Stonyhurst Hall, home of Richard Shireburn and later given to the Jesuits to continue the work of the college founded at St Omers
On October 17th 1679 a few months after Thomas Whitbread’s execution, Stonyhurst Hall in Lancashire was raided, and its owner, Richard Shireburn was accused of complicity in a fictitious Yorkshire Plot, an offshoot of the Oates Plot in London. It is a sign of the hysteria of the times that such accusations were made without foundation, and many lives were ruined as a result.
Richard Shireburn, a Catholic who had been educated at St Omers Jesuit college, was a subscriber to a relief fund for impoverished Catholics and priests. This was enough to draw him into the fury surrounding the supposed Plot. Shireburn was able to defend himself, and his considerable status in the county helped to secure his freedom.
Stonyhurst Hall was given to the Jesuits in 1794 by Richard Shireburn’s descendants, where it provided a home for the Jesuit college founded at St Omers in 1593. The college still flourishes at Stonyhurst.
Plan of St Omers
But others were not so fortunate or well-connected as Richard Shireburn. Anne and George Thwing, the parents of the Catholic priest and martyr, Thomas, were also arrested and interrogated in the hysteria surrounding the Oates Plot, and the associated Yorkshire Plot.
Thomas Thwing was born in Yorkshire around 1635 and went to the English Jesuit College at St Omers, seen in this print, when he was around fifteen. He trained as a priest at Douai and returned to England as a missionary. Shortly after the arrest of his parents, Thomas too was incarcerated and brought to trial for the fictitious Yorkshire plot.
Thomas must have felt he had a good chance of acquittal, as another accused, Anne Tempest, had just been found not guilty, as had his own uncle, Sir Thomas Gascoigne. But while the jury were unwilling to convict influential local Yorkshire gentry, they did not extend the same mercy to Thomas Thwing, a Catholic priest. He was charged with plotting to murder King Charles II and planning to set up a large Catholic convent at Dolebank near Ripon. He was alleged to have raised £30,000 from Yorkshire Catholics to fund this joint project.
Bloodstained linen relic of Thomas Thwing
Conviction for Thomas Thwing was inevitable. He was condemned to be hanged, drawn and quartered in York.
He was executed on October 23rd 1680 and his body was given over to his friends - an unusual concession as traitor’s bodies were usually disposed of secretly by the government. This is a piece of the shirt he was wearing at his execution. It is stained with his blood, and was almost certainly collected as a relic by one of the Catholics involved with his burial. The shirt relic was afterwards smuggled to English Jesuits abroad, possibly in Rome or at St Omers.
A footnote to Thomas’s story records that his grave, in St Mary’s Castlegate cemetery, York, was disturbed in 1715. The brass plate attached to his coffin was removed – it was engraved Reverend Doctor Thomas Thwing of Howerth. There is no record as to what happened to his body, but the brass plate was exhibited in a Fairground Freak Show until it was sold in London in 1764 and has since been lost.