History Podcasts

Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot to Obliterate the British House of Lords

Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot to Obliterate the British House of Lords

We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.

Every fifth of November, people across the United Kingdom celebrate Guy Fawkes Night (known also as Guy Fawkes Day, Bonfire Night and Firework Night). Every November, cities and towns across the country put on fireworks displays to commemorate the day which fills the autumn air with a merry atmosphere. Yet, beneath the cheerful façade of modern celebration of Guy Fawkes Day lies a darker, more sinister history.

Guy Fawkes Day is in fact a celebration of a failed attempt to blow up the British House of Lords in 1605. This attempt is known today as the Gunpowder Plot.

Spectators gather around a bonfire on 6 November 2010, Staffordshire, England. Wikimedia

The reigning King of England that year was James I, who succeeded Elizabeth I upon her death in 1603. At that time, England was a Protestant country, and Catholics had been persecuted since the reign of Henry VII. These persecutions became more severe during the reign of James’ immediate predecessor, especially after the failed invasion by Catholic Spain in 1588. As James’ wife and mother were both Catholics, it was hoped that the situation for Catholics would improve. Some measures were initially taken to reduce the persecution. James, however, was pressured by some of his advisors to continue hound Catholics, as this would placate England’s more extreme Protestants, such as the Puritans. This resulted in a feeling of disappointment, and some Catholics were willing to take extreme measures. As a matter of fact, by the time of the Gunpowder Plot, James had already survived two assassination attempts.

A contemporary engraving of eight of the thirteen conspirators, by Crispijn van de Passe. Fawkes is third from the right.

The leader of the Gunpowder Plot was Robert Catesby, a wealthy gentleman from Warwickshire. In May 1604, Catesby met with four other Catholics, Guy Fawkes, Thomas Wintour, John Wright and Thomas Percy in London to discuss their plan. Although Parliament was to be adjourned in February 1605, it was postponed to the 3 of October due to concerns over the bubonic plague in London, thus giving more time to the conspirators to finalize their plan.

The plan was this: Blow up the House of Lords, lead a revolt in the Midlands, kidnap the nine year old Princess Elizabeth, and install her as a Catholic head of state. For this plan to succeed, Catesby was required to bring more men into the conspiracy. By the time of the Gunpowder Plot’s attempt, the enterprise consisted of 13 conspirators.

Yet, it was also this necessity that contributed to the Gunpowder Plot’s undoing. The more people who know about a plot, the more likely it will leak. On the 26 of October 1605, an anonymous letter was sent to William Parker, 4th Baron Monteagle, warning him against attending parliament for the opening and hinting at the plot. It has been commonly suspected that the letter was written by Francis Tresham, Monteagle’s brother-in-law and a late recruit to the plot. Uncertain about the letter’s meaning, Monteagle sent it to the Secretary of State, Robert Cecil.

On the 4 of November, buildings in and around the Houses of Parliament were searched, leading to the discovery of Guy Fawkes and 36 barrels of gunpowder in the undercroft beneath the House of Lords. Incidentally, after the gunpowder was seized, it was found to have had decayed, i.e. separated into its component parts after being left for too long, thus rendering it harmless. Had the English Parliament adjourn in October as planned (it was postponed to November due to the lingering plague in the capital), the Gunpowder Plot might have worked.

Painting showing the arrest of Guy Fawkes by the Royalist soldier Sir Thomas Knevet; Guy Fawkes (1570-1606) had been attempting to blow up the Houses of Parliament in the attack in 1605. Light gleams on the armour and rich clothing of Sir Thomas Knevet; On the left, a concealed lantern throws subdued light on one of Guy Fawkes' men, lighting his face from below. (1823).

In spite of the plot’s failure, it may be argued that it came quite close to fruition, leading some to suspect that the conspirators were aided by certain members of the English government. Nevertheless, this remains an unproven theory.

If the Gunpowder Plot had indeed succeeded, the course of English history would have been altered quite drastically. One possible outcome might have been the strengthening of Protestantism in England, with English Catholicism persecuted more harshly. On the other hand, it might also have been possible that a Catholic monarch could have been placed on the throne, and England eventually transformed into a Catholic dominated state.

Despite these speculations, English history took the path we all know today, and the significance of the failed plot for many today is more or less reduced to the annual bonfires and fireworks displays put on across the country.

Featured image: The Gunpowder Plot by Ron Embleton. Credit: Fine Art America


Hutton, R., 2011. What If the Gunpowder Plot Had Succeeded?. [Online]
Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/civil_war_revolution/gunpowder_hutton_01.shtml

www.historylearningsite.co.uk, 2015. The Gunpowder Plot of 1605. [Online]
Available at: http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/gunpowder_plot_of_1605.htm

www.parliament.uk, 2015. The Gunpowder Plot. [Online]
Available at: http://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/evolutionofparliament/parliamentaryauthority/the-gunpowder-plot-of-1605/

By Ḏḥwty

The Man Behind The Mask: Guy Fawkes, The Gunpowder Plot, and the Mask that Sparked Revolutions

You have probably seen the mask worn by protestors at G7/G8 summit meetings, or worn by members of the hacker group Anonymous, but you may not know too much about the man that the mask represents. His name was Guy Fawkes, and along with his co-conspirators, he plotted to assassinate King James I of England by blowing up the Houses of Parliament in 1605.

Members of Hacker Group &ldquoAnonymous&rdquo wear Guy Fawkes masks. csoonline.com

The second half of the 16th century was a time of increasing religious persecution of Catholics in England. Following Queen Elizabeth 1 accession to the throne in 1558 and the passage of the Act of Uniformity the following year, all British citizens, regardless of faith had to adhere to Protestantism. Catholics were required to attend Protestant services or face fines &ndash 12 pence in 1559 but by 1581, fines had risen to £20, which was a colossal figure at the time. Catholics who refused to attend Protestant services were known as recusants (Latin for protest). Catholic religious practices, such as marriages and baptisms were forbidden and Catholic children had to be educated in Protestant faith schools.
Pope Pius V believed that the true queen of England was Mary Queen of Scots. In 1570, Pope Pius V issued a papal bull &ldquoRegnans in Excelsis,&rdquo which excommunicated Queen Elizabeth and absolved all British Catholics from allegiance to her. This action heightened fears of a Catholic revolt. Also, Jesuits priests who had studied in seminaries in Europe and who had returned to England to try and keep the Catholic faith alive were seen as a threat to the Protestant hierarchy.
In 1581, a law was introduced which made the withdrawal of English subjects from allegiance to the Queen or the Church, treason. In 1585 a law banning Jesuit priests from entering England was brought in. However, many Jesuit priests were smuggled into the country and continued to teach the Catholic faith, but when caught, were routinely executed for treason.

Guy Fawkes. The Sun

It was into this world that Guy Fawkes was born in 1570. His grandparents were recusant Catholics and following the death of his father, his mother married a Catholic man, Dionis Baynbrigge. At the age of 23, Fawkes left England to fight for Catholic Spain against Protestant Netherlands in the Eighty Years War. Within three years Fawkes, who had begun using the name Guido, had risen to a position of command and was held in high regard.
Following Queen Elizabeth&rsquos death in 1603, Fawkes had hoped to persuade Spain to install a Catholic monarch on the British throne. But the Spanish were unwilling as they were still damaged by the devastating defeat of their Armada in 1588. Catholics hoped that persecution against them, which had increased under Queen Elizabeth I reign would now decrease following the appointment of King James I to the British throne. King James I wife, Ann of Denmark, was Catholic. And for a brief time, it looked like their hopes might become a reality. The state ceased collecting recusancy fines and Catholics were no longer obliged to attend Protestant services.

