Born: 1578?

Died: 31 Jan 1606, Old Palace Yard, Westminster

Father: Robert ROOKEWOOD of Stanningfield

Mother: Dorothy DRURY

Married: Elizabeth TYRWHITT

1. Robert ROOKWOOD


Ambrose Rookwood was the eldest son of Robert Rookwood of Stanningfield, Suffolk by his second wife Dorothy, dau. of Sir William Drury of Hawstead. The family was an old and influential one in the area, having held the manor of Stanningfield since Edward I, and had many members who represented Suffolk in parliament. However, the family remained staunchly catholic and many of them, Ambrose's parents included, were fined and imprisoned for their faith.

With the assistance of Father John Gerard, young Rookwood, along with two brothers and a sister, were smuggled to Flanders for their education. The boys were amongst the first pupils at St. Omers, a seminary school founded by Robert Persons (later to become Stonyhurst); the sister, Dorothea entering St. Ursula's, at the Louvain. In keeping with the family tradition, she became a nun, while the younger brother became a priest and returned to England. The elder brother died in Spain soon after leaving school. Another sister, Susanna, also became a nun.

In 1600 on the death of his father, Rookwood inherited his father's considerable estates, all four brothers by his father's first marriage having predeceased him. Along with his wife Elizabeth, dau. of William Tyrwhitt and Catherine Browne, he made Coldham Hall a 'common refuge of priests'. He was related by marriage to the Wrights, the Wintours and Robert Keyes.

An easy and cheerful man, "handsome, if somewhat short" and extravagant in clothes, he was one of the youngest and wealthiest of the conspirators, much loved in the catholic community and is described by John Gerard:

"But that which moved them specially to make choice of Mr Rookwood was, I suppose, not so much to have his help by his living as by his person, and some provision of horses, of which he had divers of the best: but for himself, he was known to be of great virtue and no less valour and very secret. He was also of very good parts otherwise as for wit and learning, having spent much of his youth in study. He was at this time, as I take it, not past twenty-six or twenty-seven years old and had married a gentlewoman of a great family, a virtuous catholic also, by whom he had divers young children"

In Feb of 1605, Rookwood himself was convicted of recusancy at the Middlesex county sessions, and joined the conspiracy soon after.

Close friends with Catesby, he had earlier provided him with gunpowder believing it to be for the new English regiment of catholics, which James I had reluctantly allowed to be formed to fight with Spain's forces after the conclusion of their peace treaty, and of which Catesby had some hope of being a lieutenant.

In order to be closer to the center of operations, he rented Clopton Hall, near Stratford-upon-Avon, and moved his household there. Between 29 Oct and 1 Nov he moved to London and took up lodging with his relative Robert Keyes at the house of an Elizabeth More. It was here he had delivered at 11pm on Nov 4 a sword hilt engraved with the Passion of Christ.

In the small hours of the morning of the fifth, the conspirators learned of Guy Fawkes' capture. Rookwood was one of the last of the conspirators to flee London. He remained behind to gather information until approximately 11am. Despite his late start, his posting of fast mounts enabled him to make an epic ride, quickly catching up to the other conspirators and continue with them onto Holbeache.

At Holbeache he was slightly injured by the accidental firing of the gunpowder, and during the raid was further injured by a John Street, who tried later to claim a reward for his services.

At his trial, Rookwood said that he had been induced into the plot for the catholic cause alone, and that he believed that it would help restore catholicism to England, although his friendship with Catesby, whom he 'loved above any worldly man', had made him much more open to the idea. He admitted his offenses were so terrible that he could not expect any mercy, but because he had been neither 'author nor actor', he asked for mercy so as not to leave a 'blemish and blot unto all ages'.

He was executed on 31 Jan 1606 in Old Palace Yard at Westminster along with Thomas Wintour, Guy Fawkes and Robert Keyes.

While being dragged to his execution, he asked to be told when they were passing his house in the Strand so he could have one last look at his beloved wife. He cried to Elizabeth 'pray for me, pray for me'. She replied "I will, and be of good courage. Offer thyself wholly to God. I, for my part, do as freely restore thee to God as He gave thee unto me".

For more information, visit:


Dictionary of National Biography

Fraser, Antonia, Faith & Treason - The Story of the Gunpowder Plot, 1996

Morris, John, S.J., ed., The Condition of Catholics under James I: Father Gerard's Narrative of the Gunpowder Plot,

Durst, Paul, Intended Treason,

Confession of Thomas Wintour

Salisbury (Cecil) Manuscripts Volume XXIV: Addenda 1605-1668, Historical Manuscripts Commission

Edwards, Francis, S.J., The Gunpowder Plot: the narrative of Oswald Tesimond alias Greenway, trans. from the Italian of the Stonyhurst Manuscript, edited and annotated, 1973

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