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Thomas Bates

by Jennifer O'Brien

Born: Unknown
Died: 30 January 1606, St. Paul's Churchyard, London

Born at Lapworth, Thomas Bates was a long-standing retainer of the Catesby family, living in a cottage at Ashby St Ledgers with his wife Martha and their children.

In spite of his position as a servant, and being described in his indictment as a yeoman, Thomas Bates was not a menial. He had his own servant and armour, and seems to have engaged in cattle-dealing on behalf of his master, Robert Catesby, to whom he was totally devoted.

He had spent some time with Catesby in London, probably being a witness to some unusual activity, when in December, 1604, "his master imagining that Bates suspected something, called him to his lodging at Puddle Wharf, and examined him in the presence of Thomas Wintour". Catesby and Wintour decided to bring him into the Gunpowder Plot, and made him take the oath of secrecy and take the sacrament to seal it.

In a highly suspicious copy of an examination of Bates, which did not appear until after his death at the trial of Father Henry Garnet, it is claimed that Bates said that before taking the sacrament, he confessed in full to Father Oswald Tesimond, who told him that he "should be secret in that which his master had imparted unto him, because that was for a good cause, and that he willed this examinant to tell no other priest of it; saying moreover that it was not dangerous unto him nor any offense to conceal it". Tesimond in his Narrative swears that this never occurred.

Bates proved very useful to the conspirators. Not only was he completely loyal and reliable, but being a man of ordinary condition, he could perform many activities, such as driving around waggons, without attracting suspicion.

Bates accompanied his master Catesby on his flight out of London. During their flight, Catesby sent Bates on to Coughton Court with a letter that he and Sir Everard Digby had composed to Father Garnet, asking him to 'excuse their rashness', and asking for his assistance. Far from giving his assistance, he told Bates to tell his master "that I marvel they would enter into such wicked actions", and that they should surrender. Bates did not return empty-handed, however. Father Oswald Tesimond agreed to return with him to Huddington to help.

But Bates lost his resolve when he saw Catesby injured in the explosion at Holbeche, and decided to flee. Christopher Wright threw him some 100 pounds out of the window, asking him to get 80 pounds to his family, and 20 pounds for himself.

He was captured in Staffordshire on November 12th, and being of lower birth, was imprisoned in the Gatehouse prison.

What really transpired at his examination of 4 December, we may never know. In a letter to Father Thomas Strange smuggled out just before his death, he apologised profusely for saying that he said 'he thought Father Tesimond knew something about this plot, but he could not be certain', and that he said he saw Fathers Garnet, Tesimond and Gerard together at Harrowden in mid-November (Gerard claims that he had not seen Bates for a year before the plot).

He said these implications of the jesuits 'he committed out of the considerable hope of life which they held before him', and that he had even offered to pay the 100 pounds given to him by Kit Wright for his family, in order to obtain his pardon. However, he said that he now knew they intended for him to die with the others. It is interesting that he did not ask forgiveness for saying Tesimond had heard his confession.

Bates was scheduled for execution on 30 January, 1606 at St. Paul's Churchyard, and his wife Martha managed to break through the guards and throw herself on her husband on the hurdle. Bates took this opportunity to tell her where he had hidden the 100 pounds.

On the scaffold, Bates was completely penitent, saying that his affection for his master had caused him to forget his duty to God, his King and Country. He asked for the forgiveness of the same, and for the 'preservation of them all'.

Given his all-too human weakness during his captivity, it is not surprising when Tesimond says that "he died with much more courage than some expected of him".

Reproduced by kind permission of the Gunpowder Plot Society


Durst, Paul, Intended Treason: What really happened in the Gunpowder Plot, 1970
Edwards, Francis, S.J., The Gunpowder Plot: the narrative of Oswald Tesimond alias Greenway, trans. from the Italian of the Stonyhurst Manuscript, edited and annotated, 1973
Fraser, Antonia, Faith & Treason - The Story of the Gunpowder Plot, 1996
Gunpowder Plot Book, PRO
Morris, John, S.J., Condition of Catholics under James I, Gerard's Narrative
Sidney, Philip, A History of the Gunpowder Plot

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