Guy Fawkes and The Gunpowder Plot

This resource contains a fully editable, 45 slide PowerPoint on Guy Fawkes and his role in the Gunpowder Plot and how this has resulted in bonfire night.

The PowerPoint focuses on:

  • Guy Fawkes' religious background
  • The intolerance of James I towards Roman Catholics
  • The Plot
  • The anonymous letter
  • Guy Fawkes arrest, trial and execution
  • The conspiracy theory
  • The Act of Thanksgiving

The PowerPoint ends with questions for discussion:

  1. In 2002 in a poll conducted by the BBC, Guy Fawkes was named the 30th Greatest Briton. What do you think about Guy Fawkes and his planned role in the gunpowder plot? Was he a hero or a terrorist?
  2. Do you think Guy Fawkes and the conspirators should have been sentenced to death and hung, drawn and quartered?
  3. What do you think about James I and his treatment towards, and intolerance of, Catholics?

The PowerPoint contains hyperlinks to two videos about Guy Fawkes and Gunpowder Plot.

You may also be interested in:

This resource contains a 93-slide PowerPoint presentation on fireworks and firework safety.

The PowerPoint includes sections on:

  • The history of fireworks
  • Records for fireworks - for example, the biggest firework display, the most sparklers lit at the same time, etc.
  • Interesting facts about fireworks - Handel's firework music, how the Catherine Wheel got its name
  • How to stay safe on Bonfire Night.

The PowerPoint contains hyperlinks to the world's top 10 best firework displays, to firework Related Guinness World Records, Handel's firework music, three firework safety videos - one for very young children, one for older children, and one for older students.

This is a fully editable, 50-question PowerPoint quiz on Bonfire Night, Guy Fawkes, and Fireworks. There are 3 multiple choice answers. It can be administered in a variety of ways - to individuals or teams. Answers can be found by clicking on the burning fire image on the bottom right-hand corner of each slide. Answers can be given either as you go through the quiz or at the end. An answer sheet is provided to record answers.

Sample Questions:

  1. What did Guy Fawkes change his Christian name to?
  2. What religion was Guy Fawkes?
  3. Which English monarch was reigning at the time of the Gunpowder Plot?
  4. How many barrels of gunpowder are said to have been hidden under the House of Lords?
  5. When arrested what false name did Guy Fawkes give?
  6. In which country were fireworks invented?
  7. Who was the Catherine Wheel firework named after?
  8. In ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring’ which character is famous for fireworks?
  9. In the Harry Potter stories by J. K. Rowling one of the characters is named Fawkes, what kind of creature is it?

The resource contains a hyperlink to the world’s top ten firework displays.


Religion in England Edit

Between 1533 and 1540, King Henry VIII took control of the English Church from Rome, the start of several decades of religious tension in England. English Catholics struggled in a society dominated by the newly separate and increasingly Protestant Church of England. Henry's daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, responded to the growing religious divide by introducing the Elizabethan Religious Settlement, which required anyone appointed to a public or church office to swear allegiance to the monarch as head of the Church and state. The penalties for refusal were severe fines were imposed for recusancy, and repeat offenders risked imprisonment and execution. Catholicism became marginalised, but despite the threat of torture or execution, priests continued to practise their faith in secret. [1]

Succession Edit

Queen Elizabeth, unmarried and childless, steadfastly refused to name an heir. Many Catholics believed that her Catholic cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots, was the legitimate heir to the English throne, but she was executed for treason in 1587. The English Secretary of State, Robert Cecil, negotiated secretly with Mary's son and successor, King James VI of Scotland. In the months before Elizabeth's death on 24 March 1603, Cecil prepared the way for James to succeed her. [b]

Some exiled Catholics favoured Philip II of Spain's daughter, Isabella, as Elizabeth's successor. More moderate Catholics looked to James's and Elizabeth's cousin Arbella Stuart, a woman thought to have Catholic sympathies. [3] As Elizabeth's health deteriorated, the government detained those they considered to be the "principal papists", [4] and the Privy Council grew so worried that Arbella Stuart was moved closer to London to prevent her from being kidnapped by papists. [5]

Despite competing claims to the English throne, the transition of power following Elizabeth's death went smoothly. [c] James's succession was announced by a proclamation from Cecil on 24 March, which was generally celebrated. Leading papists, rather than causing trouble as anticipated, reacted to the news by offering their enthusiastic support for the new monarch. Jesuit priests, whose presence in England was punishable by death, also demonstrated their support for James, who was widely believed to embody "the natural order of things". [6] James ordered a ceasefire in the conflict with Spain, and even though the two countries were still technically at war, King Philip III sent his envoy, Don Juan de Tassis, to congratulate James on his accession. [7] In the following year both countries signed the Treaty of London.

For decades, the English had lived under a monarch who refused to provide an heir, but James arrived with a family and a clear line of succession. His wife, Anne of Denmark, was the daughter of a king. Their eldest child, the nine-year-old Henry, was considered a handsome and confident boy, and their two younger children, Elizabeth and Charles, were proof that James was able to provide heirs to continue the Protestant monarchy. [8]

Early reign of James I Edit

James's attitude towards Catholics was more moderate than that of his predecessor, perhaps even tolerant. He swore that he would not "persecute any that will be quiet and give an outward obedience to the law", [9] and believed that exile was a better solution than capital punishment: "I would be glad to have both their heads and their bodies separated from this whole island and transported beyond seas." [10] Some Catholics believed that the martyrdom of James's mother, Mary, Queen of Scots, would encourage James to convert to the Catholic faith, and the Catholic houses of Europe may also have shared that hope. [11] James received an envoy from Albert VII, [7] ruler of the remaining Catholic territories in the Netherlands after over 30 years of war in the Dutch Revolt by English-supported Protestant rebels. For the Catholic expatriates engaged in that struggle, the restoration by force of a Catholic monarchy was an intriguing possibility, but following the failed Spanish invasion of England in 1588 the papacy had taken a longer-term view on the return of a Catholic monarch to the English throne. [12]

During the late 16th century, Catholics made several assassination attempts on Protestant rulers in Europe and in England, including plans to poison Elizabeth I. The Jesuit Juan de Mariana's 1598 On Kings and the Education of Kings explicitly justified the assassination of the French king Henry III—who had been stabbed to death by a Catholic fanatic in 1589—and until the 1620s, some English Catholics believed that regicide was justifiable to remove tyrants from power. [13] Much of the "rather nervous" [14] James's political writing was "concerned with the threat of Catholic assassination and refutation of the [Catholic] argument that 'faith did not need to be kept with heretics'". [15]

