Select Page

It’s publication day for The Secrets of Crestwell Hall and I’m so excited to share it with you. This book has been a labour of love and has taken over five years to research.


Thank you to all the team at Boldwood Books, especially Sarah Ritherdon and Marcela Torres. Huge thanks to my lovely agent, Sara Keane, too.

The Secrets of Crestwell Hall

A king adorns the throne… He has no subtlety, no grace but he does not deserve to die in the way that has been planned and this is why we shall stop them, our men, our kin and save us all.’


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. But there she is shocked to hear talk of a new plot to murder the king.  So, unbeknownst to their menfolk, the wives of the plotters begin to work together to try to stop the impending disaster.

Present Day

Isabella Lacey and her daughter, Emily, are excited to be starting a new life at her aunt’s home, Crestwell Hall in Wiltshire. During renovations, Isabella discovers an ancient bible that once belonged to Bess Throckmorton, and to her astonishment finds that it doubled as a diary. As Isabella reads Bess’s story, a new version of the Gunpowder Plot begins to emerge – told by the women.

When Emily’s life is suddenly in terrible danger, Isabella understands the relentless fear felt by Bess, hundreds of years ago.  And as the fateful date of 5th November draws ever closer, Bess and the plotters’ wives beg their husbands to stop before a chain of events is set into action that can only end one way…

The Gunpowder Plot of 1605 drives the historical side of the story, so to give you some background, here is more information about the real women who have inspired this story.

The History

Remember, remember the fifth of November

Gunpowder, treason and plot…

The women connected to the Gunpowder Plot are hard to find in the pages of history; their names lost in the shadows of their husbands’ misdeeds, their identities blurred as the Gunpowder Plot casts its notoriety over all involved. Yet, these were the wives who must have known there was plotting afoot, even if they did not have the details. Women who could only guess at the potential consequences for themselves and their families should their husbands, brothers, cousins and friends succeed.

These are thoughts that have intrigued me for years. Did the wives know? And, if so, did they agree with the mayhem and murder their husbands intended to inflict upon London? What interested me even more was the fact these women were all connected through blood and marriage. We can only imagine the unease and terror they faced during this period, and I have done my best to bring their names and voices out of the shadows.

Here is a brief outline of the women featured in this story.

Elizabeth, Lady Raleigh aka Bess Throckmorton (6 April 1565 – 1631 we believe)

Married to: Sir Walter Raleigh (1552 – 29 October 1618)

As their spokesperson, I turned to Bess Throckmorton or Elizabeth, Lady Raleigh, to give her correct title. At the time of the Gunpowder Plot, her husband Sir Walter Raleigh was incarcerated in the Tower of London. His crime was being an instigator of the Main Plot, which had taken place in 1603. This was the second of two plots, the other being the Bye Plot, which sprang up in the aftermath of the death of Queen Elizabeth I. The intention was to replace James I on the throne with either his cousin, the Lady Arbella Stuart or his daughter, the Princess Elizabeth; both plots failed. However, in the background of these misadventures were a number of familiar names: Robert Catesby, Thomas Wintour, Jack Wright and Francis Tresham.

Bess would, no doubt, have been aware of the involvement of these men because she was related to them. These were her cousins, men with whom she had grown up and whose friends were all part of the same social circle. However, while they were Catholic and determined to fight for the freedom to worship as they chose, Bess and her siblings were the only Protestants in a family of known Catholics, the Throckmortons.

Her religion should have been enough to protect Bess but when the Gunpowder Plot was discovered, Robert Cecil, the Lord Privy Seal, once a close friend of Bess and Walter’s, accused her of being complicit. The supposed evidence was that she had visited the family home of Sherborne in Dorset to have it cleaned and ordered the armour to be polished, something which Cecil and his spy, Edward Cotterrel, stated was in preparation for a Spanish invasion. It was nonsense but at the time of such upheaval, it must have been worrying.

But Bess was a survivor. Born on 6 April 1565 to Sir Nicholas Throckmorton and Anne Carew at Beddington, her mother’s family home, Bess was a member of a large family. Her parents were elderly and already had six sons (not all living) when she was born. Four years later, her father, Nicholas Throckmorton was imprisoned, accused of supporting the English Catholics in their attempt to marry Mary Queen of Scots to the Duke of Norfolk. Although Anne worked with her friend Thomas Killgrew to have Nicholas cleared of the charges and released, being in prison broke him. A few years later he was eating salad at the Earl of Leicester’s house when he had a violent fit and died. Nicholas was buried at St Catherine Cree Church in the City of London and he left Bess an annuity of £500.

When her father died, Bess was nearing her seventh birthday. Her eldest brother, William, was eighteen but her second brother, Arthur, fourteen, emerged as head of the family suggesting William had health issues. It was her mother, Anne, who remained the most significant figure in Bess’s life.

