- Mark Nicholls
Wright, John (bap. 1568, d. 1605), conspirator, was a grandson of John Wright of Ploughland Hall, Yorkshire, who had been seneschal to Henry VIII. His father, Robert (d. 1594), married as his second wife Ursula Rudston, daughter of Nicholas and Jane Rudston of Hayton. Their two sons, John and Christopher Wright (1570?–1605), were both members of the group of Catholic gentlemen who sought a Spanish invasion of England in the last years of Elizabeth's reign, and who later were conspirators in the Gunpowder Plot. A sister of John and Christopher, Martha, married Thomas Percy, another gunpowder conspirator.
John Wright was baptized at Welwick, Yorkshire, on 16 January 1568. The Jesuit Oswald Tesimond, who may have been at school with him, describes Wright as courageous and an excellent swordsman, blessed with a 'good physique and sound constitution. Rather on the tall side, his features were pleasing. He was somewhat taciturn in manner, but very loyal to his friends, even if his friends were few' (Edwards, 63–4). Like Guy Fawkes, he and his brother were educated at St Peter's School, York. As notorious recusants, both were placed under arrest during the queen's illness in 1596, along with their future co-conspirators Robert Catesby and Francis Tresham, and the same men were imprisoned for their part in the Essex rebellion in February 1601. All this suggests principled resistance to the regime and its religion of long standing, but according to another Jesuit, John Gerard, John became a Catholic only in 1601, in the traumatic aftermath of treason and imprisonment. He now proved himself 'staid and of good sober carriage', and his house at Twigmore, Lincolnshire, was noted as a resort for missionary priests (Morris, 59). Certainly, his fatal friendship for Catesby never faltered. During Elizabeth's last illness in March 1603 the brothers were once again imprisoned, along with their charismatic cousin and other like-minded associates, on the grounds of state security, William Camden describing them all contemptuously as men 'hunger-starved for innovation' (Smith, 347–8).
Early in 1604 Catesby told Wright and Thomas Winter of his plans to destroy king and parliament. There is little sign of doubt or scruple thereafter. Basing himself and his family at Lapworth, in Warwickshire, John was an active and committed member of the conspiracy's inner ring, visiting his colleagues and stabling horses at Lapworth in the months before November 1605. He fled London with Catesby upon the discovery of the treason, flinging off his cloak to ride faster, and participated in the poorly supported ‘midlands rebellion’ which followed. The remnants of the rebel force made a stand at Holbeach, Stephen Littleton's house in Staffordshire, but by then they had lost the will to fight, and when Sir Richard Walsh, the sheriff of Worcestershire, attacked the house on the morning of 8 November there was little resistance. Catesby, Percy, and both brothers Wright were mortally wounded, three of them, it seems, the victims of one marksman, John Street of Worcester. The dying men were stripped of their clothing and neglected by the sheriff's men, or at least by the 'baser sort' among them (Hatfield MS 113/4).
Christopher Wright had fled London in the company of Thomas Percy early on the morning of 5 November. Unlike his brother in appearance—taller, fuller of face, with fairer hair (Morris, 70)—but equally trustworthy, he had been recruited to the plot early in 1605, essentially as an extra pair of hands: the conspirators were then trying, without much success, to dig a mine under the foundations of the House of Lords (Hatfield MS 113/54). Earlier, however, it appears that he had been sent by Catesby to Spain in March 1603 to establish whether Philip III's regime would continue to support their co-religionists in England after the death of Elizabeth. It may be that he travelled to Madrid under the alias Anthony Dutton, or else the part played by the mysterious Dutton was, under interrogation, later attributed to the dead Christopher Wright by the surviving conspirators, Fawkes and Thomas Winter.
John and Christopher Wright were both married. Their wives, Dorothy and Margaret, were subsequently arrested in Warwickshire and brought to London for examination. John and Dorothy Wright had children: a daughter, eight or nine years old in 1605, is mentioned in TNA: PRO, SP 14/216/52.
- TNA: PRO, SP 14/16, 216
- Salisbury (Cecil) MSS, Hatfield House MSS 113/4, 113/54, 112/91 [Thomas Winter's confessions respecting Gunpowder Plot and ‘Spanish treason’]
- M. Nicholls, Investigating Gunpowder Plot (1991)
- The condition of Catholics under James I: Father Gerard's narrative of the Gunpowder Plot, ed. J. Morris (1871)
- The Gunpowder Plot: the narrative of Oswald Tesimond alias Greenway, ed. and trans. F. Edwards (1973)
- A. J. Loomie, ‘Guy Fawkes in Spain: the “Spanish treason” in Spanish documents’, BIHR, special suppl., 9 (1971) [whole issue]
- T. Smith, ed., V Cl Camdeni et illustrium virorum ad G Camdenum epistolae (1691)
- G. Poulson, The history and antiquities of the seigniory of Holderness, 2 (1841), 516
- C. van de Passe, group portrait, line engraving (Gunpowder Plot conspirators, 1605), NPG