Winter [Wintour], Thomas
- Mark Nicholls
Winter [Wintour], Thomas (c. 1571–1606), conspirator, was the son of George Winter (d. 1594) of Huddington, Worcestershire, and his wife, Jane (née Ingleby), and younger brother of his fellow conspirator Robert Winter [Wintour] (c. 1566x8–1606) of Huddington. A family descent is traced from Wintor, castellan of Caernarfon, the name originally being spelt Gwyntour. The family seat moved from Wych to Huddington in the reign of Henry VI. Thomas's father was the son of Robert Winter of Cavewell, Gloucestershire, and his wife, Catherine, daughter of Sir George Throckmorton of Coughton, Warwickshire. Thomas's mother was the daughter of Sir William Ingleby of Ripley Castle, Yorkshire; her brother Francis, a missionary priest, was executed at York on 2 June 1586. The couple also had a daughter, Dorothy, who married John Grant of Norbrooks, another gunpowder plotter. On his wife's death George Winter married Elizabeth Bourn (Bourne), probably the daughter of Sir John Bourn of Battenhall. With his second wife George Winter had one further son, John, and a daughter, Elizabeth, who appears to have married William Cole of Warwickshire. George's eldest son and heir, Thomas's elder brother, Robert, married Gertrude Talbot, daughter of Sir John Talbot of Grafton, cousin and heir presumptive of Gilbert Talbot, seventh earl of Shrewsbury.
Thomas Winter is described by Father John Gerard as 'of mean stature, but strong and comely and very valiant'. Zealous, discreet, and devout, he was 'a reasonable good scholar', well educated, and able to speak Latin, Italian, Spanish, and French. His military experience in the 1590s, 'both in Flanders, France, and, I think, against the Turk', had provided him with a fund of soldier's tales, and he was 'an inseparable friend' to his cousin, Robert Catesby (Catholics under James I, 58–9). Winter visited Rome for the jubilee in 1600; he was by his own confession the 'Mr Winter of Worcestershire' who is entered in the pilgrims' book of the English College at Rome, residing there for thirteen days from 24 February 1601 (TNA: PRO, SP 14/216/170).
In 1602 Lord Monteagle, Catesby, and Francis Tresham encouraged Winter to visit the Spanish court, where according to his own account (Salisbury MS 112/91) he supplied military intelligence and was promised money for pensions payable to key Catholic gentlemen and military aid by Philip III himself. But the money was not forthcoming, and with Philip edging towards peace with England after Queen Elizabeth's death in March 1603, Catesby and Winter soon reached the conclusion that English Catholics would have to act on their own if they wished to re-establish a Catholic England.
The Gunpowder Plot: planning
Much of what follows is drawn from Winter's own very detailed confession, written after his arrest in November 1605 (Salisbury MS 113/54), perhaps the most graphic first-hand account of treason in the pages of British history. Early in 1604 Winter was summoned by Catesby to London: they met at Lambeth, together with a cousin from the East Riding of Yorkshire, John Wright. Knowing that Winter had considered travelling or living abroad, Catesby pressed on him 'howe necessary it was nott to forsake our country … but to deliver her from out of the servitud where she remained'. Winter assured his friend that he had 'often hazarded [his] life uppon far lighter tearmes', but added that he could see no obvious means of achieving their goal. Thereupon Catesby, with the logic of the fanatic, unveiled his plan 'to blow up the parlament howse with gunpowder, for sayd he in that place have they done us all the mischeif, and perchance God hath desined that place for their punishment'.
Winter 'wondered att the straingnes of the conseipt' (Salisbury MS 113/54), as well he might. He admitted that such a scheme could indeed work the miracle they all sought:
but if hit should nott take effect, as most of this natur miscaried, the scandall would be so great that Catholic religion might hereby sustaine as nott only our enimies butt our frinds also would with good cause condemn us.
Catesby stood his ground. 'The nature of the disease', he insisted, 'required so sharp a remedy.' In the face of this eloquence, spurred on by his own vision of a Catholic future for England, Winter committed himself to the plot.
