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Brass of William Catesby, Ashby St Ledgers Church. Commissioned by William’s son in 1507. Date of death 20th August is incorrect, predating Bosworth, perhaps in an attempt to cover up his inglorious end. Note the damage across the neck. Photo Aidan McRae Thomas Flkir
As no doubt can be seen from the title of this post I have really not made my mind up about Catesby and the true essence of the man he was. The best and fullest account of his life is that written by Professor J A Roskell – William Catesby, Councillor to Richard III.
Mostly remembered for getting a mention in the infamous and nasty little ditty –
‘The catt, the Ratt and Lovell owyn dogge, Rulyn all England undyr an hogge’
which was found fastened to the door of St Paul’s 14th July 1484 (1). It might be assumed from this that Catesby, along with Ratcliffe and Lovell had an enormous amount of input into how things were being run during Richard’s reign – but is this true or was it just the spiteful pen of a man who had recently been dismissed from his job to be replaced by Lovell? The rebellious William Collingbourne, author of the verse, was later to be hung, drawn and quartered for treason. He is said to have uttered, just as his entrails were being removed from his body ‘Oh lord yet more trouble’. I seriously doubt someone who had been choked to within an inch of their life and in the course of being disembowelled would be able to say something quite so lucid and it just goes to show how you have to be very cautious with some of these quotes. Perhaps it was meant as a 15th century joke? But I digress, again, and back to our man Catesby. Certainly it would seem that Catesby was indeed an influential member of Richard III’s Council for the Croyland Chronicler mentioned that he and Ratcliffe’s opinions were those that the king hardly ever did offer any opposition to. However it should be borne in mind that whoever the Chronicler was at the time, he tended to take a dim view of Richard, can always be expected to take a negative view of proceedings and was wont to over egging the pudding.
Catesby was born c.1446 and died 25 August 1485. He was the son of Sir William Catesby Snr d.1478, a man with strong Lancastrian leanings and Philippa Bishopston d.1476. Sir William has been described as a former retainer in the Household of Henry VI whose real sympathies had remained Lancastrian (2). Catesby Snr became a trusted retainer of William Lord Hastings , close friend to Edward IV, who would later become a powerful patron to Catesby Jnr who had entered the legal profession. Sir William led an interesting life in his own right which is covered elsewhere. In 147I our Catesby Jnr married Margaret Zouche, daughter of William Lord Zouche of Harringworth – an excellent match for him. When his mother in law, Elizabeth St John, was widowed she married John Lord Scrope of Bolton. Through his natural aptitude and these ‘ties of kinship, the very bedrock of 15th century society, Catesby acquired numerous offices, stewardships and estates, to support his rising quasi-aristocratic status. He also began to acquire land and property through his own astute legal transactions (3). However I have to beg to differ here as it’s clear not all his transactions were legal, because in his will made immediately prior to his execution his conscience pricked him and he requested that his wife ‘restore all londes that I have wrongfully purchasid’. I will return to this later.
However Catesby, during his golden years, as well as having Hastings as a patron, became ever successful, attracting the right sort of clients such as Elizabeth, Lady Latimer daughter and co-heir of Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick and the Duke of Buckingham as well as acting as a legal advisor to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Catesby was clearly on a roll as they say.
When Edward IV died somewhat prematurely in 1483 a deadly struggle ensued between the Wydevilles and Richard, Duke of Gloucester as to who should have control of the heir to the throne, the 13 year old Edward V. Catesby’s reputation had come to the attention of Gloucester, who in May 1483 appointed him Chancellor of the Earldom of March and Justice of the Peace for Northamptonshire. Catesby had now absolutely arrived! Ever ambitious, Catesby saw even more opportunities of advancement and wealth if he threw in his lot with Gloucester entirely. His old allegiance with Lord Hastings was cast aside when it is said, he was asked to sound Hastings out regarding his feelings on Gloucester taking the throne in place of the young Edward V. Now whilst Hastings had no misgivings on removing the Wydeville family from power, he could not overcome his old loyalty to his friend, the deceased Edward IV. For him this was a step too far and one he was not prepared to take it would seem. Catesby reported this back. Daniel Williams who seems a little hostile to the Duke of Gloucester, wrote in his article The Hastily Drawn Up Will of William Catesby, Esquire, 25th August 1485 : ‘What actually happened will always remain conjecture but according to More who appears to be relying upon first-hand information, Catesby sees the opportunity of betraying his master and indeed other members of the young king’s council to the Protector and his faction. The devious complexity of what Catesby reported or did not report, made him a conscious catalyst in the subsequent course leading to the summary execution of Lord Hastings.
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