Early plots Edit

In the absence of any sign that James would move to end the persecution of Catholics, as some had hoped for, several members of the clergy (including two anti-Jesuit priests) decided to take matters into their own hands. In what became known as the Bye Plot, the priests William Watson and William Clark planned to kidnap James and hold him in the Tower of London until he agreed to be more tolerant towards Catholics. Cecil received news of the plot from several sources, including the Archpriest George Blackwell, who instructed his priests to have no part in any such schemes. At about the same time, Lord Cobham, Lord Grey de Wilton, Griffin Markham and Walter Raleigh hatched what became known as the Main Plot, which involved removing James and his family and supplanting them with Arbella Stuart. Amongst others, they approached Philip III of Spain for funding, but were unsuccessful. All those involved in both plots were arrested in July and tried in autumn 1603 Sir George Brooke was executed, but James, keen not to have too bloody a start to his reign, reprieved Cobham, Grey, and Markham while they were at the scaffold. Raleigh, who had watched while his colleagues sweated, and who was due to be executed a few days later, was also pardoned. Arbella Stuart denied any knowledge of the Main Plot. The two priests, condemned and "very bloodily handled", were executed. [16]

The Catholic community responded to news of these plots with shock. That the Bye Plot had been revealed by Catholics was instrumental in saving them from further persecution, and James was grateful enough to allow pardons for those recusants who sued for them, as well as postponing payment of their fines for a year. [17]

On 19 February 1604, shortly after he discovered that his wife, Queen Anne, had been sent a rosary from the pope via one of James's spies, [d] Sir Anthony Standen, James denounced the Catholic Church. Three days later, he ordered all Jesuits and all other Catholic priests to leave the country, and reimposed the collection of fines for recusancy. [23] James changed his focus from the anxieties of English Catholics to the establishment of an Anglo-Scottish union. [24] He also appointed Scottish nobles such as George Home to his court, which proved unpopular with the Parliament of England. Some Members of Parliament made it clear that in their view, the "effluxion of people from the Northern parts" was unwelcome, and compared them to "plants which are transported from barren ground into a more fertile one". Even more discontent resulted when the King allowed his Scottish nobles to collect the recusancy fines. [25] There were 5,560 convicted of recusancy in 1605, of whom 112 were landowners. [26] The very few Catholics of great wealth who refused to attend services at their parish church were fined £20 per month. Those of more moderate means had to pay two-thirds of their annual rental income middle class recusants were fined one shilling a week, although the collection of all these fines was "haphazard and negligent". [27] When James came to power, almost £5,000 a year (equivalent to almost £12 million in 2020) was being raised by these fines. [e] [28] [29]

On 19 March, the King gave his opening speech to his first English Parliament in which he spoke of his desire to secure peace, but only by "profession of the true religion". He also spoke of a Christian union and reiterated his desire to avoid religious persecution. For the Catholics, the King's speech made it clear that they were not to "increase their number and strength in this Kingdom", that "they might be in hope to erect their Religion again". To Father John Gerard, these words were almost certainly responsible for the heightened levels of persecution the members of his faith now suffered, and for the priest Oswald Tesimond they were a rebuttal of the early claims that the King had made, upon which the papists had built their hopes. [30] A week after James's speech, Lord Sheffield informed the king of over 900 recusants brought before the Assizes in Normanby, and on 24 April a Bill was introduced in Parliament which threatened to outlaw all English followers of the Catholic Church. [31]

The conspirators' principal aim was to kill King James, but many other important targets would also be present at the State Opening, including the monarch's nearest relatives and members of the Privy Council. The senior judges of the English legal system, most of the Protestant aristocracy, and the bishops of the Church of England would all have attended in their capacity as members of the House of Lords, along with the members of the House of Commons. [32] Another important objective was the kidnapping of the King's daughter, Elizabeth. Housed at Coombe Abbey near Coventry, she lived only ten miles north of Warwick—convenient for the plotters, most of whom lived in the Midlands. Once the King and his Parliament were dead, the plotters intended to install Elizabeth on the English throne as a titular Queen. The fate of her brothers, Henry and Charles, would be improvised their role in state ceremonies was, as yet, uncertain. The plotters planned to use Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland, as Elizabeth's regent, but most likely never informed him of this. [33]

Initial recruitment Edit

Robert Catesby (1573–1605), a man of "ancient, historic and distinguished lineage", was the inspiration behind the plot. He was described by contemporaries as "a good-looking man, about six feet tall, athletic and a good swordsman". Along with several other conspirators, he took part in the Essex Rebellion in 1601, during which he was wounded and captured. Queen Elizabeth allowed him to escape with his life after fining him 4,000 marks (equivalent to more than £6 million in 2008), after which he sold his estate in Chastleton. [f] [28] [34] [35] In 1603 Catesby helped to organise a mission to the new king of Spain, Philip III, urging Philip to launch an invasion attempt on England, which they assured him would be well supported, particularly by the English Catholics. Thomas Wintour (1571–1606) was chosen as the emissary, but the Spanish king, although sympathetic to the plight of Catholics in England, was intent on making peace with James. [36] Wintour had also attempted to convince the Spanish envoy Don Juan de Tassis that "3,000 Catholics" were ready and waiting to support such an invasion. [37] Concern was voiced by Pope Clement VIII that using violence to achieve a restoration of Catholic power in England would result in the destruction of those that remained. [38]

According to contemporary accounts, [g] in February 1604 Catesby invited Thomas Wintour to his house in Lambeth, where they discussed Catesby's plan to re-establish Catholicism in England by blowing up the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament. [35] Wintour was known as a competent scholar, able to speak several languages, and he had fought with the English army in the Netherlands. [39] His uncle, Francis Ingleby, had been executed for being a Catholic priest in 1586, and Wintour later converted to Catholicism. [40] Also present at the meeting was John Wright, a devout Catholic said to be one of the best swordsmen of his day, and a man who had taken part with Catesby in the Earl of Essex's rebellion three years earlier. [41] Despite his reservations over the possible repercussions should the attempt fail, Wintour agreed to join the conspiracy, perhaps persuaded by Catesby's rhetoric: "Let us give the attempt and where it faileth, pass no further." [35]

Wintour travelled to Flanders to enquire about Spanish support. While there he sought out Guy Fawkes (1570–1606), a committed Catholic who had served as a soldier in the Southern Netherlands under the command of William Stanley, and who in 1603 was recommended for a captaincy. [42] Accompanied by John Wright's brother Christopher, Fawkes had also been a member of the 1603 delegation to the Spanish court pleading for an invasion of England. Wintour told Fawkes that "some good frends of his wished his company in Ingland", and that certain gentlemen "were uppon a resolution to doe some whatt in Ingland if the pece with Spain healped us nott". The two men returned to England late in April 1604, telling Catesby that Spanish support was unlikely. Thomas Percy, Catesby's friend and John Wright's brother-in-law, was introduced to the plot several weeks later. [43] [44] Percy had found employment with his kinsman the Earl of Northumberland, and by 1596 was his agent for the family's northern estates. About 1600–1601 he served with his patron in the Low Countries. At some point during Northumberland's command in the Low Countries, Percy became his agent in his communications with James. [45] Percy was reputedly a "serious" character who had converted to the Catholic faith. His early years were, according to a Catholic source, marked by a tendency to rely on "his sword and personal courage". [46] [47] Northumberland, although not a Catholic himself, planned to build a strong relationship with James I in order to better the prospects of English Catholics, and to reduce the family disgrace caused by his separation from his wife Martha Wright, a favourite of Elizabeth I. Thomas Percy's meetings with James seemed to go well. Percy returned with promises of support for the Catholics, and Northumberland believed that James would go so far as to allow Mass in private houses, so as not to cause public offence. Percy, keen to improve his standing, went further, claiming that the future King would guarantee the safety of English Catholics. [48]

