Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Throckmorton, Francis
THROCKMORTON, FRANCIS (1554–1584), conspirator, born in 1554, was son of Sir John Throckmorton of Feckenham, Worcestershire, by his wife Margery. His mother was daughter of Robert Puttenham, and her mother was Margery, sister of Sir Thomas Elyot [q. v.] The conspirator's father, Sir John, was seventh of eight sons of Sir George Throckmorton of Coughton, Warwickshire, and was brother of Sir Nicholas Throckmorton [q. v.] He sat in parliament as member for Old Sarum in Mary's first parliament, conjointly with his brother Nicholas. Both brothers were charged with complicity in Wyatt's rebellion, and John was condemned to death, but was subsequently released, and as a staunch catholic was received into the queen's favour. He was appointed master of requests. Subsequently Queen Mary, ‘in respect of his faithful service, bestowed upon him the office of’ chief justice of Chester, and made him a member of the council of the marches of Wales. He held both these posts for twenty-three years, and for three years was vice-president of the Welsh council. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth at Kenilworth in 1566. He long resided at Congleton, Cheshire. He was suspended from his post of justice of Chester within a year of his death. This disaster was popularly attributed to the malice of the Earl of Leicester, who was said to have brought to the notice of the government a trivial but unlawful alteration made by Sir John in the record of a case tried before him (Leicester, Commonwealth, 1641, p. 79; Camden, Annals, 1688, transl. p. 294). It is doubtful if Leicester were concerned in the business. According to Froude, Sir John Throckmorton suffered removal from his office owing to his avowal of sympathy with the jesuits. But whatever the immediate cause of his dismissal, there were fair grounds for suspecting him of maladministration of justice. He was charged in the Star-chamber with showing in his court illegal partiality to the plaintiff in a suit Grey v. Vernon. He was heard in the Star-chamber in his own defence, and a copy of his speech is among the Rawlinson manuscripts in the Bodleian Library (Cat. i. 494). Finally he was declared guilty and fined. The case was mentioned as a precedent by Lord-keeper Coventry in the Star-chamber in 1631 (Notes and Queries, 6th ser. xii. 328). Sir John died on 23 May 1580, and was buried at Coughton, Warwickshire, the chief seat of the Throckmorton family. A eulogistic epitaph, by his brother-in-law, Richard Puttenham [q. v.], was printed in ‘The Arte of English Poesie,’ 1589 (ed. Arber, pp. 189–90).
Francis matriculated from Hart Hall, Oxford, in 1572, aged 18, and was entered as a student of the Inner Temple in 1576. About 1580 he left England on a foreign tour with a brother Thomas. Sharing his father's zeal for catholicism, he visited the leading English catholics in exile on the continent, and learned from them the various plans that were forming for the re-establishment of the catholic religion in England with the aid of a foreign army. At Madrid Throckmorton discussed with Sir Francis Englefield [q. v.] the details of an invasion of England by Spanish troops. In Paris he met Thomas Morgan (1543–1606?) [q. v.] and Charles Paget [q. v.], the agents of Queen Mary, and he spent much time at Spa with other catholic malcontents in debating the feasibility of co-operation on the part of catholics in England with an army which the Guises were proposing to raise in the Low Countries. Returning to London early in 1583, Throckmorton settled in a house at Paul's Wharf, London, and organised means of communication between Morgan in Paris and the imprisoned Queen of Scots, and between the Queen of Scots and Mendoza, the Spanish ambassador at Elizabeth's court. His frequent visits to Mendoza's house were noted by agents of the government. Suspicion was roused, and he was suddenly arrested in October 1583 in the act of penning a letter in cipher to Queen Mary. Before he was carried to the Tower he managed to destroy that letter and to send a maid-servant with a casket of compromising documents to Mendoza. But when his house was searched a list was found of catholics in England who were prepared to aid in rebellious designs against Elizabeth. There were also seized plans of harbours sketched by Paget, and described by Throckmorton as suitable for the landing of a foreign force; treatises in defence of the Queen of Scots' title to the succession of the English throne; and ‘six or seven infamous libels against Her Majesty printed beyond sea.’
On his arrival at the Tower, Throckmorton was examined by members of the council, but he declined to reply to their questions. Orders were consequently given to question him under torture. He was racked for the first time on 23 Nov., and twice again on 2 Dec. His resolution gradually failed him, and he confessed that the two catalogues of the harbours and English catholics found in one of his trunks were from his own pen. They were intended, he admitted, for the use of Mendoza, the Spanish ambassador, to further the enterprise of the Duke of Guise for the invasion of England. He had planned with Mendoza a device whereby the catholics in England would be able at the moment of invasion to levy troops in the name of the queen, and, unless she consented to tolerate the catholic worship, it had been determined to attempt the overthrow of her government. Throckmorton was tried at the Guildhall on 21 May 1584. He pleaded that his confessions were insufficient to convict him, because by the statute of 13 Elizabeth it was required that every indictment should be laid within six months of the commission of the offence, and should be proved on oath by two witnesses. The judges replied that he was indicted not on the statute of 13 Elizabeth, but on the ancient statute of treasons, which neither required witnesses nor limited the time of prosecution. Throckmorton retorted that he had been deceived, and that the whole of his confession was false; that it had been extorted by dread of further torment by the rack, and under the impression that his revelations could not be used to imperil his life. Although he was at once condemned to death, his life was spared till he once more repeated the confession of his guilt. He was executed on 10 July at Tyburn; but on the scaffold he revoked his second confession, calling God to witness that it was drawn from him by the hope of pardon. The government published in June an official justification of his punishment, with the title, ‘A Discoverie of the Treasons practised and attempted against the Queenes Majestie and the Realme by Francis Throckmorton’ (London, 1584, 4to); this is reprinted in the ‘Harleian Miscellany,’ 1808, vol. iii. A Latin translation was published in the same year, and a Dutch version was issued at Middelburg in 1585.
Francis's brother Thomas permanently settled in Paris in 1582 as one of the agents of Queen Mary Stuart, and was an active supporter of Charles Paget [q. v.] On 23 Sept. 1584 Queen Mary wrote to Cardinal Allen at Rome urging the cardinal to recommend Thomas Throckmorton to the pope for a pension (Allen, Letters and Memorials, p. 396). He was betrothed to Mary, youngest daughter of George Allen, the cardinal's brother, but died, apparently at Paris, on 16 Oct. 1595, before the marriage took place.[Stow's Annales, p. 698; Camden's Annals, 294–8; Goodman's Life and Times of James I, ed. Brewer, i. 116–19; Guy Carleton's Thankfull Deliverance; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1581–90; Thorpe's Scottish State Papers; Letters and Memorials of Cardinal Allen; Wotton's Baronetage; Froude's History; Lingard's History.]