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The Silence, the Gunpowder and the Scots

Updated: Oct 28, 2021

In a recent blog post "Tudor Tangles and the Dreamy Caludon Connection" I looked at connections between the Berkeley family of Caludon Castle, Tudor royalty and William Shakespeare. Central to those connections was Thomas Berkeley who went on to support James Stuart on his succession to the throne of England following the death of Elizabeth I (Thomas' godmother).

James (unlike his staunch Catholic mother, Mary Queen of Scots) supported the Protestant cause and was the target of attempts on his life and those of his family and supporters - the most famous being the gunpowder plot of 1605.

Thomas Berkeley served as an Alderman on Coventry's council which would meet at St Mary's Guildhall. One of the previous uses of the building was to hold Mary Queen of Scots. Thomas' uncle (Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk - brother of Lady Katherine Berkeley) lost his life to the executioners axe on the orders of Queen Elizabeth I partially for support given to Mary - there were even reports of his intent to marry the Scottish queen. Lady Katherine also lost her father to the axe at the bequest of Henry VIII. I cover the strong connections between the Berkeleys and royalty in my city centre guided walk "The Bard, the Blitz and the Tudors".

Thomas also served at a national level under James I in the first Jacobean parliament and a biography is given on the "History of Parliament" site and can be seen here.

I have referenced the link between William Shakespeare and the Berkeley family in many of my previous blog entries. During the time following James' ascendancy to the English throne and the Act of Union the Bard's attention turned towards "Scottish" themes and witchcraft.

King James held an active interest in witchcraft at the start of his reign. He considered himself an expert in the subject and was the author of the book "Daemonology". Those accused of witchcraft were ruthlessly hunted down, tortured and executed.

Macbeth, set in Scotland famously features witches. Elements of the play were influenced by Shakespeare's visits to Coventry. In a recent article for the Coventry Society, "Will the Mysteries ever be played again in Coventry?" Paul Maddocks writes about how Shakespeare incorporated characters and themes taken from the Coventry Mystery Plays into his works.

Thomas' daughter, Theophila Berkeley (1596 - 1643), was a companion to James' daughter Princess Elizabeth who resided at Coombe Abbey under the protection and guidance of the staunchly protestant Harrington family. Part of the thwarted "gunpowder plot" involved blowing up Elizabeth's father King James together with the rest of his parliament and the kidnap from Coombe of Elizabeth. The intention of the conspirators was to "re-educate" her as a Catholic and intended ruler of the country. Their plan was to rule in her stead until she reached an age to take up more control.

We now know that the plan was thwarted and that Elizabeth never became the Queen of England although she did go on to achieve fame as the "Winter Queen" of Bohemia. Her eldest brother Henry died at the early age of 18 and the younger brother Charles went on to succeed his father. The saying "sent to Coventry" is said to originate from the time that royalists prisoners loyal to Charles I were shunned by the people of Coventry when held here.

Tradition has it that Elizabeth was moved out of Coombe to be met by a party at Jabet's Ash (the tree marking Coventry's eastern boundary on what is now the junction of Binley Road and Marlborough Road) ahead of being hidden at Palace Yard.

I spent an enjoyable Sunday morning helping out the "Visit Historic Coventry Litter Picking and Maintenance Group" tidy up around the tree and obscured plaque. The group was set up by Scott Duffin who is doing a great job in co-ordinating efforts to make some of our historic monuments and sites presentable for the enjoyment of all.

The current Jabet's Ash is actually a cutting taken from its parent which had marked the boundary for hundreds of years. Following Elizabeth's rescue and the survival of her father and brother the Stuart dynasty's reign continued for over one hundred years and there were many significant connections with Coventry. More to come in future posts.......

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