Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Habington, Thomas

HABINGTON or ABINGTON, THOMAS (1560–1647), antiquary, was a younger son of John Habington, cofferer to Queen Elizabeth, a man of good family and considerable wealth. Thomas was born at one of his father's manors, Thorpe, near Chertsey, in Surrey, on 23 Aug. 1560. At the age of sixteen he entered Lincoln College, Oxford, where he remained three years. He then went abroad and studied at Paris and Rheims, where he embraced the Roman catholic religion. On his return to England, he and his brother Edward [q. v.] joined those who plotted in behalf of Mary Queen of Scots. Edward was concerned in Babington's conspiracy and was executed on 30 Sept. 1586. At the same time Thomas was committed to the Tower, where he remained in captivity for six years. He was then permitted to retire to Hindlip, near Worcester, where his father had bought an estate and built a house which he bequeathed to his son. In his enforced retirement Habington gave himself to antiquarian research, and made a survey of the county of Worcester. He also converted his house into a hiding-place for persecuted priests, and showed great ingenuity in constructing secret chambers. There were no fewer than eleven of them, hidden behind the wainscots of rooms, built in the form of false chimneys, or accessible only by trapdoors. The position of Hindlip, on a hill which commanded a view over a large extent of country, made it a convenient place of refuge, and Habington successfully concealed his friends. After the failure of the Gunpowder plot, Habington's chaplain, Oldcorn, sent a message to the Jesuit provincial, Henry Garnett [q. v.] inviting him to take refuge there. He came accompanied by two lay brothers; but suspicion was aroused, and a neighbouring magistrate, Sir Henry Bromley, received orders to search the house. It was not till after twelve days spent in vigilant investigation that the hiding-place was discovered, 30 Jan. 1606 (Jardine, Narrative of the Gunpowder Plot, p. 185, and App. i.) Though Habington had no share in the plot, he 'was arrested for concealing traitors, but was released owing to the intercession of Lord Monteagle. There is a tradition that the letter warning Lord Monteagle was written by Mrs. Habington, and perhaps this belief weighed in her husband's favour. After this he was forbidden to leave Worcestershire, and applied himself with increased vigour to antiquarian research. He lived to the age of eighty-seven, and died at Hindlip on 8 Oct. 1647. He married Mary, daughter of Edward, lord Morley, by Elizabeth, daughter of William, lord Monteagle. There are portraits of him and his wife engraved in Nash's 'History of Worcestershire,' vol. i.

During his imprisonment in the Tower Habington translated Gildas's 'De excidio et conquestu Britanniæ,' which was published with a preface, London, 1638 and 1641. He also wrote part of the 'Historie of Edward IV of England,' which was published by his son William, at the command of Charles I, London, 1640, reprinted in Kennett's 'History of England,' i. 429, &c. But his important works were his manuscript collections for the history of Worcestershire, civil and ecclesiastical. The ecclesiastical portion, 'The Antiquities of the Cathedral Church of Worcester; to which are added Antiquities of the Cathedral Churches of Chichester and Lichfield,' was published, London, 1717 and 1723; but it was rapidly absorbed and superseded by William Thomas in his 'Survey of Worcester Cathedral,' published in 1736. The fortunes of his other manuscripts are described by Nash in the introduction to his 'History of Worcestershire;' they were used by Nash for that work, and are now in the library of the Society of Antiquaries. An account of them is given in Ellis's 'Catalogue of MSS. of the Society of Antiquaries,' pp. 48-9. Other manuscripts of Habington's at Stamford Court, Worcestershire, are described in 'Hist. MSS. Comm.' 1st Rep. p. 53.

[Wood's Athenæ Oxon. iii. 222-5; Nash's Hist. of Worcestershire, i. 585-7; Gillow's Dict. of the English Catholics, iii. 74-6.]

M. C.