Initial planning Edit

The first meeting between the five conspirators took place on 20 May 1604, probably at the Duck and Drake Inn, just off the Strand, Thomas Wintour's usual residence when staying in London. Catesby, Thomas Wintour, and John Wright were in attendance, joined by Guy Fawkes and Thomas Percy. [49] Alone in a private room, the five plotters swore an oath of secrecy on a prayer book. By coincidence, and ignorant of the plot, Father John Gerard (a friend of Catesby's) was celebrating Mass in another room, and the five men subsequently received the Eucharist. [50]

Further recruitment Edit

Following their oath, the plotters left London and returned to their homes. The adjournment of Parliament gave them, they thought, until February 1605 to finalise their plans. On 9 June, Percy's patron, the Earl of Northumberland, appointed him to the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen at Arms, a mounted troop of 50 bodyguards to the King. This role gave Percy reason to seek a base in London, and a small property near the Prince's Chamber owned by Henry Ferrers, a tenant of John Whynniard, was chosen. Percy arranged for the use of the house through Northumberland's agents, Dudley Carleton and John Hippisley. Fawkes, using the pseudonym "John Johnson", took charge of the building, posing as Percy's servant. [51] The building was occupied by Scottish commissioners appointed by the King to consider his plans for the unification of England and Scotland, so the plotters hired Catesby's lodgings in Lambeth, on the opposite bank of the Thames, from where their stored gunpowder and other supplies could be conveniently rowed across each night. [52] Meanwhile, King James continued with his policies against the Catholics, and Parliament pushed through anti-Catholic legislation, until its adjournment on 7 July. [53]

The conspirators returned to London in October 1604, when Robert Keyes, a "desperate man, ruined and indebted", was admitted to the group. [54] His responsibility was to take charge of Catesby's house in Lambeth, where the gunpowder and other supplies were to be stored. Keyes's family had notable connections his wife's employer was the Catholic Lord Mordaunt. Tall, with a red beard, he was seen as trustworthy and, like Fawkes, capable of looking after himself. In December [h] Catesby recruited his servant, Thomas Bates, into the plot, [55] after the latter accidentally became aware of it. [54]

It was announced on 24 December that the re-opening of Parliament would be delayed. Concern over the plague meant that rather than sitting in February, as the plotters had originally planned for, Parliament would not sit again until 3 October 1605. The contemporaneous account of the prosecution claimed that during this delay the conspirators were digging a tunnel beneath Parliament. This may have been a government fabrication, as no evidence for the existence of a tunnel was presented by the prosecution, and no trace of one has ever been found. The account of a tunnel comes directly from Thomas Wintour's confession, [43] and Guy Fawkes did not admit the existence of such a scheme until his fifth interrogation. Logistically, digging a tunnel would have proved extremely difficult, especially as none of the conspirators had any experience of mining. [56] If the story is true, by 6 December the Scottish commissioners had finished their work, and the conspirators were busy tunnelling from their rented house to the House of Lords. They ceased their efforts when, during tunnelling, they heard a noise from above. The noise turned out to be the then-tenant's widow, who was clearing out the undercroft directly beneath the House of Lords—the room where the plotters eventually stored the gunpowder. [57]

By the time the plotters reconvened at the start of the old style new year on Lady Day, 25 March, three more had been admitted to their ranks Robert Wintour, John Grant, and Christopher Wright. The additions of Wintour and Wright were obvious choices. Along with a small fortune, Robert Wintour inherited Huddington Court (a known refuge for priests) near Worcester, and was reputedly a generous and well-liked man. A devout Catholic, he married Gertrude, the daughter of John Talbot of Grafton, a prominent Worcestershire family of recusants. [40] Christopher Wright (1568–1605), John's brother, had also taken part in the Earl of Essex's revolt and had moved his family to Twigmore in Lincolnshire, then known as something of a haven for priests. [58] [59] John Grant was married to Wintour's sister, Dorothy, and was lord of the manor of Norbrook near Stratford-upon-Avon. Reputed to be an intelligent, thoughtful man, he sheltered Catholics at his home at Snitterfield, and was another who had been involved in the Essex revolt of 1601. [60] [61]

Undercroft Edit

In addition, 25 March was the day on which the plotters purchased the lease to the undercroft they had supposedly tunnelled near to, owned by John Whynniard. The Palace of Westminster in the early 17th century was a warren of buildings clustered around the medieval chambers, chapels, and halls of the former royal palace that housed both Parliament and the various royal law courts. The old palace was easily accessible merchants, lawyers, and others lived and worked in the lodgings, shops and taverns within its precincts. Whynniard's building was along a right-angle to the House of Lords, alongside a passageway called Parliament Place, which itself led to Parliament Stairs and the River Thames. Undercrofts were common features at the time, used to house a variety of materials including food and firewood. Whynniard's undercroft, on the ground floor, was directly beneath the first-floor House of Lords, and may once have been part of the palace's medieval kitchen. Unused and filthy, its location was ideal for what the group planned to do. [62]

In the second week of June Catesby met in London the principal Jesuit in England, Father Henry Garnet, and asked him about the morality of entering into an undertaking which might involve the destruction of the innocent, together with the guilty. Garnet answered that such actions could often be excused, but according to his own account later admonished Catesby during a second meeting in July in Essex, showing him a letter from the pope which forbade rebellion. Soon after, the Jesuit priest Oswald Tesimond told Garnet he had taken Catesby's confession, [i] in the course of which he had learnt of the plot. Garnet and Catesby met for a third time on 24 July 1605, at the house of the wealthy catholic Anne Vaux in Enfield Chase. [j] Garnet decided that Tesimond's account had been given under the seal of the confessional, and that canon law therefore forbade him to repeat what he had heard. [66] Without acknowledging that he was aware of the precise nature of the plot, Garnet attempted to dissuade Catesby from his course, to no avail. [67] Garnet wrote to a colleague in Rome, Claudio Acquaviva, expressing his concerns about open rebellion in England. He also told Acquaviva that "there is a risk that some private endeavour may commit treason or use force against the King", and urged the pope to issue a public brief against the use of force. [68]

According to Fawkes, 20 barrels of gunpowder were brought in at first, followed by 16 more on 20 July. The supply of gunpowder was theoretically controlled by the government, but it was easily obtained from illicit sources. [69] [k] On 28 July, the ever-present threat of the plague again delayed the opening of Parliament, this time until Tuesday 5 November. Fawkes left the country for a short time. The King, meanwhile, spent much of the summer away from the city, hunting. He stayed wherever was convenient, including on occasion at the houses of prominent Catholics. Garnet, convinced that the threat of an uprising had receded, travelled the country on a pilgrimage. [70]