That spring Winter travelled to Flanders, ostensibly to discover whether the Spanish authorities would after all consider an invasion of England in support of the Catholic cause. But this was also something of a recruiting mission. After being fobbed off with general assurances of goodwill from the constable of Castile, Philip III's envoy to negotiate peace with England, Winter sought out Guy Fawkes, a soldier in Spanish service who had undertaken a mission to Spain on behalf of English Catholics less than a year earlier. Encountering him at Ostend, Winter told Fawkes that 'some good frends of his wished his company in Ingland' (Salisbury MS 113/54). At a subsequent meeting in Dunkirk he dropped a few further hints, saying that certain gentlemen 'were uppon a resolution to doe some whatt in Ingland if the pece with Spain healped us nott'. Fawkes took the bait. He and Winter travelled together to London, where they met Catesby and the earl of Northumberland's Catholic cousin and trusted estate officer, Thomas Percy. By now Catesby had come up with a means of carrying through his plan. The two new recruits were sworn to secrecy and admitted to the conspiracy, and in May 1604 Percy took the lease of a house adjacent to parliament. 'Mr Fawks underwent the name of Mr Percies man, calling him self Jonsons, becaus his face was the most unknown, and receaved the keys of the howse.'
Setting the mine
From this beginning until the defeat of all their dreams, Winter took a central role in the conspiracy. Scottish commissioners negotiating a proposed union between England and Scotland were lodged in Percy's house, delaying any work on the mine until a fortnight before Christmas. Then, in Winter's own words, 'all five entered with tools fitt to begin our work having provided our selves of bakt meats the lesse to need sending abroad' (Hatfield House, Salisbury MS 113/54). They 'wrought under a littell entry to the wall of the Parlament howse and underpropped it as wee went with wood'. With parliament postponed until 'after Michelmas', they returned to the project about Candlemas 1605, bringing all the gunpowder over from Catesby's house at Lambeth—the old Vauxhall manor house—to Percy's dwelling, for they 'were willing to have all [their] dainger in one place'. But even with the recruitment of further labourers—Thomas's brother Robert Winter (admitted to the conspiracy at the sign of the Catherine Wheel in Oxford some time in January 1605), John Wright's brother Christopher Wright, and Winter's brother-in-law John Grant—it proved extremely difficult to hack through the strong foundations of the old building.
Providence now took a hand. As they were digging the conspirators heard noises overhead. Fawkes was sent to investigate, and returned with news that the tenant of the ground-floor vault below the Lords' chamber, a coal merchant named Ellen Bright, was quitting her premises. Percy again secured the lease and their mine was abandoned without regret. 18 hundredweight of gunpowder, in two hogsheads and thirty-two barrels, was moved into the cellar from a 'lower chamber' in Percy's house through a new door built at his orders 'where had bene a grate of iron' (TNA: PRO, SP 14/16/18). These were concealed under 'a thowsand of billett and a hundred faggotts'.
Determined to avoid any suspicion the conspirators dispersed into the country. Before they did so Catesby, who had borne the financial burden alone so far, sought his colleagues' permission to bring in one or two wealthy new recruits. He was given something of a free hand in the selection, for the other plotters accepted his argument that many 'may be content that I should knowe, who would nott therfore that all the company should be acquainted with their names' (Salisbury MS 113/54). Percy perhaps enjoyed a similar freedom to recruit, but there is no evidence that he ever exercised the privilege. After a further conference with Percy in the summer of 1605, Catesby enlisted the help of Sir Everard Digby, Ambrose Rookwood, and Francis Tresham, all gentlemen of means who might be expected to contribute money and horses towards the projected rebellion that they hoped would follow in the wake of the explosion. 'Mean while', wrote Winter, 'Mr Fauks and my self alone, bought some new powder, as suspecting the first to be dank, and convayed hitt into the seller and sett hitt in order as wee resolved hitt should stand.'
On 3 October 1605 parliament was again prorogued, though this time only for one month. Winter attended the ceremony of prorogation in the entourage of his friend Lord Monteagle, and the presence of the earl of Salisbury and most leading English noblemen in the House of Lords, right over the stockpiled gunpowder, must have reassured him that the authorities still suspected nothing (JHL, 2.351). About this time Winter is found in the company of Henry Lord Mordaunt, Sir Josceline Percy, Ben Jonson, and Tresham, supping with Catesby at William Patrick's house in the Strand. In September he called on his brother Robert's father-in-law, John Talbot of Grafton, a wealthy recusant. During October, Winter repeatedly visited Christopher Wright at his lodgings in Spur Alley, taking on one occasion, as Wright's landlady, Dorothy Robinson, later confessed, 'two hampers locked with two padlockes, and caused them to be placed in a little closet at the end of Mr Wrights chamber' (TNA: PRO, SP 14/216/41). He carried off the contents privately, leaving the empty hampers for Mrs Robinson.
