Dictionary of Welsh Biography

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MORGAN , THOMAS ( 1543 - c. 1605 ), Roman Catholic conspirator ,

claimed descent from a ‘ right worshipful family of Monmouthshire ’; D.N.B. surmises this to have been the Llantarnam Morgans (qq.v.) , and David Mathew ( Celtic Peoples and Renaissance Europe , 89), those of Machen , but he cannot be fitted into the pedigree of either family as given in Clark , Limbus , 311-3, 322-3. After education at Oxford (college unknown) and service in the households of the bishop of Exeter and the archbishop of York ( 1561-8 ), he was recommended in 1569 by the earls of Pembroke (q.v.) and Northumberland to the service of George Talbot , 6th earl of Shrewsbury , at whose house at Tutbury , Mary Queen of Scots was then a prisoner. Morgan attached himself to the queen , conveyed her secret letters, and after examination by the council ( 15 March 1572 ) was imprisoned in the Tower for nine months as an accomplice in the Ridolfi Plot . On release he went to Paris , where as secretary to Mary 's ambassador , James Beaton , archbishop of Glasgow , he continued to manage her correspondence till, in 1583 , he was accused by Dr. William Parry (q.v.) of originating the assassination plot for which Parry was executed in 1585 . In the preceding year ( 1584 ) had appeared the anonymous libel on Elizabeth 's Protestant advisers known as Leycester's Commonwealth , of which Walsingham was convinced that Morgan was the principal author; Mary believed it was on this account that Elizabeth 's government implicated him in Parry 's ‘plot’ to give grounds for a demand for his extradition. Although Henry III dared not offend Spain by complying, he kept Morgan in the Bastille ( 1585-90 ), where he continued his correspondence with Mary (which was betrayed to Elizabeth ), and helped to organise the Babington Plot ( 1586 ). After Mary 's execution he adhered to her son James VI , maintained contact with Catholic friends and relations in South Wales , and tried to use them in his schemes ( Cal. Scot. Pap. , v, 87, 142, Hist. MSS. Com. , Cecil , iv, 1, 6-10). When he was freed in 1590 , his patroness's death had robbed him of his standing and his pension, while open opposition to the Jesuits and support for the claims of Mary 's son raised against him powerful enemies in his own camp. As a counterpoise to the influence of Parsons and Allen he urged the advancement of Owen Lewis , bishop of Cassano (q.v.) , whose views on English affairs he found more acceptable, and sent a Welsh Carthusian to Rome with that object. Expelled from France , he went to the Spanish Netherlands , where the Jesuit faction procured his imprisonment for another three years ( 1590-2 ). For the rest of Elizabeth 's reign he drifted ineffectually about Europe , and early in James I 's he approached Sir Thomas Parry (d. 1616 ) (q.v.) , our ambassador in Paris , with plans for reconciling the English Catholics and spiking the Jesuits ’ guns. In Jan. 1605 he was accused of conspiracy with Henry IV 's mistress (whose sister was in touch with the English Catholic malcontents) and was condemned to death, but at the end of the year he was still alive in Paris and in expectation of the legacy promised by Mary , Queen of Scots . After that he disappears from view, but it is possible that he was alive in 1611 .


  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography ;
  • Wood , Athenae Oxonienses , 1813–20. Sometimes cited in the first (1691-2) edn , i, 605-8;
  • Reports of the Historical Manuscripts Commission , Cecil , iii, passim , iv, 6-10, 571, xiii, 274, 296, xvii, 53, 493;
  • Calendar of State Papers, Domestic Series , Record Publication , 1580-1610 ;
  • Calendar of the State Papers relating to Scotland . Record Publication, 1858 ff , iii-x;
  • ‘Public Record Office—State Papers’ 78/50;
  • English Historical Review , liii, 628, 641;
  • The Listener , 16 March 1950.


Emeritus Professor Arthur Herbert Dodd, M.A., (1891-1975), Bangor

Published date: 1959