It is uncertain when Fawkes returned to England, but he was back in London by late August, when he and Wintour discovered that the gunpowder stored in the undercroft had decayed. More gunpowder was brought into the room, along with firewood to conceal it. [71] The final three conspirators were recruited in late 1605. At Michaelmas, Catesby persuaded the staunchly Catholic Ambrose Rookwood to rent Clopton House near Stratford-upon-Avon. Rookwood was a young man with recusant connections, whose stable of horses at Coldham Hall in Stanningfield, Suffolk was an important factor in his enlistment. His parents, Robert Rookwood and Dorothea Drury, were wealthy landowners, and had educated their son at a Jesuit school near Calais. Everard Digby was a young man who was generally well liked, and lived at Gayhurst House in Buckinghamshire. He had been knighted by the King in April 1603, and was converted to Catholicism by Gerard. Digby and his wife, Mary Mulshaw, had accompanied the priest on his pilgrimage, and the two men were reportedly close friends. Digby was asked by Catesby to rent Coughton Court near Alcester. [72] [73] Digby also promised £1,500 after Percy failed to pay the rent due for the properties he had taken in Westminster. [74] Finally, on 14 October Catesby invited Francis Tresham into the conspiracy. [75] Tresham was the son of the Catholic Thomas Tresham, and a cousin to Robert Catesby—the two had been raised together. [76] He was also the heir to his father's large fortune, which had been depleted by recusant fines, expensive tastes, and by Francis and Catesby's involvement in the Essex revolt. [l] [77]

Catesby and Tresham met at the home of Tresham's brother-in-law and cousin, Lord Stourton. In his confession, Tresham claimed that he had asked Catesby if the plot would damn their souls, to which Catesby had replied it would not, and that the plight of England's Catholics required that it be done. Catesby also apparently asked for £2,000, and the use of Rushton Hall in Northamptonshire. Tresham declined both offers (although he did give £100 to Thomas Wintour), and told his interrogators that he had moved his family from Rushton to London in advance of the plot hardly the actions of a guilty man, he claimed. [78]

Monteagle letter Edit

The details of the plot were finalised in October, in a series of taverns across London and Daventry. [m] Fawkes would be left to light the fuse and then escape across the Thames, while simultaneously a revolt in the Midlands would help to ensure the capture of the King's daughter, Elizabeth. Fawkes would leave for the continent, to explain events in England to the European Catholic powers. [82]

The wives of those involved and Anne Vaux (a friend of Garnet who often shielded priests at her home) became increasingly concerned by what they suspected was about to happen. [83] Several of the conspirators expressed worries about the safety of fellow Catholics who would be present in Parliament on the day of the planned explosion. [84] Percy was concerned for his patron, Northumberland, and the young Earl of Arundel's name was brought up Catesby suggested that a minor wound might keep him from the chamber on that day. The Lords Vaux, Montague, Monteagle, and Stourton were also mentioned. Keyes suggested warning Lord Mordaunt, his wife's employer, to derision from Catesby. [85]

On Saturday 26 October, Monteagle (Tresham's brother-in-law) arranged a meal in a long-disused house at Hoxton. Suddenly a servant appeared saying he had been handed a letter for Lord Monteagle from a stranger in the road. Monteagle ordered it to be read aloud to the company. "By this prearranged manoeuvre Francis Tresham sought at the same time to prevent the Plot and forewarn his friends" (H Trevor-Roper).

My Lord, out of the love I bear to some of your friends, I have a care of your preservation. Therefore I would advise you, as you tender your life, to devise some excuse to shift your attendance at this parliament for God and man hath concurred to punish the wickedness of this time. And think not slightly of this advertisement, but retire yourself into your country where you may expect the event in safety. For though there be no appearance of any stir, yet I say they shall receive a terrible blow this Parliament and yet they shall not see who hurts them. This counsel is not to be condemned because it may do you good and can do you no harm for the danger is passed as soon as you have burnt the letter. And I hope God will give you the grace to make good use of it, to whose holy protection I commend you. [86]

Uncertain of the letter's meaning, Monteagle promptly rode to Whitehall and handed it to Cecil (then Earl of Salisbury). [87] Salisbury informed the Earl of Worcester, considered to have recusant sympathies, and the suspected Catholic Henry Howard, 1st Earl of Northampton, but kept news of the plot from the King, who was busy hunting in Cambridgeshire and not expected back for several days. Monteagle's servant, Thomas Ward, had family connections with the Wright brothers, and sent a message to Catesby about the betrayal. Catesby, who had been due to go hunting with the King, suspected that Tresham was responsible for the letter, and with Thomas Wintour confronted the recently recruited conspirator. Tresham managed to convince the pair that he had not written the letter, but urged them to abandon the plot. [88] Salisbury was already aware of certain stirrings before he received the letter, but did not yet know the exact nature of the plot, or who exactly was involved. He therefore elected to wait, to see how events unfolded. [89]

Discovery Edit

The letter was shown to the King on Friday 1 November following his arrival back in London. Upon reading it, James immediately seized upon the word "blow" and felt that it hinted at "some strategem of fire and powder", [90] perhaps an explosion exceeding in violence the one that killed his father, Lord Darnley, at Kirk o' Field in 1567. [91] Keen not to seem too intriguing, and wanting to allow the King to take the credit for unveiling the conspiracy, Salisbury feigned ignorance. [92] The following day members of the Privy Council visited the King at the Palace of Whitehall and informed him that, based on the information that Salisbury had given them a week earlier, on Monday the Lord Chamberlain Thomas Howard, 1st Earl of Suffolk would undertake a search of the Houses of Parliament, "both above and below". On Sunday 3 November Percy, Catesby and Wintour had a final meeting, where Percy told his colleagues that they should "abide the uttermost triall", and reminded them of their ship waiting at anchor on the Thames. [93] By 4 November Digby was ensconced with a "hunting party" at Dunchurch, ready to abduct Elizabeth. [94] The same day, Percy visited the Earl of Northumberland—who was uninvolved in the conspiracy—to see if he could discern what rumours surrounded the letter to Monteagle. Percy returned to London and assured Wintour, John Wright, and Robert Keyes that they had nothing to be concerned about, and returned to his lodgings on Gray's Inn Road. That same evening Catesby, likely accompanied by John Wright and Bates, set off for the Midlands. Fawkes visited Keyes, and was given a pocket watch left by Percy, to time the fuse, and an hour later Rookwood received several engraved swords from a local cutler. [95]

Although two accounts of the number of searches and their timing exist, according to the King's version, the first search of the buildings in and around Parliament was made on Monday 4 November—as the plotters were busy making their final preparations—by Suffolk, Monteagle, and John Whynniard. They found a large pile of firewood in the undercroft beneath the House of Lords, accompanied by what they presumed to be a serving man (Fawkes), who told them that the firewood belonged to his master, Thomas Percy. They left to report their findings, at which time Fawkes also left the building. The mention of Percy's name aroused further suspicion as he was already known to the authorities as a Catholic agitator. The King insisted that a more thorough search be undertaken. Late that night, the search party, headed by Thomas Knyvet, returned to the undercroft. They again found Fawkes, dressed in a cloak and hat, and wearing boots and spurs. He was arrested, whereupon he gave his name as John Johnson. He was carrying a lantern now held in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, [96] and a search of his person revealed a pocket watch, several slow matches and touchwood. [97] 36 barrels of gunpowder were discovered hidden under piles of faggots and coal. [98] Fawkes was taken to the King early on the morning of 5 November. [99]

Flight Edit

As news of "John Johnson's" arrest spread among the plotters still in London, most fled northwest, along Watling Street. Christopher Wright and Thomas Percy left together. Rookwood left soon after, and managed to cover 30 miles in two hours on one horse. He overtook Keyes, who had set off earlier, then Wright and Percy at Little Brickhill, before catching Catesby, John Wright, and Bates on the same road. Reunited, the group continued northwest to Dunchurch, using horses provided by Digby. Keyes went to Mordaunt's house at Drayton. Meanwhile, Thomas Wintour stayed in London, and even went to Westminster to see what was happening. When he realised the plot had been uncovered, he took his horse and made for his sister's house at Norbrook, before continuing to Huddington Court. [n] [100]

