Meet the Heywoods: Poetry, Powderplot, Espionage, Mutiny, Slavery... and Lots of Daughters

Heywood family crest.
Much has been written over the years about various members of the Heywood family, the longtime residents of Heywood Hall. Some of it is rather dramatic. Much of it is not true.

The family was first recorded in the local area in 1165. They were local landowners for over 400 years, from the time that that Adam de Bury granted ‘one parcel of land hereinafter called Hewode’ to Peter de Hewode in the 1270s, until when the family sold off Heywood Hall in 1717.

Sons and Daughters
This slice of the family history begins in the early 16th century, mainly to highlight the tendency of the Heywood family to produce female children. Had there been gender equality back in the day, the Heywood daughters might have featured more prominently in history. As it was, the family home and title passed to first-born sons, and the daughters generally married into families of similar social status around the north of England. This must have been something of a drain on the family coffers as propertied families signed wedding contracts which set out the terms of dowry, jointure, and other financial matters. The bride was expected to bring a dowry of money, goods, and property the marriage.

Three 16th-century generations of the family demonstrated the strength of the XX chromosomes. Peter Heywood married Janet de Meadowcroft in the early 1500s and they had five girls before two sons came along. The eldest boy, James, had three daughters before producing a male heir, Peter. This Peter married Margaret of Ewood Hall in 1573 and they had seven girls before the first boy was born, and so it was that Deborah, Dorothy, Grace, another Grace, Elizabeth, Mary and Anne were all overlooked as heirs when Robert, baby number eight, was born. He was followed by little brother Peter and it is at this point that the family history starts to get interesting, historically speaking.

Robert Heywood, the Poet
Robert, the eldest son of Peter and Margaret Heywood, was born during the 1570s. He married Margaret, daughter of John Asheton of Penketh, Lancashire, and in 1611 oversaw the rebuilding of Heywood Hall.

The nonconformist minister Oliver Heywood (not a direct relative) referred to him as ‘a pious reverend old gentleman, and an excellent poet’. Robert left a reminder of his poetic talents in ‘Observations and Instructions, Divine and Morall’, which was thought to have been lost until a transcript turned up in a sale at Sotheby's in 1868. This was printed by the Chetham Society in 1869.

The scholar and poet Richard James visited Robert in 1636 and recorded the events of his stay there in his lengthy poem ‘Iter Lancastrense’. James used Heywood Hall as a home base for exploring the northwest and makes several fond references to the Heywood estate in the poem, including this one:
'My safe bould harbour Heywood, much I owe
Of praise and thanks to ye where ere I go.
I love ye men, ye countrye, and ye fare,
And wish heere my poore fortunes setled were,
Far from ye courtes ambition, citties strife,
Reposd in silence of a countrye life,
Amongst ye Dingles and ye Apennines,
Whose safetye gave occasion to ould lines
Thus riming, "When all England is alofte
Then happie they whose dwelling's in Christ's crofte'
Robert Heywood died in 1645 at the age of 71. He and Margaret had a dozen children - the first six all girls and the next six all boys.

Peter 'Powderplot' Heywood
The life of Robert's younger brother, Peter, took a quite different course and is best remembered for a single momentary episode that took place under the House of Lords in November 1605. The following is typical of the kind of claims that are sometimes made about his actions during the arrest of Guy Fawkes that night:
'A member of the Heywood Family, and a resident of Heywood Hall, Peter Heywood was solely responsible for capturing Guy Fawkes on 5 November 1605. Guy Fawkes was plotting to blow up the Houses of Parliament by planting gunpowder in the cellar. As Fawkes was about to light the fuse on the torch, Peter Heywood spotted him and snatched the torch from him to prevent the destruction of Parliament. This is why we celebrate Bonfire Night on 5 November - to mark Peter Heywood's achievement in capturing Guy Fawkes!' (Rochdale Online, 31 October 2005)
Most of this is actually not true. Peter Heywood was born to the Heywood family, but as a second son (and non-heir) he pursued a career elsewhere and became a resident of Westminster, London. He was part of a syndicate that acquired many leasehold properties and made him a wealthy man, although not a generous one. Elected to Parliament for Westminster in 1626, his only recorded speech was a complaint about the cost of providing 'poor relief' to impoverished citizens. His political backers did not renominate him for a parliamentary seat in 1628 largely because he was also an enthusiastic local collector for Charles I's 'Forced Loan', a very unpopular tax.