When Catesby confided in Tresham, however, he unwittingly jeopardized the whole scheme. Frightened and sensing disaster, Tresham attempted to buy Catesby off, throwing money at him in the hope that he would reconsider. Catesby simply took the money, blandly reassuring his much-troubled friend. On the night of 27 October Winter was visited in his lodgings by a member of Lord Monteagle's household, who told him 'that a letter had been given to my Lord Monteagle to this effect, that he wisshed his lordships absenc from the Parlament because a blow would ther be geven, which letter he [Monteagle] presently carried to my Lord of Salisbury' (Salisbury MS 113/54). The so-called Monteagle letter was a thinly veiled warning in a disguised hand, still preserved in the Public Record Office. 'One the morrow I went to Whightwebbs [White Webbs, in Enfield Chase] and tould hitt Mr Catesby assuring him withall that the matter was disclosed and wisshing him in any wisse to forsake his country.' Catesby, however, displayed characteristic coolness, declaring that 'he would see further as yett, and resolved to send Mr Fauks to try the uttermost'. Fawkes could find nothing to suggest that the gunpowder had been disturbed, and they all breathed a little more easily.
Clearly, though, security within the conspiracy had been compromised. Catesby and Winter suspected that Tresham had sent the letter to Monteagle. They accused him of betrayal to his face at Barnet on 1 November, but he steadfastly denied the charge. Winter spoke to Tresham again the next day, in Lincoln's Inn Walks, and, although Tresham for the second time in twenty-four hours paid over money to Catesby's use 'to buy anythinge that they should want at that tyme eyther horses armour or any other thinge' (TNA: PRO, SP 14/216/116), his forebodings once again persuaded Winter that all was lost. Catesby, confronted with his friend's manifest doubts, suggested that they await Percy's arrival in London from the north. Percy met his colleagues on 3 November and convinced them that they should 'abide the uttermost triall, for which end he went on Monday to Sion [Syon House, residence of the earl of Northumberland]', declaring that he would certainly be detained if the plot had been betrayed. His safe return that evening went a little way towards reassuring jittery colleagues.
In the general climate of mistrust and suspicion Catesby and Percy resolved to go to the appointed rendezvous in the midlands before the blow was struck, but Winter remained in London. At about 5 a.m. on Tuesday 5 November, Christopher Wright came to his chamber at the sign of the Duck in the Strand 'and tould me that a noble man caulled the Lord Monteagle saying rise and come along to Essex House for I am going to caul up my Lord of Northumberland, saying withall the matter is discovered' (Salisbury MS 113/54). Wright went out again, but soon came back with news confirming their worst fears. Winter himself walked to the court and then to the parliament house, but found both strictly guarded, the sentries discussing the discovery of a treason. That sufficed. Winter took horse, left his best clothes at his lodgings, and rode off in pursuit of his confederates. The authorities only really began to suspect him the next day.
The midland revolt
Winter caught up with the other plotters on the Wednesday afternoon, at his brother's house at Huddington, by which time it was already apparent that their rising against King James was doomed. On the morning of 7 November he was among those who received communion from Father Hammond at Huddington. When the rebels arrived at Holbeach House, Staffordshire, an accident in drying some damp gunpowder left Catesby and two others burnt in the blast. Winter was absent when the incident occurred. On the Friday morning he had ridden to Pepper Hill and called on Sir John Talbot in a vain attempt to recruit support. Returning, he was advised by Stephen Littleton when still some distance from Holbeach to make good his escape. 'I tould him I would first see the body of my frind and bury him, whatsoever befell me' (Salisbury MS 113/54). So he entered the house and asked Catesby, Percy, the Wrights, Rookwood, and Grant what they meant to do. 'They answered we mean heer to die, I sayd againe I would take such part as they did.' When the sheriff of Worcestershire's men attacked Holbeach on the morning of the eighth there was little resistance. The Wrights were mortally wounded. A crossbow bolt struck Winter in the right shoulder:
Then sayd Mr Catsby to me standing before the dore they were to enter stand by me Tom and wee will dye togeather. Sir, quoth I, I have lost the use of my right arme and I fear that will cause me to be taken. So as we stood close togeather Mr Catsby Mr Percy and my self they two were shot (as far as I could gess) with one bullett, and then the company entered uppon me, hurt me in belly with a pick and gave me other wounds untill one came behind and caught hoult of both mine armes.
