William Catesby

CATESBY, WILLIAM (d. 1485), councillor of Richard III, was the son of Sir William Catesby of Ashby St. Legers, Northamptonshire, by Philippa, daughter and heiress of Sir William Bishopston. His father died in 1470, but nothing seems to be known of Catesby till after the death of Edward IV, twelve or thirteen years later. Certain it is that he possessed great influence with Richard III before he became king. More speaks of him as a man well versed in the law, who, by the favour of Lord Hastings, possessed great authority in the counties of Leicester and Northampton; and it seems to have been owing to his presence in the Protector’s councils that Hastings, relying on his fidelity to him, was lulled into a state of false security. For Richard, we are told, endeavoured through Catesby to ascertain if Hastings would acquiesce in his intended usurpation of the crown, and Catesby went so far as to broach the subject to him; but Hastings answered with such ‘terrible words’ that Catesby not only saw it was hopeless, but feared a diminution of his own credit with Hastings for having spoken of it. He therefore, if More has not maligned him, stirred up the Protector to get rid of his patron. There is no doubt that he profited by his fall, for immediately after Richard’s accession he obtained an office which Hastings had previously held, that of one of the chamberlains of the receipt of exchequer. On the same day (30 June 1483) Richard appointed him chancellor of the exchequer, and also chancellor of the earldom of March for life. Next year he was chosen speaker in Richard’s only parliament. His influence with the usurper was pointed at in the satirical rhyme made by Colyngbourne, who suffered, though not, as commonly supposed, for that cause only, the extreme penalties of treason—

The cat, the rat, and Lovel our dog
Rule all England under a hog—

showing that of three leading councillors he was believed to be the first. His name appears on commissions for the counties of Warwick, Northampton, Leicester, Gloucester, and Berks, and on 15 Feb. 1485 he obtained a grant from the crown of the hundred of Guilsborough in tail male. That he must have been unpopular as the minister of a tyrant we may well believe; yet it is remarkable that Earl Rivers, one of the victims of Richard’s tyranny, names Catesby among his executors in a will made just before his execution (Excerpta Historica, 248). On 22 Aug. 1485, when the usurper fell at Bosworth, Catesby was taken prisoner fighting on his side. Three days afterwards he was beheaded at Leicester. Just before his execution he made his will, dated 25 Aug. 1 Henry VII, leaving its fulfilment entirely to his wife, ‘to whom,’ as he says in the document, ‘I have ever been true of my body.’ Evidently this instrument of tyranny had some virtue in him, of a kind not too common among courtiers. He desired to be buried in the church of St. Leger in Ashby, and wished his wife to restore all the land he had wrongfully purchased, and to divide the rest of his property among their children. ‘I doubt not,’ he added, ‘the king will be good and gracious lord to them; for he is called a full gracious prince, and I never offended him by my good and free will, for God I take to my judge I have ever loved him.’ At the end are these remarkable passages: ‘My lords Stanley, Strange, and all that blood, help and pray for my soul, for ye have not for my body as I trusted in you. And if my issue rejoice (enjoy) my land, I pray you let Mr. John Elton have the best benefice. And (if) my Lord Lovel (another of Richard’s adherents) come to grace, then that ye show to him that he pray for me. And, uncle John, remember my soul as ye have done my body, and better.’ Uncle John is Sir John Catesby, the justice [q. v.]

This William Catesby is often erroneously called Sir William, and spoken of as a knight. He was only an esquire of the royal body. The wife whom he left as his executrix was Margaret, a daughter of William Lord Zouche. His attainder was reversed by Henry VII in favour of his son George, and the family continued to flourish until the days of James I, when Robert Catesby [q. v.], fifth in descent from the subject of this notice, was attainted as the projector of the Gunpowder plot.

[Dugdale’s Warwickshire, 788; Baker’s Northamptonshire, i. 241, 245; Sir T. More’s History of Richard III (in Cayley’s More, ii. 199, 200); Fabyan’s Chronicle (ed. 1811), 672; Rolls of Parliament, vi. 238, 276.]

Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 09
Catesby, William by James Gairdner

Leave a Reply