Extract of a letter from Sir Edward Hoby (Gentleman of the Bedchamber) to Sir Thomas Edwards, Ambassador at Brussells [sic] [101]

The group of six conspirators stopped at Ashby St Ledgers at about 6 pm, where they met Robert Wintour and updated him on their situation. They then continued on to Dunchurch, and met with Digby. Catesby convinced him that despite the plot's failure, an armed struggle was still a real possibility. He announced to Digby's "hunting party" that the King and Salisbury were dead, before the fugitives moved west to Warwick. [100]

In London, news of the plot was spreading, and the authorities set extra guards on the city gates, closed the ports, and protected the house of the Spanish Ambassador, which was surrounded by an angry mob. An arrest warrant was issued against Thomas Percy, and his patron, the Earl of Northumberland, was placed under house arrest. [102] In "John Johnson's" initial interrogation he revealed nothing other than the name of his mother, and that he was from Yorkshire. A letter to Guy Fawkes was discovered on his person, but he claimed that name was one of his aliases. Far from denying his intentions, "Johnson" stated that it had been his purpose to destroy the King and Parliament. [o] Nevertheless, he maintained his composure and insisted that he had acted alone. His unwillingness to yield so impressed the King that he described him as possessing "a Roman resolution". [104]

Investigation Edit

On 6 November, the Lord Chief Justice, Sir John Popham (a man with a deep-seated hatred of Catholics) questioned Rookwood's servants. By the evening he had learned the names of several of those involved in the conspiracy: Catesby, Rookwood, Keyes, Wynter [sic], John and Christopher Wright, and Grant. "Johnson" meanwhile persisted with his story, and along with the gunpowder he was found with, [p] was moved to the Tower of London, where the King had decided that "Johnson" would be tortured. [105] The use of torture was forbidden, except by royal prerogative or a body such as the Privy Council or Star Chamber. [106] In a letter of 6 November James wrote: "The gentler tortours [tortures] are to be first used unto him, et sic per gradus ad ima tenditur [and thus by steps extended to the bottom depths], and so God speed your good work." [107] "Johnson" may have been placed in manacles and hung from the wall, but he was almost certainly subjected to the horrors of the rack. On 7 November his resolve was broken he confessed late that day, and again over the following two days. [108] [109]

Last stand Edit

On 6 November, with Fawkes maintaining his silence, the fugitives raided Warwick Castle for supplies and continued to Norbrook to collect weapons. From there they continued their journey to Huddington. Bates left the group and travelled to Coughton Court to deliver a letter from Catesby, to Father Garnet and the other priests, informing them of what had transpired, and asking for their help in raising an army. Garnet replied by begging Catesby and his followers to stop their "wicked actions", before himself fleeing. Several priests set out for Warwick, worried about the fate of their colleagues. They were caught, and then imprisoned in London. Catesby and the others arrived at Huddington early in the afternoon, and were met by Thomas Wintour. They received practically no support or sympathy from those they met, including family members, who were terrified at the prospect of being associated with treason. They continued on to Holbeche House on the border of Staffordshire, the home of Stephen Littleton, a member of their ever-decreasing band of followers. Whilst there Stephen Littleton and Thomas Wintour went to 'Pepperhill', the Shropshire residence of Sir John Talbot to gain support but to no avail. Tired and desperate, they spread out some of the now-soaked gunpowder in front of the fire, to dry out. Although gunpowder does not explode unless physically contained, a spark from the fire landed on the powder and the resultant flames engulfed Catesby, Rookwood, Grant, and a man named Morgan (a member of the hunting party). [110]

Thomas Wintour and Littleton, on their way from Huddington to Holbeche House, were told by a messenger that Catesby had died. At that point, Littleton left, but Thomas arrived at the house to find Catesby alive, albeit scorched. John Grant was not so lucky, and had been blinded by the fire. Digby, Robert Wintour and his half-brother John, and Thomas Bates, had all left. Of the plotters, only the singed figures of Catesby and Grant, and the Wright brothers, Rookwood, and Percy, remained. The fugitives resolved to stay in the house and wait for the arrival of the King's men. [111]

Richard Walsh (Sheriff of Worcestershire) and his company of 200 men besieged Holbeche House on the morning of 8 November. Thomas Wintour was hit in the shoulder while crossing the courtyard. John Wright was shot, followed by his brother, and then Rookwood. Catesby and Percy were reportedly killed by a single lucky shot. The attackers rushed the property, and stripped the dead or dying defenders of their clothing. Grant, Morgan, Rookwood, and Wintour were arrested. [111]

Bates and Keyes were captured shortly after Holbeche House was taken. Digby, who had intended to give himself up, was caught by a small group of pursuers. Tresham was arrested on 12 November, and taken to the Tower three days later. Montague, Mordaunt, and Stourton (Tresham's brother-in-law) were also imprisoned in the Tower. The Earl of Northumberland joined them on 27 November. [112] Meanwhile, the government used the revelation of the plot to accelerate its persecution of Catholics. The home of Anne Vaux at Enfield Chase was searched, revealing the presence of trap doors and hidden passages. A terrified servant then revealed that Garnet, who had often stayed at the house, had recently given a Mass there. Father John Gerard was secreted at the home of Elizabeth Vaux, in Harrowden. Vaux was taken to London for interrogation. There she was resolute she had never been aware that Gerard was a priest, she had presumed he was a "Catholic gentleman", and she did not know of his whereabouts. The homes of the conspirators were searched, and looted Mary Digby's household was ransacked, and she was made destitute. [113] Some time before the end of November, Garnet moved to Hindlip Hall near Worcester, the home of the Habingtons, where he wrote a letter to the Privy Council protesting his innocence. [114]

The foiling of the Gunpowder Plot initiated a wave of national relief at the delivery of the King and his sons, and inspired in the ensuing parliament a mood of loyalty and goodwill, which Salisbury astutely exploited to extract higher subsidies for the King than any (bar one) granted in Elizabeth I's reign. [115] Walter Raleigh, who was languishing in the Tower owing to his involvement in the Main Plot, and whose wife was a first cousin of Lady Catesby, declared he had had no knowledge of the conspiracy. [116] The Bishop of Rochester gave a sermon at St. Paul's Cross, in which he condemned the plot. [117] In his speech to both Houses on 9 November, James expounded on two emerging preoccupations of his monarchy: the divine right of kings and the Catholic question. He insisted that the plot had been the work of only a few Catholics, not of the English Catholics as a whole, [q] and he reminded the assembly to rejoice at his survival, since kings were divinely appointed and he owed his escape to a miracle. [119] Salisbury wrote to his English ambassadors abroad, informing them of what had occurred, and also reminding them that the King bore no ill will to his Catholic neighbours. The foreign powers largely distanced themselves from the plotters, calling them atheists and Protestant heretics. [117]

