Robert Keyes was a conspirator in the 1605 Gunpowder Plot – an attempt to kill James I and as many in Parliament as was possible. Robert Keyes was caught and after a brief trial was sentenced to death.
Robert Keyes was born around 1565. He did not have the background of the likes of the Wrights, Catesby, and Rookwood etc. He was not born a Catholic. Keyes had a Protestant upbringing though his extended family had a Catholic background and he was distantly related to the John and Christopher Wright, two of the other conspirators, and to Thomas Wintour – another conspirator. Jesuits converted Keyes to Catholicism.
Keyes joined the plot probably in October 1604. He was not a wealthy man and did not have the financial background of some of the other conspirators. His primary task was to maintain Robert Catesby’s house in Lambeth and it is thought that Catesby rewarded him well for this. It is generally accepted that the gunpowder was stored at Catesby’s house before being moved on and it was Keye’s task to ensure its safety. One motive put forward for Keye’s involvement in the plot was that he envisaged a Catholic state in which he could become rich. The Jesuit priest John Gerard stated that the primary quality displayed by Keyes was his bravery.
On the night of November 4th, Keyes spent the night at a house with Ambrose Rookwood – his cousin. Guy Fawkes visited both men at around 22.00 to collect a watch so that he could time the fuse in the cellars of Parliament.
With the discovery of Fawkes, Keyes did what had been planned in such an event – he fled London. He was caught on November 9th after he had attempted to meet his wife to bid her farewell. He was sent to the Tower of London where he was questioned on November 30th.
Keyes was given a short trial and no one doubted what the verdict would be. Though he did not say a great deal in his defence, what he did say was recorded. Keyes stated that he had become involved in the plot because he could no longer tolerate the persecution, as he saw it, of Catholics in England. Such a defence did not spare him and he was found guilty of treason and sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered.
On January 31st 1606, Robert Keyes was brought to the Old Palace Yard at Westminster to be executed. He was the third man to be executed after Thomas Wintour and Ambrose Rookwood.
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