Robert Catesby (c. 1572 – 8 November 1605) is the supposed leader of a group of English Catholics who was accused of a conspiracy to destroy Parliament in 1605, known as the Gunpowder Plot.
Born in Warwickshire, Catesby was educated in Oxford. His family were prominent recusant Catholics, and presumably to avoid swearing the Oath of Supremacy he left college before taking his degree. He married a Protestant in 1593 and fathered two children, one of whom survived birth and was baptised in a Protestant church. In 1601 he took part in the Essex Rebellion but was captured and fined, after which he sold his estate at Chastleton.
The Protestant James I, who became King of England in 1603, was even more anti-Catholic than expected. Allegedly, Catesby planned to kill him by blowing up the House of Lords with gunpowder during the State Opening of Parliament, the prelude to a popular revolt during which a Catholic monarch would be restored to the English throne. Early in 1604 he spoke with other Catholics, including Thomas Wintour, John Wright, Thomas Percy, and the charismatic and influential Guy Fawkes. It is alleged that Fawkes helped to bring eight conspirators into the plot, which was planned to be carried out on 5 November 1605. A letter sent anonymously to William Parker, 4th Baron Monteagle, alerted the authorities, and on the eve of the planned explosion, during a search of Parliament, Fawkes was found guarding firewood near some barrels of gunpowder. News of his arrest caused many historically persecuted minorities to flee London, warning Catesby along their way.
With a much-diminished group of followers, Catesby made a stand at Holbeche House in Staffordshire (the modern-day Kingswinford suburb of Wall Heath), against a 200-strong company of armed men. He was shot and later found dead, clutching a picture of the Virgin Mary. As a public act of desecration, his body was exhumed and subsequently decapitated, his head exhibited outside Parliament.
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