Sir Robert KEYES
Born: ABT 1565
Died: 31 Jan 1606, Old Palace Yard, Westminster
Father: Edward KEYES
Mother: Anne TYRWHITT
Married: Christiana ? (w. of Thomas Groome)
Keyes was the son of Edward Keyes, Rector of Stavely in North Derbyshire,
and his wife, a
dau. or sister of Sir Robert Tyrwhitt of Kettleby,
Lincolnshire. Although Edward was a Protestant, his wife's family were renowned
recusants. Through his mother's family, Robert was related to the staunchly
Catholic Babthorpes of Osgodby (who had a household of fifty two,
including two full-time Jesuit priests), and the Mallory and Ingleby
families of Ripon, and therefore was kin to John and Christopher
Wright of Plowland, and to Robert and Thomas
Wintour of Huddington Court. Undoubtedly brought up as a
Protestant, Keyes was a Jesuit convert at the time of the plot.
nearly 40 in 1604, and was described as a tall and red-bearded man. He was
employed by Lord Mordaunt, perhaps as a property manager, and his
wife Christiana, widow of Thomas Groome, was governess to Lord
had a servant at the time of the Gunpowder Plot, one
the sixth conspirator to join this plot, which he did so around Oct of 1604.
His job was to take charge of
Robert Catesby's home at
Lambeth, where the gunpowder and other necessary items were to be temporarily
apparently was not a wealthy man. During his trial, he maintained that he had
tasted persecution himself, having lost his goods because of it. He thought it
the lesser of two evils to die rather than to live in the midst of so much
tyranny, and the unending persecution of ruthless foes.
Tesimond confirms this: "They could not expect from him any help beyond
what he could give in his own person. He had neither possessions nor money more
than what was necessary to maintain himself and his wife. Apart from this, he
was a man magnanimous and fearless".
It is also claimed that one
of the reasons Keyes joined the conspiracy was at the prospect of wealth
and riches in a new Catholic state.
paid him and then took him into the plot on the conviction that he was a trusted
and honest man.
Gerard, in his Narrative of the Gunpowder Plot, says of him that
"... his virtue and valour were the chiefest things wherin they could
expect assistance from him...".
Little is known of
actual involvement in the early stages of the plot. He probably assisted in the
work of digging the mine, and it is thought he continued to oversee
Lambeth property until virtually the day of the plot's discovery.
record of his involvement comes with the discussions on which Catholic peers
should be forewarned of the explosion so that they could excuse themselves from
parliament that day. Keyes and Francis Tresham spoke on behalf of Lord
Mordaunt, whereby Catesby declared "he would not for the chamber
full of diamonds acquaint him with the secret, for that he knew he could not
keep it". It is possible that Keyes was aware that Lord Mordaunt had
James I, excusing himself from the opening of
parliament anyway because of business commitments.
night of 4 Nov,
who had been joined by his cousin
Rookwood, spent the night at the house of Elizabeth More beyond
Temple Bar, not far from Essex House. At about 10.00 p.m., Guy Fawkes
Keyes, and was handed a watch which
had left for him to time the fuse.
the early morning of 5 Nov, Keyes and
Rookwood became aware of the arrest
Guy Fawkes, but elected to remain a little longer in London until further
news arrived. Keyes was the first of the two to leave, but
Rookwood, riding a
superior mount, caught up with him at Highgate and the two rode together to
Bedfordshire before separating, for Keyes intended to ride to
house to inform his wife of the events and to bid her farewell. However, there
is evidence to support the claim that at this time Christiana Keyes was
holidaying with her Rookwood relatives.
Keyes as a deserter, alluding to the idea that he fled the
conspirators' group once given his chance on the road to Dunchurch with
Rookwood, and was hoping to hide out at the estate of
Lord Mordaunt, his
employer, knowing he was away on business at the time.
appears to have eventually been caught in Warwickshire on 9 Nov, perhaps
while heading to the Midlands to be reunited with his fellow conspirators. On 12
Nov, after a "little delay", he was examined by Sir Fulke
Greville in Warwick, at which time
that he had been on his way to visit
his kinsman, who he had heard was captured. Also on the list of those being
interrogated was one
brother-in-law to the Wright brothers.
named in a list of prisoners sent by Sir Richard Verney, Sheriff of
Warwickshire, in a letter dated 16 Nov, and he was interrogated in the
Tower on 30 Nov.
the trial, Keyes spoke little, but he showed plenty of spirit. He claimed that
his motive had been to promote the common good. That is, he hoped that his
native land would be turned back to the catholic faith. The violence of the
present persecution had driven him also to take part in the conspiracy.
time of his death, he showed, rather to the admiration and surprise of everyone
that he was a man of serious and mature disposition, possessing good judgement
and intelligence, and also great fervour and devotion.
On 31 Jan 1606, he was drawn to the Old Palace Yard in Westminster along with Ambrose Rookwood, Thomas Wintour and Guy Fawkes. After Wintour and Rookwood came Keyes "who like a desperate villain, using his speech, with small or no show of repentance went stoutly up the ladder". When he was on the ladder, "not staying the hangman's turn, he turned himself off with such a leap that, with a swing he brake the halter. But after his fall, was quickly drawn to the block, and there was quickly divided into four parts".
|For more information, visit:|
Durst, Paul, Intended Treason: What really happened in the Gunpowder Plot, 1970
Edwards, Francis, S.J., Guy Fawkes: the real story of the Gunpowder Plot?, 1969
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
Fraser, Antonia, Faith & Treason - The Story of the Gunpowder Plot, 1996
Gerard, John, The Autobiography of a Hunted Priest, tr. Phillip Caraman
Hatfield MSS, Hatfield House, Herts.
Haynes, Alan, The Gunpowder Plot, 1994
Simons, Eric N., The Devil of the Vault, 1963
Spink, Henry Hawkes, The Gunpowder Plot and Lord Mounteagle's Letter, 1902
Williamson, Hugh Ross, The Gunpowder Plot, 1951
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