Sir William Catesby

The Cat, The Rat, and Lovel our Dog…”

William Catesby came from a minor Northamptonshire family and trained to become a lawyer. He was reputed to be a very good lawyer, and used his family connections to gain posts as legal advisor, steward and councillor to various noble families including: Lorde Zouche, Lord Scrope of Bolton, the Duke of Buckingham and Lord Hastings.

It was with Lord Hastings approval, and perhaps encouragement that Richard III asked Catesby to join his council. Lord Hastings was said to have trusted Catesby implicitly.  Sir Thomas More implies that Catesby influenced Richard to get rid of Hastings, and Catesby profited considerably in lands and annuities as a result of Hastings’ death.

Catesby quickly became one of Richard III’s closest confidants. The Croyland Chronicler refers to William Catesby and Richard Ratcliffe as those “to whose opinions the king hardly dared offer an opposition”. Catesby was made Esquire of the King’s Body and in the Parliament of 1484 he was chosen Speaker of the House.

In 1485, when rumours surfaced of a plan by Richard to marry Elizabeth of York, the eldest daughter of his brother Edward IV, Catesby and Ratcliffe were said to be at the forefront of the opposition to such a marriage. It is claimed Catesby told Richard the whole of the North would rise against him in indignation, and he brought twelve Doctors of Divinity to assure the King that the Pope would never grant him a dispensation. Shortly after, Richard publicly announced that he had no intentions towards Elizabeth, and is said to have ordered that the bearers of the false tale be apprehended and their sources traced.

Catesby was with Richard III during the last months of his reign. In mid-May of 1485, Catesby travelled with Richard, Lord Stanley, John Kendall and others to Windsor, then on to Kenilworth where they stayed for two weeks. In mid-June, Catesby remained with Richard in Nottingham. In July, Catesby and other councillors begged Richard to refuse Lord Stanley’s request to return to his estates. Catesby also played a part in taking Lord Stanley’s son Lord Strange hostage, as a means to secure Stanley’s loyalty in his absence from court.

During the Battle of Bosworth, Catesby was at Richard’s side on Albion Hill. At the height of the battle, shortly before Lord Stanley’s betrayal, Catesby is said to have urged Richard to retreat, insisting “a single battle need not decide all”. Notably, after Richard’s refusal, Catesby did not ride into battle. Three days after Bosworth, Catesby was captured and executed at Leicester. In his last will and testament, he begged for mercy claiming he “ever loved Henry Tudor”. So ended the life of Richard’s “Cat”.

J. Nuttall

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