in the Netherlands, fighting in the army of the estates against Spain; but he had apparently quitted this service from religious scruples. He afterwards became secretary or agent of William Parker, fourth lord Monteagle [q. v.] He was an able man, an accomplished linguist, and was acquainted with foreign diplomatists. He was an inseparable friend of Catesby. A few weeks before Christmas 1600 he visited Rome for the jubilee. A Mr. Winter from Worcestershire is entered in the ‘Pilgrims' Book’ of the English College at Rome as having lodged there thirteen days from 24 Feb. 1601. In January 1602 Lord Monteagle and Catesby arranged that he should go into Spain to propose to Philip III an invasion of England in the following spring. The details of this negotiation are imperfectly known. A full statement written by Winter regarding his share in it was never made public, and is no longer extant; and the information extorted from Fawkes was at second hand. Winter, with Catesby and Tresham, had discussed the mission with Father Henry Garnet [q. v.] at White Webbs, a favourite resort of the jesuits, ten miles north of London; but Garnet, while he confessed to having written of the business to Father Joseph Cresswell [q. v.] in Spain, declared that he then believed its object was simply to obtain money for distressed catholics. Winter was accompanied on his journey by Father Oswald Greenway or Tesimond [q. v.] He spent some months at the Spanish court, but the political negotiations entrusted to him seem to have passed into the hands of Cresswell, who professed to be the representative of English catholics in Spain. Cresswell in the winter of 1602–3 urgently and persistently pressed upon the Spanish king the need of immediate intervention by arms to prevent the accession of James on the death of Elizabeth, which might take place at any moment. The plan of the Anglo-Spanish faction at that time (i.e. since July 1600) was to adopt as candidate for the English throne the infanta, with her husband the Archduke Albert, sovereigns of the Netherlands. Cresswell was kept waiting three months for his answer, when, on the advice of the Count Olivares (2 March 1603), it was resolved to drop the infanta as impracticable and to suggest to the English catholics that they should elect from their countrymen a candidate whom Spain would, on certain conditions, support (Martin Hume, Sir Walter Ralegh, 1897, pp. 235–9). Winter had returned to England before this decision had been formally announced.

Sir E. Coke declared (on the evidence of Fawkes) that Winter came ‘laden with hopes’ and with the promise of the Spanish king to send an army into Milford Haven and to contribute to the enterprise 100,000 crowns. But such report as Winter could give of the drift of Spanish policy may rather have added to the disappointment of his friends. He told Garnet, however, that Philip desired to have immediate information of the death of the queen. Meanwhile Garnet had shown to Winter, as well as to Catesby, Percy, and Father Oldcorne, the two briefs from Rome bidding catholics to withstand the succession of any one not a zealous catholic. With this on his mind, Catesby, after the accession of James, conceived the gunpowder plot, and on All Saints' day 1603 sent for Thomas Winter, who was then with his brother at Huddington. Winter, however, was not able to meet his friend till January 1604, when he found him in the company of John Wright. It was then that Catesby propounded to Winter, and probably to Wright, his plan ‘at one instant to deliver us from all our bonds without any foreign help.’ On Winter making difficulties, Catesby suggested his going over to Flanders to see Juan de Velasco, the constable of Castile, who had arrived at Brussels about the middle of January to negotiate peace with England. Winter was to learn what the constable could or could not do to obtain toleration for catholics, and was to bring Fawkes over to England. Winter visited the constable with Hugh Owen, and, being convinced that no help could be expected from Spain, was introduced by Sir William Stanley (1548–1630) [q. v.] to Fawkes, whom he took back with him to London about Easter-time. The oath of secrecy was then taken by the three men, together with Percy and Wright, and the details of the plot communicated to them by Catesby.

Winter took a prominent part in the working of the mine under the parliament house, and afterwards in introducing powder into the cellar. The news of the Monteagle letter and the probable discovery of the plot reached him on Sunday, 27 Oct. 1605. He at once went to White Webbs, whither several of his confederates had retired, and tried in vain to persuade Catesby to save himself by flight. On the 31st he returned to London. On 4 Nov. Catesby rode away towards the appointed meeting-place at Dunchurch. Winter himself courageously remained behind till, on the morning of the 5th, fully satisfied that all was discovered, he followed his friends, overtaking Catesby at Huddington on Wednesday night, 6 Nov. The next evening the company of conspirators went to Stephen Littleton's at Holbeche, and there, on the morning of the 8th, prepared to resist the sheriff's officers who were in pursuit. In the encounter which followed Winter was the first struck, being shot by an arrow from a crossbow, which deprived him of the use of his arm; while Catesby, crying out, ‘Stand by me, Tom, and we will die together!’ fell mortally wounded. Winter was seized and carried prisoner to the Tower. He was the only one of the five original workers in the mine, besides Fawkes, who was in the hands of the government.