In August 1571, Anne married Adrian Stokes, the second husband and widower of Frances Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk and stepfather to Lady Mary Grey, sister of the deceased Lady Jane and Lady Katherine Grey. Anne retained her Throckmorton name and title as well as her houses. She also acquired, through this marriage, Stokes’s house Beaumanor in Leicestershire, which became Bess’s new base.

A year later, Anne lent Henry Hastings, Earl of Huntingdon Bess’s inheritance of £500. It was done officially and was normal between aristocratic families but Bess would spend her life trying to have the money repaid.

Bess’s mother was determined to find Bess a place at court and on 8 November 1584, Anne achieved her dream for her daughter: Bess was sworn in as a Gentlewoman of the Privy Chamber. She was now at the heart of things, a woman of means and power. Three years later, her mother died and Bess drew closer to her brother, Arthur. The pair remained staunch allies throughout their lives.

By Autumn 1591, Bess was pregnant with Sir Walter Raleigh’s child. He was an important man at court, glamorous, dashing and the favourite of the queen. They married in secret and on 29 March 1592 Bess gave birth to a son, Damerei. A month later, with the baby and marriage still unknown to the monarch, Bess returned to court.

However, such things never remain secret. In May 1592, after Walter had officially drawn up a marriage settlement, which was signed by Bess’s brother, Arthur, the news of their marriage leaked and the queen banished Bess. As Bess’s life crumbled, she turned to her female friends for help, a strategy she would use again later in her life but this time it was to no avail. The queen would not allow Bess back to court and by 7 August 1592, she had Bess imprisoned in the Tower of London.

Her son, Damerei, was sent with his wet nurse to Walter’s London home, Durham House and Walter was placed under house arrest. Bess languished in prison and two months after her incarceration, she was given the heart-breaking news that Damerei had died. It was thanks to her brother Arthur that Bess was finally released in December 1592.

These events toughened Bess and when she was reunited with Walter, she brought a new understanding to her marriage. Her husband might have regained his former power with Queen Elizabeth but Bess was aware she could not rely on him. Her safety would have to come from her own guile and skill, along with the support of her brother.

In October 1593, Bess gave birth to a second son, Walter, known as Wat. By now Sir Walter was planning his first trip to South America to discover the mythical land of El Dorado. Bess spent her time drawing up bonds with investors, writing to Robert Cecil and ensuring the day-to-day running of their lives. This was the way their marriage progressed, Walter took high-prestige jobs, Bess balanced the books and ensured Walter had a home to return to after his voyages.

After Walter was attainted as a traitor, Bess once again turned to her formidable female friends for help. In The Secrets of Crestwell Hall, Bess refers to a letter written to Robert Cecil and signed by eighteen influential women when she was trying to save the Raleigh family home of Sherborne in Dorset. This is a true event and is the subject of an essay by Karen Roberston. (For details, see Bibliography.)

It was this idea of women supporting each other in times of crisis, which Bess used more than once, that I found irresistible. Bess was the perfect person to unite the wives and try to halt the men in their plot, saving themselves, as well as the king and hundreds of innocent Londoners. Even better, as a Protestant, she had distance from the known recusants involved, making it easier for her to organise the women because she was less likely to fall under suspicion.

My version of events is fiction but the facts around the story are true. The way the plot unfolds follows the timeline of historic documents from the period. The research for this has been painstaking. There are a great deal of discrepancies online based on hearsay and legend, however, I have used original sources and teased out the real facts.

Bess’s lover, Edmund Lascelles, was very much part of her life, as is the suggestion that her second son, Carew, might be his son, rather than Raleigh’s.

Crestwell Hall is a figment of my imagination but Robert Cecil was convinced Bess and Walter had an undeclared property somewhere which he was never able to locate.

Mary Ward is a real historical figure but her sister Martha is fictitious. I wanted a character who could cause problems and it was also a reference to the biblical story of the sisters Mary and Martha and the different ways they worshipped.

Catesby’s obsession with the number thirteen is from my imagination but once I had realised there were thirteen men, one leader, twelve followers and one who betrayed them, the allusion to the Jesus and his disciples was not one I could ignore. The Ten, though, the alchemists from Venice, were real.

There is no evidence the women sabotaged the gunpowder or even that they met to discuss the plot. However, each of the women featured was a strong, opinionated individual with a family to protect. They had grown up at the heart of power, they understood the games of the court and it is difficult to believe they did not know there were dastardly deeds afoot.

Here is a brief round-up of the wives of the plotters, listed in the order their husbands became involved. We will never know whether they encouraged or discouraged their men but ultimately they all shared the same fate of becoming widows when things went so horribly wrong, including Bess.