Peter Heywood was also a zealous magistrate in Westminster who frequently fined swearers and drunkards (what would he have made of modern Heywood?). He also seems to have been an enthusiastic persecutor of Catholics, and as noted in Baines' History of Lancashire, 'It is highly probable that Mr Heywood had imbibed an undue portion of that anti-catholic zeal which characterised the times in which he lived'.

'The Discovery of the Gunpowder Plot' , Henry Perronet Briggs c.1823, Laing Art Gallery (Tyne and Wear Museums)

In November 1640 he was in Westminster Hall showing a friend a 'schedule of such suspected and notorious papists as were about Westminster’ when he was stabbed in the side with a rusty dagger by a Dominican Friar named John James. Heywood died 14 months later and his stabbing injuries could well have contributed to his demise.

Despite seeming to be an avaricious and generally not-too-pleasant person, Peter Heywood is most remembered for that brief moment in his life when he was part of the group of men who apprehended Guy Fawkes cellars under the parliament house. Although he never carried out the actual arrest (that was Sir Thomas Knevett), Heywood is reputed to have reached out and grabbed a lantern from Fawkes' hand. The lantern's flame was going to be used to ignite the fuse.

The supposed lantern of Guy Fawkes was presented to the Bodleian Library by Heywood's brother Robert. It bears the following inscription: 'The very lantern that was taken from Guy Fawkes by Peter Heywood, when he attempted to blow up the Parliament House.'

The extent of 'Powderplot' Heywood's role in those events has sometimes been exaggerated. Yes, he did carry out a useful action as Fawkes was arrested, but no, he was not 'solely responsible' for the arrest.

His epitaph at the London church in which he was buried reads:
'Reader, if not a Papist bred,
Upon such ashes gently tread'
Peter 'Turncoat' Heywood 
The next notable possessor of the estate was Peter Heywood, son of Robert the Poet and nephew of Powderplot Peter. True to family form, he was the first-born son but had six older sisters. He 'distinguished' himself in the English Civil War by at first being a captain for the Parliamentary army but then going over to the king's side shortly afterwards. His story can be read here:

This Peter was the first Heywood to be connected with the Isle of Man and he married Alice, the daughter of the Governor there. He died in 1657. He and Alice had nine children. Continuing the family tradition, the first seven were girls, then came two boys who were, also in the family tradition, named Peter and Robert. Young Robert went on to become the governor of the Isle of Man.

The last Heywood of Heywood Hall was Robert, a clergyman who in 1717 sold 115 acres of land in Heywood and several farms in Heap, Bury, and Middleton, to John Starkey of Rochdale for the sum of £1841 8s. 6d. It is thought that the sale was prompted by a decline in family fortunes as a result of the Civil Wars. Robert afterwards retired to the Isle of Man, where he died in 1742.

Peter 'Mutineer' Heywood
The Heywood family ties to Lancashire were now gone, although members of the later generations of this family were sometimes associated with the town. 

Captain Peter Heywood is no doubt the most written-about member of the whole lineage (and the only one with a Wikipedia page) thanks to his part in the legendary 'Mutiny on the Bounty' in 1789. He was an officer but chose to join the mutineers in their life on Tahiti. He was later recaptured and placed on the 'Pandora', and escaped from the hold when that ship sank. He was sentenced to death for his part in the mutiny but was reprieved thanks to family connections, and even went on to have a successful career in the Navy, rising to the rank of Captain.