There is no evidence that Winter was subjected to torture. But on 21 Nov. Sir William Waad [q. v.], lieutenant of the Tower, wrote to Salisbury that ‘Thomas Winter doth find his hand so strong, as after dinner he will settle himself to write that he hath verbally declared to your lordship, adding what he shall remember.’ The confession which Winter actually made (extant at Hatfield and transcribed in Brit. Mus. Addit. MS. 6178) appears to have been originally written and dated on the 23rd, was perhaps exhibited before the commissioners, and was confirmed by Winter two days later, when it was endorsed by the attorney-general as ‘delivered by Thomas Winter, all written with his own hand, Nov. 25, 1605.’ On the 26th Waad reported moreover that ‘Thomas Winter hath set down in writing of his own hand the whole course of his employment with Spain, which I send to your lordship herein enclosed’ (cf. Brit. Mus. Addit. MS. 6178, pp. 581, 601). This last document, as has been said, has unfortunately disappeared, though a trace of it remains in the shape of a memorandum or note, dated the 25th, mentioning that Monteagle, Catesby, and Tresham were the projectors of this Spanish mission. Winter, with seven other conspirators, including his brother Robert, was put upon his trial on 27 Jan. 1606. On his condemnation he only begged that he might be hanged both for his brother and for himself. He was executed on Friday, 31 Jan.

The genuineness of Winter's confession has recently been disputed by Father Gerard, S.J., in his several ingenious attempts to throw doubt on the whole traditional story of the plot. The main features of the plot, indeed, rest upon evidence independent of that of Winter, but his confession, a long and important document of eight closely written folio pages, contains a connected narrative of the whole course of the conspiracy, with many picturesque incidents not found elsewhere. It would be out of place to enter into a detailed discussion of the question here. Father Gerard's principal arguments are that the confession is signed ‘Winter,’ not ‘Wintour,’ as in all other acknowledged signatures; that the handwriting is suspiciously similar to that of Winter before, but not after, the injury to his arm; and that the numerous corrections and erasures indicate the work of a forger copying a draft submitted to him. On the other hand, the difficulties in supposing such a forgery on the part of the government are overwhelming. Not only would Waad, Sir E. Coke, and Salisbury be implicated, but all the commissioners whose names are set down as attesting it in the printed copies published to the world, and three of these commis- sioners were catholics or friendly to catholics. There is no reasonable motive to be assigned for such a superfluous and dangerous crime. There was evidence enough to hang the conspirators without it. The confession contains statements which the government would not think of putting into their mouths; and, on the other hand, it contains nothing of what the government most keenly desiderated—evidence to incriminate the priests. There was, moreover, no object in forging Winter's handwriting, seeing that no use was to be made of the original. The king himself was shown only a copy. The corrections and erasures referred to, besides being characteristic of Winter's writing, are in this case clearly those of an author, not of a copyist or forger. Indeed the one striking instance of apparent parablepsy, or skipping, adduced by Father Gerard—viz. that of writing inadvertently and afterwards erasing the word ‘reasons’ (which would make no sense as it stands, but occurs in its proper place, about the space of a line's length further on)—is rather a proof of genuineness. The word is plainly not ‘reasons’ but ‘tearms,’ which the writer erased to substitute ‘oath.’ The single unexplained difficulty is the unusual spelling of the signature, a difficulty which is far from being lessened by attributing it to an expert forger, who would certainly have before him specimens of Winter's usual signature.

Robert Winter (d. 1606), married to Gertrude, daughter of John Talbot of Grafton, is, as might be expected, not mentioned in connection with the conspiracy in his brother's confession. He was, however, admitted to the plot, together with his brother-in-law, John Grant, at Oxford by Thomas Winter and Catesby early in 1605, when the increasing cost of the undertaking required the aid of more wealthy confederates. He did not work at the mine, and the chief interest of his career lies in the adventures and hardships which he underwent after his flight from Holbeche (‘A true historicall relation,’ Harl. MS. 360; extracts in Jardine, ii. 89). On 6 Nov. the conspirators had spent some time at his house at Huddington. They thence rode to Holbeche, where Robert, less resolute than his younger brother, stole away before the encounter with the sheriff's men. In company with Stephen Littleton, he hid for two months in barns and poor houses in Worcestershire, and was finally run to earth at Hagley, the house of Humphrey Littleton. A proclamation had been issued for his capture on 18 Nov. He was in the Tower and under examination on 17 Jan., and on the 21st wrote a long letter to the commissioners (printed by Jardine, ii. 147) relating his share in the conspiracy. He was executed on 30 Jan., the day before his brother Thomas. Both brothers are depicted in Pass's engraving ad vivum of the gunpowder plot conspirators, now in the National Portrait Gallery, London.

John Winter, son of George, by his second wife, Elizabeth Bourne (FOLEY, ib.), was arraigned and condemned for conspiracy with his two half-brothers, but was executed at Worcester with Father Oldcorne and others on 7 April 1606.

[Besides Jardine's Narrative and other books already referred to, see Tierney's Dodd, iv. 7–9, 35–65, lii–liv; Condition of Catholics in the Reign of James I, containing Father Gerard's Narrative, edited by Father Morris, S.J., 1871; the Life of a Conspirator, being a biography of Sir Everard Digby, by one of his Descendants, 1895 (a carefully written and important book); Traditional History and the Spanish Treason of 1601–3, by the Rev. John Gerard (reprinted from the Month), 1896; What was the Gunpowder Plot? The traditional story tested by critical evidence, by John Gerard, S.J., 1897; What the Gunpowder Plot was (an answer to the preceding), by S. R. Gardiner, 1897; The Gunpowder Plot and Gunpowder Plotters, in reply to Professor Gardiner, by John Gerard, S.J., 1897; Thomas Winter's Confession and the Gunpowder Plot (with facsimiles), by the same; Letters in the Athenæum on Winter's Confession, by S. R. Gardiner, 26 Nov. 1897 and 10 Sept. 1898.]

T. G. L.