7 Things Everyone Should Know About the Gun-Powder Plot

 

1. On 5 November 1605 Guy Fawkes was caught in the cellars beneath the Houses of Parliament with 2,500kg of gunpowder, about to light the lot and kill King James I.

This was one of the most important terrorist plots against the British monarchy in all its history. Had the plan succeeded the British government would have been destroyed. Four centuries later, we still celebrate the fact our Parliament and monarch were saved from a fiery destruction…by lighting bonfires and watching fireworks displays. Ironic?

2. Guy Fawkes wasn’t the only one involved.

Fawkes may have gained notoriety by getting caught with the barrels of gunpowder, but there were 12 other main plotters, including: Robert Catesby, John Wright, Thomas Wintour, Thomas Percy, Robert Keyes, Thomas Bates, Robert Wintour, Christopher Wright, John Grant, Ambrose Rookwood, Sir Everard Digby and Francis Tresham. The point is, the plot wasn’t the work of one lone disaffected man but a group of conspirators.

3. The plotters intended to replace James I with his nine-year old daughter, Princess Elizabeth, and force her to convert to Catholicism

The men were organised and had a plan. The explosion was to occur during the State Opening of Parliament when not only the King but all members of the House of Lords and House of Commons would have been present. Senior judges, bishops, members of the Privy Council and many of the royal family were also present and would have been killed, making way for the plotters to erect their new government.

4. All the plotters were Catholic and wanted to kill James I because he was Protestant (and a Scot).

Despite the fact that James I was relatively tolerant when it came to his Catholic subjects, there were still deep divisions within England when it came to the issue of religion. Also, James was originally James VI of Scotland and inherited the English throne when his predecessor, Elizabeth I, died without producing an heir. He united the two kingdoms under his rule, much to the annoyance of some Englishmen (and Scots).

Fawkes_arrest25. The men rented a cellar which happened to go right under the House of Lords, in which they were able to put the gunpowder.

This sounds like a crucial oversight by the government of the day, but in the early 17th century the Palace of Westminster (where the Houses of Parliament sit) was a warren of buildings that was easily accessible to merchants, lawyers and others who lived and worked in the lodgings, shops and taverns. Security wasn’t considered in the same way as it is today.

6. This lead to the ceremonial searching of the cellars by the Yeomen of the Guard (Beefeaters) before the State Opening of Parliament which still happens today.

A small reminder that history is deeply ingrained in so much of British life, from our politics to our legal system to our national celebrations. The symbolism should not be forgotten.

7. Today, the mask of Guy Fawkes is worn by political protestors across the world, in countries where the Gun-Powder plot is almost unknown.

Although many would say that Fawkes was a terrorist, others now see him as a hero and freedom fighter, largely as a consequence of the film V for Vendetta. In the film, a vigilante wears a Guy Fawkes mask as he fights a fascist government. Activists (particularly the group Anonymous) have since adopted the mask as a symbol of their anti-establishment movements.

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  1. #1 by Luke Sprague, M.A. on 03/11/2014 - 4:39 pm

    Nice quick summary. Thanks.

    • #2 by hacampbell on 03/11/2014 - 8:19 pm

      Thanks Luke. I’m trying out a new series of posts, ‘Things Everyone Should Know’, which gives quick points on key historical events. This is the first post. Hope people will find it interesting and useful.

  2. #3 by steve kerensky on 11/11/2014 - 10:47 am

    Saving Britain from absurd papal restrictions on business, let alone from being burnt alive were key element in out economic, political and intellectual freedom. Fawkes, Catesby have a modern equivalent in Islamic State, not Martin Luther Kling or Nelson Mandela.

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