Thomas Percy

Thomas Percy

Engraving of Percy

  • Edward Percy
  • Elizabeth Waterton
Born c. 1560
Spouse(s) Martha Wright
Occupation Constable of Alnwick Castle
Role Logistics
Enlisted 20 May 1604
Penalty Exhumation, decapitation
Died 8 November 1605
Holbeche HouseStaffordshire
Cause Shot

Thomas Percy was born in about 1558. He studied at Cambridge University and graduated in 1580. As a young man he gained a reputation as a swordsman and fought many duels.

In 1591 Percy married Martha Wright, the sister of Christopher Wright and John Wright. Four years later, a relative, the Earl of Northumberland, appointed him as his agent. This involved him managing the Earl’s estates. Later he was employed as Constable of Alnwick Castle.

Northumberland was a Roman Catholic and in 1602 sent Percy to Scotland with letters to James where he argued that Catholics would accept him as king if he brought an end to the persecution of religious dissents. Later Percy told his friends that James had promised to treat Catholics as equals with Protestants.

When Elizabeth I died in 1603 without children, James became king. Roman Catholics became very angry when James passed a law that imposed heavy fines on people who did not attend Protestant church services.

In 1605 Catesby devised the Gunpowder Plot, a scheme to kill James and as many Members of Parliament as possible. Catesby planned to make the king’s young daughter, Elizabeth, queen. In time, Catesby hoped to arrange Elizabeth’s marriage to a Catholic nobleman. Over the next few months Catesby recruited Thomas Percy to join the conspiracy.

Catesby’s plan involved blowing up the Houses of Parliament on 5 November. This date was chosen because the king was due to open Parliament on that day. At first the group tried to tunnel under Parliament. This plan changed when a member of the group was able to hire a cellar under the House of Lords. The plotters then filled the cellar with barrels of gunpowder. Guy Fawkes was given the task of creating the explosion.

Crispen van de Passe, The Gunpowder Plot Conspirators (c.1606)

One of the people involved in the plot was Francis Tresham. He was worried that the explosion would kill his friend and brother-in-law, Lord Monteagle. Tresham therefore sent Lord Monteagle a letter warning him not to attend Parliament on 5 November.

Lord Monteagle became suspicious and passed the letter to Robert Cecil, the king’s chief minister. Cecil quickly organised a thorough search of the Houses of Parliament. While searching the cellars below the House of Lords they found the gunpowder and Guy Fawkes. He was tortured and he eventually gave the names of his fellow conspirators.

The conspirators left London and agreed to meet at Holbeche House in Staffordshire. News of their hiding place reached the Sheriff of Worcester and on 8th November the house was surrounded by troops. The men refused to surrender and gunfire broke out. Over the next few minutes Thomas Percy, Robert CatesbyChristopher Wright and John Wright were killed.


August 26
1528 – 1572

English martyr, born in 1528. Earl of Northumberland from 1537, Thomas initially enjoyed an excellent relationship with QueenElizabeth I (r. 1558-1603). Thomas also served Queen Mary         (r. 1542-1587). Queen Elizabeth bestowed the Order of the Garter on him in 1563. He then became involved in the Rising of the North and fled to Scotland but was sold to Queen Elizabeth for two thousand pounds. For three years he languished in a prison, refusing fervently to abjure his faith in return for his freedom. Thomas was finally beheaded at York and was beatified in 1896.

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