Interrogations Edit

Sir Edward Coke was in charge of the interrogations. Over a period of about ten weeks, in the Lieutenant's Lodgings at the Tower of London (now known as the Queen's House) he questioned those who had been implicated in the plot. For the first round of interrogations, no real proof exists that these people were tortured, although on several occasions Salisbury certainly suggested that they should be. Coke later revealed that the threat of torture was in most cases enough to elicit a confession from those caught up in the aftermath of the plot. [120]

Only two confessions were printed in full: Fawkes's confession of 8 November, and Wintour's of 23 November. Having been involved in the conspiracy from the start (unlike Fawkes), Wintour was able to give extremely valuable information to the Privy Council. The handwriting on his testimony is almost certainly that of the man himself, but his signature was markedly different. Wintour had previously only ever signed his name as such, but his confession is signed "Winter", and since he had been shot in the shoulder, the steady hand used to write the signature may indicate some measure of government interference—or it may indicate that writing a shorter version of his name was less painful. [121] Wintour's testimony makes no mention of his brother, Robert. Both were published in the so-called King's Book, a hastily written official account of the conspiracy published in late November 1605. [43] [122]

Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, was in a difficult position. His midday dinner with Thomas Percy on 4 November was damning evidence against him, [123] and after Thomas Percy's death there was nobody who could either implicate him or clear him. The Privy Council suspected that Northumberland would have been Princess Elizabeth's protector had the plot succeeded, but there was insufficient evidence to convict him. Northumberland remained in the Tower and on 27 June 1606 was finally charged with contempt. He was stripped of all public offices, fined £30,000 (about £6.6 million in 2021), and kept in the Tower until June 1621. [124] The Lords Mordaunt and Stourton were tried in the Star Chamber. They were condemned to imprisonment in the Tower, where they remained until 1608, when they were transferred to the Fleet Prison. Both were also given significant fines. [125]

Several other people not involved in the conspiracy, but known or related to the conspirators, were also questioned. Northumberland's brothers, Sir Allen and Sir Josceline, were arrested. Anthony-Maria Browne, 2nd Viscount Montagu had employed Fawkes at an early age, and had also met Catesby on 29 October, and was therefore of interest he was released several months later. [126] Agnes Wenman was from a Catholic family, and related to Elizabeth Vaux. [r] She was examined twice but the charges against her were eventually dropped. [128] Percy's secretary and later the controller of Northumberland's household, Dudley Carleton, had leased the vault where the gunpowder was stored, and consequently he was imprisoned in the Tower. Salisbury believed his story, and authorised his release. [129]

Jesuits Edit

Thomas Bates confessed on 4 December, providing much of the information that Salisbury needed to link the Catholic clergy to the plot. Bates had been present at most of the conspirators' meetings, and under interrogation he implicated Father Tesimond in the plot. On 13 January 1606 he described how he had visited Garnet and Tesimond on 7 November to inform Garnet of the plot's failure. Bates also told his interrogators of his ride with Tesimond to Huddington, before the priest left him to head for the Habingtons at Hindlip Hall, and of a meeting between Garnet, Gerard, and Tesimond in October 1605. At about the same time in December, Tresham's health began to deteriorate. He was visited regularly by his wife, a nurse, and his servant William Vavasour, who documented his strangury. Before he died Tresham had also told of Garnet's involvement with the 1603 mission to Spain, but in his last hours he retracted some of these statements. Nowhere in his confession did he mention the Monteagle letter. He died early on the morning of 23 December, and was buried in the Tower. Nevertheless he was attainted along with the other plotters, his head was set on a pike either at Northampton or London Bridge, and his estates confiscated. [130] [131] [132]

On 15 January a proclamation named Father Garnet, Father Gerard, and Father Greenway (Tesimond) as wanted men. Tesimond and Gerard [133] managed to escape the country and live out their days in freedom Garnet was not so lucky. Several days earlier, on 9 January, Robert Wintour and Stephen Littleton were captured. Their hiding place at Hagley, the home of Humphrey Littleton (brother of MP John Littleton, imprisoned for treason in 1601 for his part in the Essex revolt) [134] was betrayed by a cook, who grew suspicious of the amount of food sent up for his master's consumption. Humphrey denied the presence of the two fugitives, but another servant led the authorities to their hiding place. [135] On 20 January the local Justice and his retainers arrived at Thomas Habington's home, Hindlip Hall, to arrest the Jesuits. Despite Thomas Habington's protests, the men spent the next four days searching the house. On 24 January, starving, two priests left their hiding places and were discovered. Humphrey Littleton, who had escaped from the authorities at Hagley, got as far as Prestwood in Staffordshire before he was captured. He was imprisoned, and then condemned to death at Worcester. On 26 January, in exchange for his life, he told the authorities where they could find Father Garnet. Worn down by hiding for so long, Garnet, accompanied by another priest, emerged from his priest hole the next day. [136]

Trials Edit

By coincidence, on the same day that Garnet was found, the surviving conspirators were arraigned in Westminster Hall. Seven of the prisoners were taken from the Tower to the Star Chamber by barge. Bates, who was considered lower class, was brought from the Gatehouse Prison. Some of the prisoners were reportedly despondent, but others were nonchalant, even smoking tobacco. The King and his family, hidden from view, were among the many who watched the trial. The Lords Commissioners present were the Earls of Suffolk, Worcester, Northampton, Devonshire, and Salisbury. Sir John Popham was Lord Chief Justice, Sir Thomas Fleming was Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer, and two Justices, Sir Thomas Walmsley and Sir Peter Warburton, sat as Justices of the Common Pleas. The list of traitors' names was read aloud, beginning with those of the priests: Garnet, Tesimond, and Gerard. [137] [138]

The first to speak was the Speaker of the House of Commons (later Master of the Rolls), Sir Edward Philips, who described the intent behind the plot in lurid detail. [138] He was followed by the Attorney-General Sir Edward Coke, who began with a long speech—the content of which was heavily influenced by Salisbury—that included a denial that the King had ever made any promises to the Catholics. Monteagle's part in the discovery of the plot was welcomed, and denunciations of the 1603 mission to Spain featured strongly. Fawkes's protestations that Gerard knew nothing of the plot were omitted from Coke's speech. The foreign powers, when mentioned, were accorded due respect, but the priests were accursed, their behaviour analysed and criticised wherever possible. There was little doubt, according to Coke, that the plot had been invented by the Jesuits. Garnet's meeting with Catesby, at which the former was said to have absolved the latter of any blame in the plot, was proof enough that the Jesuits were central to the conspiracy [139] according to Coke the Gunpowder Plot would always be known as the Jesuit Treason. [140] Coke spoke with feeling of the probable fate of the Queen and the rest of the King's family, and of the innocents who would have been caught up in the explosion. [139]

Each of the condemned, said Coke, would be drawn backwards to his death, by a horse, his head near the ground. He was to be "put to death halfway between heaven and earth as unworthy of both". His genitals would be cut off and burnt before his eyes, and his bowels and heart then removed. Then he would be decapitated, and the dismembered parts of his body displayed so that they might become "prey for the fowls of the air". [139] Confessions and declarations from the prisoners were then read aloud, and finally the prisoners were allowed to speak. Rookwood claimed that he had been drawn into the plot by Catesby, "whom he loved above any worldy man". Thomas Wintour begged to be hanged for himself and his brother, so that his brother might be spared. Fawkes explained his not guilty plea as ignorance of certain aspects of the indictment. Keyes appeared to accept his fate, Bates and Robert Wintour begged for mercy, and Grant explained his involvement as "a conspiracy intended but never effected". [141] Only Digby, tried on a separate indictment, [138] pleaded guilty, insisting that the King had reneged upon promises of toleration for Catholics, and that affection for Catesby and love of the Catholic cause mitigated his actions. He sought death by the axe and begged mercy from the King for his young family. [142] His defence was in vain his arguments were rebuked by Coke and Northumberland, and along with his seven co-conspirators, he was found guilty by the jury of high treason. Digby shouted "If I may but hear any of your lordships say, you forgive me, I shall go more cheerfully to the gallows." The response was short: "God forgive you, and we do." [143] [144]