Peter Heywood, by John Simpson, 1822.

There have been some misconceptions about the connection of this Peter Heywood to the town of Heywood, and a model of the 'Bounty' was even displayed in the Heywood Library. He was, however, several generations removed from his ancestral family home and very much a Manxman.

Peter 'Slave Master' Heywood
A sometimes-overlooked member of the family was Peter Heywood, grandson of 'Powderplot Heywood' and governor of Jamaica 1716-18. Like 'Bounty' Heywood he disgraced himself somewhat in a naval setting but still landed on his feet in later life. During the 1860s he served as captain of HMS Norwich, a ship that was rendered 'unfit for service' after he carelessly ran it into a reef near Jamaica. Heywood was court-martialled on board but was rather controversially cleared.

He went on to own a slave-staffed sugar plantation at 'Heywood Hall' in Saint Mary, Jamaica, before joining the Council of Jamaica in 1769, then becoming chief justice in 1703, and eventually the governor before dying in 1725. As was written in a 1714 publication called Groans of Jamaica:
'Our present Chief Justice, and chief judge of the grand court... was likewise bred at sea, from a boy upward, and happening to get command of a frigat, had the good or bad luck (I can't tell which) to lose her on a rock in sight of Port Royal, without any stress of weather; so, not thinking it convenient to return home, settled here and became first a planter and then a judge...'
The red marker indicates the location of the Heywood Hall Estate, Jamaica.

In short, the Heywood family were a mixed bunch who were connected in some way or other to a number of famous events in 16th/17th-century English history. Some occurred before the family branched from Heywood to the Isle of Man, and some happened afterwards. The result has been a number of misconceptions about the events themselves and the connections to Heywood, Lancashire.

A Heywood family tree printed in 1845 records the second son of Peter ‘Powderplot’ Heywood as William, rector of the Middlesex parish of St Giles in the Field 1636-63, Domestic Chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Chaplain to Charles I. William was even said to have been present, in his capacity as Chaplain, at the beheading of the king, although there is no documentation to support this claim, especially as Charles had a number of Chaplains. However, despite the appearance of William in the very extensive ‘family pedigree’, an article about him in the 'Oxford Dictionary of National Biography' names the St Gile’s rector as William Haywood, son of a cooper from Bristol. This would suggest that this particular member of the wider Heywood family had little to do with Heywood Hall, and shows the dangers of putting too much faith in old family trees.

   Related pages   

  • Edward Baines, History of the County Palatine and Duchy of Lancaster, 5 volumes 1888-93. 
  • BG Blackwood, The Lancashire Gentry and the Great Rebellion, 1640-60, Manchester University Press, 1978. 
  • Ernest Broxap, The Great Civil War in Lancashire (1642-1651), Manchester University Press, 1910. 
  • David Cressey, 'The Protestation Protested', The Historical Journal, Vol.45, No.2, 2002. 
  • Andrew Hopper, Turncoats and Renegades: Changing Sides During the English Civil Wars, Oxford University Press, 2013. 
  • Arnold Hunt, ‘Haywood, William (1599/1600–1663), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 
  • Michael Pawson, David Buisseret, Port Royal, Jamaica, University of the West Indies Press, 1974. 
  • Rochdale Online, 'Guy Fawkes 400th! Celebrate the Heywood Link', 31 October 2005. 
  • The Groans of Jamaica, Express'd in a Letter from a Gentleman Residing There, to His Friend in London, 1714. 
  • Charles William Sutton, 'Peter Heywood', Dictionary of National Biography
  • Andrew Thrush, 'Heywood, Peter (d.1642)', History of Parliament Online.


Chipper64 said…
Having done quite a bit of the family history, I've found that Peter wasn't a mutineer. He was cast below decks by Fletcher Christian during the actual mutiny to avoid him being classed as a mutineer and what was to follow with Blythe and the crew that were cast adrift.