ohh Wright

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John (Jack) Wright
by David Herber

Born: 13 January 1568, Welwick, Yorkshire
Died: 8 November 1605, Holbeche House, Staffordshire

The son of Robert Wright of Plowland, Holderness, and his second wife Ursula Rudstone, daughter of Nicholas Rudstone of Hayton (near Pocklington), John (Jack) Wright was probably born at Plowland Hall in Holderness [in the parish of Welwick]. Along with his younger brother Christopher, he was said to have been a school fellow of both Oswald Tesimond and Guy Fawkes at the free school of St. Peters in York, known as "Le Horse Fayre".

Robert and Ursula were staunch Catholics who suffered imprisonment in Hull Prison in York for a period of "fourteen years together" during the time which Henry Hastings, the Puritan Earl of Huntingdon, was Lord President of the North. They had three daughters also, including Martha, who married Thomas Percy the conspirator, and Ursula, who married firstly John Constable of Hatfield, and secondly Marmaduke Ward of Mulwith, the suspected brother of Thomas Ward, servant to William Parker, Lord Monteagle. By his first marriage to Anne Grimston, Robert Wright also had a son William, and two daughters, Martha and Anne.

Very little is known of the early life of the two Wright brothers and a great deal of what is written is often attributed to either or both of them, so accuracy and specifics in detail between the two brothers are often blurred, but later, Father John Gerard described John as a "strong, stout man, and of very good wit, though slow of speech". Renowned from his youth for his courage, "he was somewhat taciturn in manner, but very loyal to his friends, even if his friends were few".

By all accounts he was an excellent swordsman, considered by some to be the best swordsman of his day. He was purported to be much disposed to fighting until he was reconciled to the Catholic faith, which according to Gerard occurred during, or just prior to, the time of the Essex Rebellion.

Prior to the Essex Rebellion however, John, his brother Christopher, and a number of others, including Robert Catesby and Francis Tresham, were arrested as a precautionary measure during an illness of Queen Elizabeth I. This was later dubbed the "Poisoned Pommel" incident, although no evidence of a plot or conspiracy was ever truly uncovered that implicated either these four or any others.

Both John and his wife Dorothy then seemed to endure a great deal of harassment and persecution by the authorities, and they appear more than once on the recusancy rolls, for their profession of the Catholic faith.

John, along with his friend Robert Catesby, had formed part of the entourage for Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex. After the abortive Essex Rebellion of 1601, John spent an amount of time imprisoned in solitary confinement. After his release, he moved his family from the ancestral home of Plowland Hall to Twigmore Hall in northern Lincolnshire, which, even before the Essex Rebellion was noted as a "resort of priests for his [John's] spiritual and their corporal comfort", which seems to imply his religious position was established even before Father John Gerard's claim. (Henry Hawkes Spink also makes the claim in his book The Gunpowder Plot and Lord Mounteagle's Letter (London, 1902) that it would be difficult for the son of such devout religionists who suffered persecution for their faith to be brought up with anything other than a Catholic background.) A government report put it in less flattering terms: "This place is one of the worst in her Majesty's dominions and is used like a Popish college for traitors in the northern parts".

Esteemed by Catesby for his valour and secrecy, John was the third to be initiated into the Gunpowder Plot, some time in May 1604. Along with Thomas Wintour, he was given the task of officially telling Guy Fawkes of the conspirators' intentions to blow up the Houses of Parliament, at which time he removed his family from Twigmore Hall to a house belonging to Catesby at Lapworth in Warwickshire. John's official position in the conspiracy is somewhat unclear, although by all accounts he was an active participant in all its events.

On 4 November, the eve of the plot's discovery, John fled London with Catesby to take the news to Sir Everard Digby and the hunting party which had gathered at Dunchurch in Warwickshire. Meeting several of their confederates on the way to the Midlands, their party eventually numbered almost 60 strong. After receiving Mass at Huddington Court on November 6th, they finally reached Holbeche House, the home of Stephen Littleton, in the late evening of 7 November. The conspirators by now were weary, and according to their confessions, had all but given up hope that their plans would succeed.

On the morning of 8 November, the house was surrounded and laid siege to by the Sheriff of Worcester's men. In a brief stand, Christopher Wright was killed outright along with Catesby and Percy. However, according to Tesimond, who was later told by the Wintours' priest Father Hart (alias Hammond) who had administered the Mass two days previous, John was also mortally wounded, but "lingered for a day, if not longer".

After the capture and imprisonment of the conspirators, the bodies of those who had died at Holbeche were exhumed, and the heads removed for display at Westminster Palace.

Reproduced by kind permission of the Gunpowder Plot Society


Catholic Record Society, Recusants in the Exchequer Pipe Rolls 1581-1592
Cross, Claire, The Puritan Earl: Henry Hastings 3rd Earl of Huntingdon 1536-1595
Dictionary of National Biography, 1895
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
Gerard, John, The Autobiography of a Hunted Priest, tr. Philip Caraman
Oxford University Press, A History of Yorkshire : East Riding Vol. I-VI
Simons, Eric N., The Devil of the Vault, 1963
Spink, Henry Hawkes, The Gunpowder Plot and Lord Mounteagle's Letter, 1902
Toyne, S.M., 'Guy Fawkes and the Powder Plot', History Today, I, 1951
Poulson, George, The History and Antiquities of the seignatory of Holderness Vol. II

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