John Grant


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John Grant
by Douglas Burbury

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

John Grant was the lord of the manor of Norbrook, located a few miles north of Stratford-upon-Avon in the county of Warwickshire. Norbrook formed part of the belt of Catholic houses in the Midlands region of England which were to form a base for the rebellion which was to follow the blowing up of the Houses of Parliament. It was close to Lapworth, the house where Robert Catesby had been born and raised, and also to other houses such as Coughton Court, Huddington Court and Clopton, a house near Stratford-on-Avon which was rented by Ambrose Rookwood.

John Grant was the son of Thomas Grant of Norbrook and Alice Ruding. The Grants and Rudinges were old, established families in the county. The main seat of the Grant family had been at Snitterfield, but in 1545 they came into possession of the nearby estate of Norbrook. John had married Dorothy Wintour, a sister (or more probably, a half-sister) of Robert and Thomas Wintour of Huddington Court.

Commentators on the history of the Gunpowder Plot seem to have varying opinions on Grant's personality. He is described by Parkinson as "melancholy" and "taciturn", and possibly even "stupid". However, Fraser explicitly calls Grant an "intellectual", and says that he "... studied Latin and other foreign languages for pleasure". Although Father Francis Edwards (Guy Fawkes: the real story of the Gunpowder Plot?, 1969) claims that Grant was originally a Protestant, others assert tnhat he was a devout Roman Catholic, and that his sympathies fell squarely with the Catholic cause.

Grant was one of the participants in the Essex Rebellion, along with other Gunpowder Plotters such as Robert Catesby, Francis Tresham and John Wright.

Behind the air of melancholy and "scholarly withdrawal" seems to have hidden a man who could show plenty of spirit when required. John Gerard describes him as being "... as fierce as a lion, of a very undaunted courage as could be found in a country". Norbrook became a noted refuge for priests, and as a result it was often visited by the poursuivants, the government agents whose job it was to search for possible hidden priests. Grant was particularly active in resisting the poursuivants when they visited Norbrook, and the firmness and force of his resistance even started to discourage the poursuivants from searching Norbrook altogether. Gerard says that Grant was fond of "... paying poursuivants so well for their labour, not with crowns of gold, but with cracked crowns sometimes, and with dry bones instead of drink and other good cheer, that they durst not visit him any more unless they brought store of help with them."

He seems to have been sworn in as a member of the inner circle of gunpowder plotters in February 1605, when he and his brother-in-law Robert Wintour were summoned to a meeting with Robert Catesby and Thomas Percy at an inn called the Catherine Wheel in Oxford. Grant and Robert Wintour were made to take an oath binding them to secrecy before Catesby revealed the details of the plot.

Grant was part of the "Midland contingent". His role in the plot seems to have been twofold: he and Robert Wintour were responsible for amassing a stockpile of weapons and preparing stables of horses for use during the anticipated rebellion. In addition, Grant was to be responsible for the abduction of the young Princess Elizabeth from Coombe Abbey, near Rugby in Warwickshire, in order to set the Princess up as the new monarch once her father (and possibly her brothers) had perished in the blowing-up of Parliament.

These preparations presumably occupied Grant for most of the intervening time between his induction into the plot in February and the discovery of the plot in October and early November. He joined the "hunting party" at Dunchurch together with his brother-in-law John Wintour and his friend Henry Morgan. During the flight from Dunchurch to Holbeche House, Grant and other members of the party broke into the stables at Warwick Castle to obtain fresh horses, and they also stopped at the houses of Norbrook and Huddington Court to rest and collect weaponry.

Once at Holbeche House, the conspirators prepared themselves for a siege. Some gunpowder which had become wet during the journey was--rather foolishly--laid out in front of the fire to dry, and it caught fire from an ember and severely injured some of those present. Grant was among those most seriously injured in this accident. Father Gerard writes that "... [the powder] blowing up, hurt divers of them, especially Mr. Catesby, Mr. Rookewood, but most of all Mr. Grant, whose face was much disfigured, and his eyes almost burnt out".

Grant was among those who survived and were captured at Holbeche House. He was taken to Worcester and from there to London, where he was held together with others of the conspirators who had survived the siege or who were arrested in the aftermath.

During the conspirators' trial, Grant showed his taciturn nature by saying very little, but he "... showed great courage and self-assurance".

Grant was executed on 30 January 1606 at St Paul's Churchyard, together with Sir Everard Digby, Robert Wintour and Thomas Bates. Grant was led to the scaffold, as his injuries sustained in the accident at Holbeach House had left him virtually blinded. He showed "great zeal" as he mounted the scaffold; he was asked if he was sorry for his mistake, but his reply was that "... it was not the time or the place to discuss cases of conscience. He had come there to die, not to dispute matters of that kind". He also expressed himself "convinced that our project was far from being sinful" as to afford an "expiation for all sins committed by me" and crossed himself before he fell.

His estates were forfeited after his execution, but they were reclaimed in 1623 by his son Wyntour Grant, who promptly sold them to Sir Thomas Pickering.

Reproduced by kind permission of the Gunpowder Plot Society

Sources
.............

Edwards, Francis, S.J., Guy Fawkes: the real story of the Gunpowder Plot?, 1969
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
Haynes, Alan, The Gunpowder Plot, 1994
Jardine, David, A Narrative of the Gunpowder Plot, 1857
Morris, John, Condition of Catholics Under James I: Narrative of John Gerard
Nicholls, Mark, Investigating Gunpowder Plot
Parkinson, C. Northcote, Gunpowder, Treason and Plot, 1977
Salzman, L.F. ed., The Victorian History of the Counties of England: A History of Warwick Vol. III, 1945
Sidney, Philip, A History of the Gunpowder Plot
Stonyhurst Magazine No. 96, March 1898


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