Mastodon The Writing Desk: Special Guest Post by Alexandra Walsh, Author of The Secrets of Crestwell Hall

3 July 2024

Special Guest Post by Alexandra Walsh, Author of The Secrets of Crestwell Hall

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

1605: Bess Throckmorton is well used to cunning plots and intrigues. With her husband Sir Walter Raleigh imprisoned in the Tower of London, and she and her family in a constant battle to outwit Robert Cecil, the most powerful man in the country who is determined to ruin her, Bess decides to retreat to her beloved home, Crestwell Hall.

Bess Throckmorton and the Gunpowder Plotters’ Wives

The thing I love writing about most are the women who have been lost from history. In my new dual timeline novel, The Secrets of Crestwell Hall, I move between the present day and the early Jacobean period where I reimagine the 1605 Gunpowder Plot as told by the wives and female relatives of the Plotters. 

My contemporary characters have recently moved to the manor house, Crestwell Hall, which they are trying to save from having to be sold to be turned into a hotel. They want to discover its lost past and turn it into a place for people to visit to experience the restored grandeur of a bygone era. Isabella Lacey and her ten-year-old daughter, Emily, join Isabella’s aunt, Thalia, in this venture as Isabella heals from an unpleasant divorce. They discover a Bible that once belonged to a previous owner, Elizabeth, Lady Raleigh, wife of Sir Walter Raleigh and better known by her maiden name, Bess Throckmorton, which has a remarkable tale to tell. 

In The Secrets of Crestwell Hall, I have worked hard to give a voice to Bess who was a real woman of formidable character who had to cope with the difficulty of having a husband incarcerated in the Tower of London, guilty of treason. I became interested in her in 2019 when I was researching The Arbella Stuart Conspiracy (Sapere Books, 2020), particularly as through her Throckmorton family she was connected to a considerable number of the nobility. It was this which was most important for The Secrets of Crestwell Hall because she is related to nearly all the wives of the Gunpowder Plotters.

It was even more intriguing because the wives were Catholic while Bess was a Protestant in the vast and influential Catholic Throckmorton family. This made her the perfect person to use as a rallying point for the other suspicious wives. Not only was she living with the difficulties of having a husband who was an attainted traitor – Sir Walter Raleigh – her religion gave her protection. 

Raleigh had been arrested in 1603 for his part in the Main Plot. This was one of two plots that took place in the aftermath of Elizabeth I’s death and the succession of James I. He was sentenced to death but this was commuted at the block to life imprisonment in the Tower of London. In the eyes of the law, he was legally dead, yet he remained very much alive. 

I tried to imagine how difficult this must have made life for Bess. Her husband’s lands and houses were forfeit to the Crown, yet she had two sons and herself to support. After the Gunpowder Plot was discovered, in the real version of events, both Bess and Walter fell under suspicion. However, with no evidence against them, the charges were dropped, yet for me, this was the hook I needed to draw together all the wives. 

Of the thirteen main plotters led by Robert Catesby, eleven were married. These women have been hiding in their shadows all along but now, I shall introduce you to them.  

By the time of the plot Catesby was a widower. His Protestant wife, Catherine Leigh had died in 1599. They had married in March 1593 and had two sons: William – who died as a baby – and Robert. The differing religions suggests various possibilities: it was a love match or in his youth, Catesby, was not such a zealous Catholic and political activist. It was after Catherine’s death he became more involved in politics.

The first person to join Catesby was John Wright, known to all as Jack. His wife was Dorothy Scott. They were teenage sweethearts, who married in 1588. Jack did not convert to Catholicism until the Essex Rebellion in 1601, then the family home of Twigmore Hall, North Lincolnshire became a safe house for Jesuit priests. When he was enthral to Catesby, Jack and Dorothy moved their six children to a house belonging to Catesby at Lapworth in Warwickshire. Dorothy was one of the wives arrested after the plot was discovered. 

Dorothy’s family has been harder to trace and at present, I am still searching.

Thomas Wintour, Catesby’s cousin was next to join up but there are no records he was ever married. However, the same cannot be said for Guy Fawkes. The Internet has a variety of theories and in her book, The Gunpowder Plot, Terror and Faith in 1605, Antonia Fraser suggests Fawkes may have been married to a Maria or Mary Pulleine and they had a son, Thomas. My research revealed various documents linking Guy Fawkes to the Catholic Pulleine family of Scotton Hall, Yorkshire. There are signed notices concerning rents and land ownership giving Fawkes a clear connection to the Pulleine family and this may have been where the suggestion arose but, alas I found no conclusive proof of his marriage. 

Two of the marriages of the plotters were known to be in tatters and the first of these was the marriage between Martha Wright and Thomas Percy. Martha was the sister of John and Christopher Wright, two of the plotters and was the daughter of a convicted recusant, her mother, Ursula Rudston. At the time of the plot, Martha and her husband were barely on speaking terms with rumours abounding that he had bigamously taken another wife. Despite this, in the aftermath, Martha was one of the six wives arrested and taken to London for questioning. 

The other couple having problems were Anne Tufton and Francis Tresham. He was another cousin of Catesby and well-known for his volatile nature. There are records detailing Tresham’s misdemeanours – assault, affray and general bad behaviour – and it’s possible this unreliability was the reason he was one of the last to be initiated into the Plot. 

Tresham was accused of writing the Monteagle letter, the document that revealed the Plot but Catesby accepted his explanation that he was not the culprit. Tresham was arrested on 12 November and died of an unspecified illness while incarcerated in the Tower of London. Anne’s reaction appears to be undocumented but as a Protestant, she would have been safe from the law and maybe, she was relieved to be free from the suspicion and drama of being married to such an unpredictable man.

The other wives (using their maiden names) were Gertrude Talbot (married to Robert Wintour), Margaret Ward (married to Christopher Wright), Dorothy Wintour (John Grant), Christina Browne (Robert Keyes), Elizabeth Tyrwhitt (Ambrose Rookwood), Mary Mulsho (Everard, Lord Digby) and Martha, the wife of Catesby’s loyal manservant, Thomas Bates. At present, I am still searching for her maiden name. 

Of these women, Margaret Ward, Dorothy Wintour, Christina Browne and Elizabeth Tyrwhitt were also arrested. They were taken to London and held at the houses of numerous aldermen of the City. 

Eventually, they were released without charge but their lives were damaged by their husbands’ traitorous behaviour. Homes were searched and goods looted by local militia. Mary Mulsho in particular was horrified at the violence with which her house was treated and the amount of goods claimed by law enforcement officers. 

The Gunpowder Plot remains one of the most famous incidents from James I’s reign and, while the wives survived their lives and the lives of their families would forever be tainted by the tang of gunpowder, treason and plot.  

Alexandra Walsh
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About the Author

Alexandra Walsh is a bestselling author of the dual timeline women’s fiction. Her books range from the 15th and 16th centuries to the Victorian era and are inspired by the hidden voices of women that have been lost over the centuries. The Marquess House Saga offers an alternative view of the Tudor and early Stuart eras, while The Wind Chime and The Music Makers explore different aspects of Victorian society. Formerly, a journalist for over 25 years, writing for many national newspapers and magazines; Alexandra also worked in the TV and film industries as an associate producer, director, script writer and mentor for the MA Screen Writing course at the prestigious London Film School. She is a member of The Society of Authors and The Historical Writers Association. For updates and more information visit her website: and follow her on Facebook, Twitter @purplemermaid25 and Bluesky

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