Confession and execution
Winter refused to say anything of substance to the local authorities when examined on 12 November and was, on the privy council's instruction, taken to London for questioning. As he was the best informed of all the surviving conspirators much rested on what he had to say. Later attempts to throw doubt on the authenticity of Winter's remarkable testimony fail to supply any credible motive for forgery on so grand a scale. The handwriting throughout the extensive document at Hatfield is convincingly that of Winter, the many corrections and interlineations those of an author rather than of an editor. Only the signature, 'Thomas Winter' differs from the ‘Wintour’ spelling adopted in his few surviving letters—a curious lapse if the existence is assumed of a master forger capable of such convincing if pointless labours. Winter's confession in fact appears to have been written expressly for publication in the so-called King's Book, the hastily thrown together official account of the Gunpowder treason, published to answer the questions of an intrigued and horrified public at the very end of November 1605 (Nicholls, 28–9). The document at Hatfield bears all the hallmarks of a draft, Winter trying to provide a clear and comprehensive account of his enterprise. Indeed, it is also convincing in what it omits—the presence of Father Hammond at Huddington, for example, and any mention of his brother Robert's part in the treason.
Robert Winter, meanwhile, had fled from Holbeach on the night of 7 November. A proclamation was issued for his capture on 18 November but he remained at large until January, hiding with Stephen Littleton, the owner of Holbeach, in 'barnes and poore mennes houses' across Worcestershire, before being betrayed to the authorities at Hagley (TNA: PRO, SP 14/216/172). Like his younger brother he wrote a lengthy account of his part in the treason, on 21 January while a prisoner in the Tower (TNA: PRO, SP 14/216/176). Both Robert and Thomas were tried, with six of their erstwhile companions, at Westminster Hall on 27 January 1606. They pleaded not guilty, but only because they questioned some of the detail in the indictment; neither man made any attempt to deny his manifest treason. After being found guilty Robert confined himself to a simple plea for mercy, while Thomas 'only desired that he might be hanged both for his brother and himself' (State trials, 2.186).
This favour was not granted. Robert Winter was hanged, drawn, and quartered at St Paul's on 30 January 1606. The next day, Thomas Winter was executed at Westminster, sharing the scaffold with Rookwood, Robert Keyes, and Guy Fawkes. According to one unfriendly source he died 'seeming, after a sort, as it were, sorry for his offence', professing his faith to the last (Scarce and Valuable Tracts … Lord Somers, 2nd edn, 2.115). Their half-brother, John, who had by his own confession joined in the midland revolt, was executed with Humphrey Littleton and Father Edward Oldcorne SJ at Red Hill near Worcester on 7 April. He is buried in the chancel of the old church at Huddington.
So far as is known, Thomas Winter remained single. A tradition that he married Catesby's sister Elizabeth seems without foundation. An examination of Gertrude Talbot, Robert Winter's wife, is preserved in the National Archives (TNA: PRO, SP 14/216/43). The Winters had two daughters and a son: John (d. 1622), Helena (d. 1671), and Mary. When a prisoner in the Tower Robert expressed a hope that his father-in-law would care for Gertrude and their children.
- Gunpowder Plot book, TNA: PRO, SP 14/216
- TNA: PRO, SP 14/16
- Hatfield House, Salisbury (Cecil) MSS [esp. Winter's testimony, MS 112/91 and MS 113/54]
- M. Nicholls, Investigating Gunpowder Plot (1991)
- J. Humphreys, ‘The Wyntours of Huddington and the Gunpowder Plot’, Transactions of the Birmingham and Midlands Institute, 30 (1904), 47–88
- D. Burbury, ‘Modern-day descendants of the Wintour family of Huddington Court’, Gunpowder Plot Society Newsletter, 1/1998 [unpaginated]
- The condition of Catholics under James I: Father Gerard's narrative of the Gunpowder Plot, ed. J. Morris (1871)
- G. Blacker Morgan, The great English treason for religion known as the Gunpowder Plot, 2 vols. (1931–2)
- H. Foley, ed., Records of the English province of the Society of Jesus, 7 vols. in 8 (1875–83), vol. 4, pp. 241–3
- J. F. Larkin and P. L. Hughes, Stuart royal proclamations: royal proclamations of King James I, 1603–1625 (1973)
- W. Scott, ed., A collection of scarce and valuable tracts … Lord Somers, 2nd edn, 13 vols. (1809–15)
- C. van de Passe, group portrait, line engraving (Gunpowder Plot conspirators, 1605), NPG
- portrait, repro. in Humphreys, ‘The Wintours of Huddington and the Gunpowder Plot’; recorded at Woollas Hall near Bredon in 1904; also repr. in Blacker Morgan, The great English treason