* * *

The Gunpowder Plotters’ Wives


Catherine Leigh (b: 1571/2. m: 1593. d: 1599) married to Robert Catesby (c. 1572, Warwickshire – 8 November 1605, Holbeche House, Staffordshire).

The wife of the instigator, Catherine was the daughter of Sir Thomas Leigh of Stoneleigh, Warwickshire, who was the son of Sir Thomas Leigh and Alice Barker (sometimes known as Coverdale) and Katherine Spencer, the daughter of John Spencer MP and Catherine Kitson. The Protestant Catherine was twenty-one when she married Catholic Robert Catesby in March 1593. They 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. She died in 1599.

Dorothy Scott married to John Wright (aka Jack) (January 1568 – 8 November 1605, Holbeche House, Staffordshire).

They were another pair of teenage sweethearts, it’s possible their first child, a daughter, Katherine was born out of wedlock in 1585, with the young couple finally tying the knot 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’s family has been harder to trace and at present, I am still searching.

Thomas Wintour (1571, Worcestershire – 31 January 1606, executed in Old Palace Yard, Westminster).

No records of a wife. (Although, you might want to read Tracy Borman’s The King’s Witch for suggestions!).

Mary Pulleine possibly married to Guy Fawkes (1570 – 31 January 1606, executed in Old Palace Yard, Westminster).

Within certain versions of these events online and in a number of books, it has been suggested Guy Fawkes was married to Mary Pulleine and had a son, Thomas. However, there are no surviving records to confirm it. There are records concerning rents and land ownership that give Fawkes a clear connection to the Catholic Pulleyne family of Scotton Hall, Yorkshire this may have been where the suggestion arose.

Martha Wright married to Thomas Percy (1560 – 8 November 1605, Holbeche House, Staffordshire).

The daughter of Robert Wright and convicted recusant Ursula Rudston, Martha was up to her eyes in Gunpowder Plotters. She was married to Thomas Percy, while her brothers were John (Jack) and Christopher (Kit) Wright staunch members of the team who had been at school with Guy Fawkes.

Martha’s husband, Thomas Percy, was well-connected. His grandfather was the 4th Earl of Northumberland and his second cousin was the incumbent earl: Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland, who was married to Dorothy Devereux, sister of the Earl of Essex, who had led the 1601 coup.

Martha was one of six wives arrested a week after the plot was discovered. She was taken to London to be questioned and was held at the house of an alderman. She was eventually released without charge.

Martha married to Thomas Bates (1567 – executed 30 January 1606 in St Paul’s Churchyard).

The wife of Robert Catesby’s devoted servant, Martha’s parentage has been impossible to trace.

Gertrude Talbot (1563 – 1608) married to Robert Wintour (executed 30 January 1606 in St Paul’s Churchyard)

Gertrude was the daughter of Sir John Talbot and his second wife, Katherine Petre. Her brother was George Talbot, 9th Earl of Shrewsbury, who was also a Catholic priest. The Talbots were an important and influential family with connections to royalty through Lady Arbella Stuart. They were also known Catholics.

Gertrude and Robert lived at Huddington Court and had three children: John (1595 – 1622); Mary (1597 – 1617) and Helena (1600 – 1671). After the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot, their house was used as a refuge for the men as they fled. Robert was the last of the plotters to be arrested on 9 January 1606.

Gertrude was not arrested and it has been suggested by historians that her aristocratic Talbot background was what saved her from this humiliation.

Margaret Ward married to Christopher (Kit) Wright (8 November 1605, Holbeche House, Staffordshire).

The sister of Marmaduke Ward, a bailiff for Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, he was married to her husband’s sister, Ursula. With this knot of connections, the Catholic Margaret was at the heart of the plot with her husband, her brother-in-law, Jack, her sister-in-law Martha and Martha’s husband, Thomas Percy. Everywhere she turned, there was a plotter.

She was one of the wives who was arrested the week after the plot had been discovered and taken to London. She, like Martha Percy, was released without charge.

Dorothy Wintour married to John Grant (1570 – 31 January 1606, executed in Old Palace Yard, Westminster).

The sister of Thomas and Robert Wintour, she was the daughter of George Wintour of Coldwell, Worcestershire and Jane Ingleby. Dorothy and her husband owned Norbrook, a house not far from Stratford-upon-Avon. This was regarded as a strategic stronghold and was used to store a second consignment of gunpowder. In the months leading up to the plot, John Grant began storing weapons, so it is probable Dorothy was aware plans were being made.

When the men fled London, they stopped at Norbrook where they took the new shipment of explosives, hoping to make it to the Welsh borders and hide in the mountains.

Dorothy and John had one son, Wintour Grant. Dorothy was arrested and forcibly removed to London. Again, she was eventually released without charge but her house and fortune were lost.

Christina (Browne?) married to Robert Keyes (1565 – 31 January 1606, executed in Old Palace Yard, Westminster).

