1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Catesby, Robert

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CATESBY, ROBERT (1573–1605), English conspirator, son of Sir William Catesby of Lapworth in Warwickshire, a prominent recusant who was a descendant of Sir William Catesby, speaker of the House of Commons in 1484, executed by Henry VII. after the battle of Bosworth, was born in 1573, and entered Gloucester Hall (now Worcester College), Oxford, in 1586. He possessed a considerable estate, and was said to be wild and extravagant in his youth. In 1596 he was one of those arrested on suspicion during an illness of Queen Elizabeth. In 1601 he took part in the rebellion of Essex, was wounded in the fight and imprisoned, but finally pardoned on the payment of an enormous fine, to obtain which he was forced to sell a portion of his property. In 1602 he despatched Thomas Winter and the Jesuit Tesimond alias Greenway to Spain to induce Philip III. to organize an invasion of England, and in 1603, after James’s accession, he was named as an accomplice in the “Bye Plot.” Catesby was a man of great beauty of person, “above 2 yards high,” says Father Gerard, “ and though slender, yet as well-proportioned to his height as any man one should see.” He possessed a clear head and unflinching courage, and with a strong determination and fascinating manner mastered the minds of his associates and overpowered all opposition. He was, however, headstrong, wilful and imprudent, fit for action, but incapable of due deliberation, and entirely wanting in foresight. Exasperated by his personal misfortunes and at the repressive measures under which his co-religionists were suffering, and blinded by a religious zeal which amounted to fanaticism, he was now to be the chief instigator of the famous Gunpowder Plot, which must in any event have brought disaster upon the Roman Catholic cause. The idea of some great stroke seems to have first entered his mind in May 1603. About the middle of January 1604 he imparted his scheme of blowing up the Parliament House to his cousin Thomas Winter, subsequently taking in Guy Fawkes and several other conspirators and overcoming all fears and scruples. But it was his determination, from which he would not be shaken, not to allow warning to be given to the Roman Catholic peers that was the actual cause of the failure of the plot. A fatal mistake had been made in imparting the secret to Francis Tresham (q.v.), in order to secure his financial assistance; and there is scarcely any doubt that he was the author of the celebrated letter to his brother-in-law, Lord Monteagle, which betrayed the conspiracy to the government, on the 26th of October. On receiving the news of the letter on the 28th, Catesby exhibited extraordinary coolness and fortitude, and refused to abandon the attempt, hoping that the government might despise the warning and still neglect precautions; and his confidence, was strengthened by Fawkes’s report that nothing in the cellar had been touched or tampered with. On the 2nd of November his resolution was shaken by Tresham’s renewed entreaties that he would flee, and his positive assurance that Salisbury knew everything. On the evening of the 3rd, however, he was again, through Percy’s insistence, persuaded to stand firm and hazard the great stroke. The rest of the story is told in the article Gunpowder Plot. Here it need only be said that Catesby, after the discovery of the conspiracy, fled with his fellow-plotters, taking refuge ultimately at Holbeche in Staffordshire, where on the night of the 8th of November he was overtaken and killed. He had married Catherine, daughter of Thomas Leigh of Stoneleigh, Warwickshire, and left one son, Robert, who inherited that part of the family estate which had been settled on Catesby’s mother and was untouched by the attainder, and who is said to have married a daughter of Thomas Percy.