Rookwood, Ambrose (DNB00)

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ROOKWOOD or ROKEWODE, AMBROSE (1578?–1606), conspirator, born about 1578, was the eldest son of Robert Rookwood (d. 1600), of Stanningfield, Suffolk, by his second wife, Dorothea, daughter of Sir William Drury of Hawsted in the same county. Robert had by his first wife, Bridget Kemp, four sons, the eldest of whom died in 1580 of a wound received at the storm of ‘Moncron’ in the Netherlands, and was buried at Gravelines, while the other three predeceased their father without issue. The family had been possessed of the manor of Stanningfield since the time of Edward I, and its members had frequently represented Suffolk in parliament; it remained staunchly Roman catholic, and many of its members, including Ambrose's parents, suffered fines and imprisonment for their faith. Several became priests and nuns (cf. Foley, iii. 788, &c.). Ambrose's cousin Edward, who possessed Euston Hall, Norfolk, is quoted as a typical victim of the persecution of the Roman catholics under Elizabeth (Lodge, Illustrations, ii. 188; Hallam, Const. Hist. i. 142). He entertained Elizabeth at Euston in 1578, but was imprisoned at Ely from 1588 to his death in 1598, being buried at Bury St. Edmunds ‘from the jail.’

Ambrose was educated in Flanders, whither several members of the family had fled to escape persecution, but he can scarcely be the Ambrose Rookwood who appears in a list of papists abroad in 1588 (Cal. State Papers, Dom.). In 1600 he succeeded to his father's considerable estates. He was indicted for recusancy before the Middlesex county sessions in February 1604–5, and about Michaelmas following Robert Catesby [q. v.], with whom Rookwood had long been intimate, loving him ‘as his own soul,’ revealed to him the ‘gunpowder plot.’ Rookwood's accession was sought by the conspirators chiefly on account of his magnificent stud of horses. His scruples having been removed, Rookwood took up his residence at Clopton, near Stratford-on-Avon, to be near the general rendezvous. On 31 Oct. or 1 Nov. he removed to London, residing with Robert Keyes, a kinsman of his wife, and other conspirators at the house of one Elizabeth More. Catesby informed him of Fawkes's arrest soon after midnight on 4–5 Nov., but Rookwood, being little known in London, remained to gather more certain news, and did not flee from the capital till eleven o'clock in the morning. He overtook Catesby at Brickhill in Buckinghamshire, and together they reached Holbeach. On the 7th a proclamation for his arrest was issued at London; on the following morning he was injured by an explosion of the gunpowder the conspirators had collected for their defence. In the subsequent struggle he was twice wounded, but was taken alive and imprisoned in the Tower. He was examined on 2 and 10 Dec.; his trial began on 27 Jan. 1605–6; he pleaded not guilty, was condemned, and executed in the Old Palace Yard, Westminster, with Winter, Keyes, and Fawkes, on 31 Jan. On his way from the Tower he managed to say farewell to his wife, who was lodging in the Strand; he expressed regret for his offence, and prayed that the king might live long and become a catholic. Father Greenway says he was beloved by all who knew him.

Rookwood married Elizabeth, daughter of Robert Tyrwhitt of Kettleby, Lincolnshire, by whom he had two sons, Robert and Henry. Robert, the elder, was knighted by James I in 1624, and buried in Stanningfield church on 10 June 1679. His son Ambrose (1622–1693) married Elizabeth Caldwell of Dunton, Essex, and was father of Thomas (1658–1726), the last male Rookwood, whose daughter Elizabeth (1683–1759) married John Gage, ancestor of John Gage Rokewode [q. v.] Thomas's brother,

Ambrose Rookwood (1664–1696), born on 20 Sept. 1664, entered the army, in which he rose to be brigadier under James II, and acquired a high reputation for courage and honour. He remained an adherent of the Jacobite cause, and early in 1696 Sir George Barclay [q. v.] enlisted his services in the plot to kidnap or assassinate William III. In February Sir Thomas Prendergast [q. v.], one of the conspirators, turned king's evidence. On 27 March Rookwood was found in bed in a Jacobite alehouse, and committed to Newgate (Luttrell, iv. 35; Macaulay, ii. 564). On 7 April a true bill of high treason was found against him at the Middlesex county sessions. He was brought before the king's bench on 21 April, being the first Englishman who was tried under the new system of procedure. He pleaded not guilty, and was defended by Sir Bartholomew Shower [q. v.] and Constantine Phipps [q. v.], afterwards lord chancellor of Ireland. George Porter (fl. 1695) [q. v.], one of the principal conspirators, gave evidence against him. He was convicted, and was executed at Tyburn on 29 April. In a paper which he delivered to the sheriff at the place of execution (printed in Proc. Suffolk Archæol. Institute, iii. 306), Rookwood excused himself on the ground that he was only obeying the orders of a superior officer. Some ‘Observations’ on this paper were published in 1696 (4to).

[Collectanea Topographica et Genealogica, ii. 120–47; Proc. Bury and West Suffolk Archæol. Institute, iii. 303–10; Cal. State Papers, Dom. passim; Morris's Condition of Catholics under James I; Morris's Troubles of our Catholic Forefathers; Pollen's Father Henry Garnet, p. 16; Jardine's Narrative of the Gunpowder Plot; Winwood's Memorials; Gardiner's History of England; Nichols's Progress of Queen Elizabeth and of James I; Notes and Queries, 6th ser. xii. 363–4, 7th ser. viii. 442, ix. 51. What was the Gunpowder Plot? (1896) by Father John Gerard, S. J., who throws doubt on the traditional story. For the younger Ambrose see Coll. Top. et Gen. ii. 143; An Account of the Execution of Brigadier Rookwood (1696); The Arraignment, Tryal, &c. of A. Rookwood (1696).]

A. F. P.