There are no definite records of Christina’s maiden name, so it was difficult to trace her connections. However, it is recorded that Christina was the widow of Thomas Groome and was working as governess to the children of Henry Mordaunt, 4th Baron Mordaunt, when she married Keyes.

Christina was also arrested but released without charge.

Elizabeth Tyrwhitt married to Ambrose Rookwood (1578 – 31 January 1606, executed in Old Palace Yard, Westminster).

The daughter of William Tyrwhitt and Catherine Browne, Elizabeth and her family were an old, wealthy and prominent Catholic family. Her marriage to Ambrose was a power match combining two powerful Catholic families.

Rookwood was the go-to man for horses and provided many of the superior bloodstock used by the other plotters. He also procured the first haul of gunpowder for Catesby.

Elizabeth was arrested with the other wives but, she was released without charge.

Anne Tufton married to Francis Tresham (1567 – 23 December 1605 in the Tower of London, of a natural illness).

Anne was married to Robert Catesby’s cousin, Francis Tresham. She was the daughter of Sir John Tufton of Hothfield in Kent and his first wife, Olympia Blore.

She married Tresham in 1593 and they had three children: twins, Lucy and Thomas, and Elizabeth. Thomas died young, Lucy became a nun and Elizabeth married Sir George Heneage of Hainton, Lincs. Records of Tresham’s misdemeanours – assault, affray and general bad behaviour – suggest he was unreliable. The volatility of his nature could be the reason he was not initiated into the plot until October 1605. He was arrested on 12 November after being named by Guy Fawkes. Tresham died of an unspecified illness while incarcerated in the Tower of London.

Tresham was also accused of writing the Monteagle letter. However, Catesby accepted his explanation that he was not the culprit. Strangely, Tresham did not flee with the other men but remained hidden in London.

Anne’s reaction is undocumented but as a Protestant, she would have been safe from the law.

Mary Mulsho was the daughter and heiress of the staunchly Protestant William Mulsho of Gothurst (later Gayhurst). In 1596, she married Sir Everard Digby, who was born a Catholic but was raised as a ward of court as a Protestant. The marriage seemed to be happy and they had two sons: Sir Kenelm Digby (11 July 1603 – 11 June 1665) who married Venetia Stanley and John Digby.

After the plot was discovered, Sir Everard Digby joined his co-conspirators at Holbeche House, while Mary was at Coughton Court with the priest, Father Garnet.

Digby was not at Holbeche House when the other men were killed, he had ridden away accompanied by two servants to fetch help. He was caught and arrested a few days later and while in the Tower of London managed to smuggle out letters to Mary and other supportive Catholics.

He was tried separately because he pleaded guilty and made a speech from the scaffold referring to what Catholics thought were promises made by the king at the beginning of his reign, all of which had been reneged upon. Mary escaped punishment and after her husband’s execution, she was allowed to keep Gayhurst House. It was eventually inherited by their eldest son, Sir Kenelm Digby.


Select Bibliography

Beer, Anna, Bess, The Life of Lady Raleigh, Wife to Sir Walter (London, 2004)

Beer, Anna, Patriot or Traitor, The Life and Death of Sir Walter Raleigh (London, 2018)

Camden, W., The Historie of the Most Renowned and Victorious Princesse Elizabeth, Late Queene of England(London, 1630)

Croft, Pauline, ‘The Catholic Gentry, the Earl of Salisbury and the Baronets of 1611’ in Conformity and Orthodoxy in the English Church c. 1560-1660, eds Peter Lake and Michael Questier, 2000, pp. 262-81

de Lisle, Leanda, After Elizabeth (Harper Perennial, London, 2004)

Fraser, Antonia, The Gunpowder Plot, Terror and Faith in 1605 (Weidenfield & Nicholson, London, 1996)

Gristwood, Sarah, Arbella, England’s Lost Queen (Transworld Publishers, London 2003)

Haynes, Alan, The Gunpowder Plot, Faith in Rebellion (Grange Books, London, 1994)

Matusiak, John, James I, Scotland’s King of England (The History Press, Stroud, 2013)

Norrington, Ruth, In the Shadow of the Throne, the Lady Arbella Stuart (Peter Owen Publishers, London, 2002)

Robertson, Karen, ‘Tracing Women’s Connections from a Letter by Elizabeth Ralegh’, in Maids and Mistresses, Cousins and Queens: Women’s Alliances in Early Modern England, eds Susan Frye and Karen Robertson, 1999, pp 149-50, 158

Shawcross, John T. (edited), The Complete Poetry of John Milton (Double Day, New York, 1963)

Wenman, Alexandra, Archangel Alchemy Healing, The Celestial Science in the Vibration of the Universe (Findhorn Press, Vermont, 2022)