The Pearl of York, Treason and Plot
By Tony Morgan
When Margaret Clitherow is arrested for illegally harbouring Catholic priests, her friends, led by a youthful Guy Fawkes, face a race against time to save her from the gallows. As events unfold, their lives, and our history, change forever.
A Word From Tony Morgan
This is the premise behind The Pearl of York, Treason and Plot, a gripping historical novel written by Tony Morgan, set in the atmospheric streets and buildings of Tudor York.
Margaret later became known as the Pearl. Guy, of course is famous (or infamous) for his role in the Gunpowder Plot. As both were raised in prosperous Protestant families, how did they become Catholic enemies of the state? The novel explores the events which could have persuaded a happily married woman to consider martyrdom and transform a young Yorkshireman into a terrorist.
Like all good historical novels, the book is well researched and based upon underlying fact. Guy and Margaret lived within a few hundred yards of each other in the centre of York in the North of England. Guy was born in High Petergate or Stonegate. He went to a private school. His father and grandfather worked for the Ecclesiastical Court of the Church of England. Before marrying and moving to The Shambles, Margaret lived in Davygate. Her natural father was a successful businessman, an alderman and Sheriff of York.
Margaret converted to Catholicism in her early adulthood, influenced by a group of older local women. She quickly became part of York’s tightly knit group of recusants, dissenters who refused to attend the official Sunday Protestant church services.
Such public non-conformity came at a cost. Records from the time highlighting Margaret’s crimes and punishments make fascinating reading. Here are a few examples -
· 2nd August 1577 “John Clitherow’s wife refuseth service and sermons… committed to York Castle prison”.
· 9th February 1578 “Margaret Clitherow appeared with husband and took bond to yield herself prisoner again at the Castle on Tuesday after Low Sunday, ordered not to confer with disobedient persons… The husband to pay 2s for every Sunday and holiday his wife misses church”.
· 3rd October 1580 “Margaret, wife of John Clitherow butcher, refuseth to take an oath or conform; committed close prisoner to York Castle”.
For almost a decade, Margaret balanced family life with increasingly long spells in prison. In 1581, she was freed under temporary licence to give birth to one of her children. Yet, still she persisted. Two years later, in March 1583, she was sentenced to a further 10 months in jail. Her husband, local butcher John Clitherow, must have loved his wife. For although he remained a Protestant, he paid her fines, and if he wasn’t actively supportive of her errant ways, at least he accepted them.
|Margaret in prison.|
Refusal to attend Sunday service was an important crime, but there were worse. Anyone found guilty of harbouring Catholic priests, or hosting Catholic Mass, risked being sent to the gallows.
In 1586, Guy Fawkes was in his formative years, completing his education at St Peter’s School. Like all seats of learning, St Peter’s was aligned with the state religion, but beneath the surface lay Catholic undertones. With the previous headmaster languishing in prison for his Catholic leanings, the current incumbent, John Pulleyn, was forced to conceal his own Catholicism, as were many of Guy’s schoolmates. In later years, two joined him in the Gunpowder Plot, whilst others left England to train for the priesthood.
Guy’s father, a church lawyer, died when Guy was young. When his mother Edith remarried, it was to a Catholic. At this stage of his life, Guy was increasingly immersed in Catholic influences; at home, in school and on the narrow streets and snickets of York. It’s little wonder then, he became a Catholic, himself.
Such religious conversion could have had a major impact on any young man, but would it be enough to transform a Yorkshire schoolboy into becoming a terrorist, willing to kill hundreds of people by bombing of Parliament? Perhaps, something else happened to him, something violent, deadly and shocking.
Being near neighbours, Margaret Clitherow and Edith Fawkes would have been well known to each other. If they were friends, Edith may well have attended the secret Catholic Masses Margaret hosted behind the family’s butcher’s shop.
On 10th of March 1586, the city authorities lured John Clitherow away from The Shambles. His house and premises were raided by the Sheriff of York. Accused of harbouring Catholic priests, Margaret was arrested and dragged away from her children. If her friends thought she’d quickly be released (after all, her stepfather was the newly elected Lord Mayor of York), they were mistaken.
The whirlwind of events which followed were chronicled by a Catholic priest. From his secret refuge, Father John Mush couldn’t have seen everything. He would have needed an accomplice, as his eyes and ears on the streets of York and in the courtroom. The youthful Guy Fawkes would have been perfectly suited.
The story behind Margaret Clitherow’s trial is a fascinating one, filled with family tension, politics and intrigue. Here was an ordinary woman, possessing an extraordinary passion for what she believed in. It’s very possible Margaret inspired Guy’s future life.
The Pearl of York, Treason and Plot is available from 1st March on Amazon in Kindle and paperback formats. It can also be purchased locally in Yorkshire, for example at one of Tony’s history talks.
Tony Morgan is a Welsh author and university academic. He lives in North Yorkshire, near to the birthplace of Guy Fawkes and Margaret Clitherow. In addition to writing historical novels, Tony also gives history talks covering the events of the Gunpowder Plot and Margaret Clitherow’s life. To date, all profits from his novels and talks have been donated to good causes. In 2020, Tony’s supporting St Leonard’s Hospice in York. For more details, visit Tony’s website.