Garnet may have been questioned on as many as 23 occasions. His response to the threat of the rack was "Minare ista pueris [Threats are only for boys]", [s] and he denied having encouraged Catholics to pray for the success of the "Catholic Cause". His interrogators resorted to the forgery of correspondence between Garnet and other Catholics, but to no avail. His jailers then allowed him to talk with another priest in a neighbouring cell, with eavesdroppers listening to every word. [145] Eventually Garnet let slip a crucial piece of information, that there was only one man who could testify that he had any knowledge of the plot. Under torture Garnet admitted that he had heard of the plot from fellow Jesuit Oswald Tesimond, who had learnt of it in confession from Catesby. [146] Garnet was charged with high treason and tried in the Guildhall on 28 March, in a trial lasting from 8 am until 7 pm. [147] According to Coke, Garnet instigated the plot: "[Garnet] hath many gifts and endowments of nature, by art learned, a good linguist and, by profession, a Jesuit and a Superior as indeed he is Superior to all his predecessors in devilish treason, a Doctor of Dissimulation, Deposing of Princes, Disposing of Kingdoms, Daunting and deterring of subjects, and Destruction." Garnet refuted all the charges against him, and explained the Catholic position on such matters, but he was nevertheless found guilty and sentenced to death. [114]

Executions Edit

Although Catesby and Percy escaped the executioner, their bodies were exhumed and decapitated, and their heads exhibited on spikes outside the House of Lords. [112] On a cold 30 January, Everard Digby, Robert Wintour, John Grant, and Thomas Bates, were tied to hurdles—wooden panels [148] —and dragged through the crowded streets of London to St Paul's Churchyard. Digby, the first to mount the scaffold, asked the spectators for forgiveness, and refused the attentions of a Protestant clergyman. He was stripped of his clothing, and wearing only a shirt, climbed the ladder to place his head through the noose. He was quickly cut down, and while still fully conscious was castrated, disembowelled, and then quartered, along with the three other prisoners. [149] The following day, Thomas Wintour, Ambrose Rookwood, Robert Keyes, and Guy Fawkes were hanged, drawn and quartered, opposite the building they had planned to blow up, in the Old Palace Yard at Westminster. [150] Keyes did not wait for the hangman's command and jumped from the gallows, but he survived the drop and was led to the quartering block. Although weakened by his torture, Fawkes managed to jump from the gallows and break his neck, thus avoiding the agony of the gruesome latter part of his execution. [151] [152]

Steven Littleton was executed at Stafford. His cousin Humphrey, despite his co-operation with the authorities, met his end at Red Hill near Worcester. [153] Henry Garnet's execution took place on 3 May 1606. [154]

Greater freedom for Roman Catholics to worship as they chose seemed unlikely in 1604, but the discovery of such a wide-ranging conspiracy, the capture of those involved, and the subsequent trials, led Parliament to consider introducing new anti-Catholic legislation. The event also destroyed all hope that the Spanish would ever secure tolerance of the Catholics in England. [155] In the summer of 1606, laws against recusancy were strengthened the Popish Recusants Act returned England to the Elizabethan system of fines and restrictions, introduced a sacramental test, and an Oath of Allegiance, [156] requiring Catholics to abjure as a "heresy" the doctrine that "princes excommunicated by the Pope could be deposed or assassinated". [13] Catholic Emancipation took another 200 years, but many important and loyal Catholics retained high office during King James I's reign. [157] Although there was no "golden time" of "toleration" of Catholics, which Father Garnet had hoped for, James's reign was nevertheless a period of relative leniency for Catholics, and few were subject to prosecution. [158]

The playwright William Shakespeare had already used the family history of Northumberland's family in his Henry IV series of plays, and the events of the Gunpowder Plot seem to have featured alongside the earlier Gowrie conspiracy in Macbeth, written some time between 1603 and 1607. [159] Interest in the demonic was heightened by the Gunpowder Plot. The King had become engaged in the great debate about other-worldly powers in writing his Daemonologie in 1599, before he became King of England as well as Scotland. Inversions seen in such lines as "fair is foul and foul is fair" are used frequently, and another possible reference to the plot relates to the use of equivocation Garnet's A Treatise of Equivocation was found on one of the plotters. [160] Another writer influenced by the plot was John Milton, who in 1626 wrote what one commentator has called a "critically vexing poem", In Quintum Novembris. Reflecting "partisan public sentiment on an English-Protestant national holiday", [161] in the published editions of 1645 and 1673 the poem is preceded by five epigrams on the subject of the Gunpowder Plot, apparently written by Milton in preparation for the larger work. [162] The plot may also have influenced his later work, Paradise Lost. [163]

The Gunpowder Plot was commemorated for years by special sermons and other public acts, such as the ringing of church bells. It added to an increasingly full calendar of Protestant celebrations that contributed to the national and religious life of 17th-century England, [164] and has evolved into the Bonfire Night of today. In What If the Gunpowder Plot Had Succeeded? historian Ronald Hutton considered the events which might have followed a successful implementation of the plot, and the destruction of the House of Lords and all those within it. He concluded that a severe backlash against suspected Catholics would have followed, and that without foreign assistance a successful rebellion would have been unlikely despite differing religious convictions, most Englishmen were loyal to the institution of the monarchy. England might have become a more "Puritan absolute monarchy", as "existed in Sweden, Denmark, Saxony, and Prussia in the seventeenth century", rather than following the path of parliamentary and civil reform that it did. [165]

Accusations of state conspiracy Edit

Many at the time felt that Salisbury had been involved in the plot to gain favour with the King and enact more stridently anti-Catholic legislation. Such conspiracy theories alleged that Salisbury had either actually invented the plot or allowed it to continue when his agents had already infiltrated it, for the purposes of propaganda. [158] The Popish Plot of 1678 sparked renewed interest in the Gunpowder Plot, resulting in a book by Thomas Barlow, Bishop of Lincoln, which refuted "a bold and groundless surmise that all this was a contrivance of Secretary Cecil". [166]

In 1897 Father John Gerard of Stonyhurst College, namesake of John Gerard (who, following the plot's discovery, had evaded capture), wrote an account called What was the Gunpowder Plot?, alleging Salisbury's culpability. [167] This prompted a refutation later that year by Samuel Gardiner, who argued that Gerard had gone too far in trying to "wipe away the reproach" which the plot had exacted on generations of English Catholics. [168] Gardiner portrayed Salisbury as guilty of nothing more than opportunism. Subsequent attempts to prove Salisbury's involvement, such as Francis Edwards's 1969 work Guy Fawkes: the real story of the gunpowder plot?, have similarly foundered on the lack of any clear evidence. [169]

The cellars under the Houses of Parliament continued to be leased out to private individuals until 1678, when news of the Popish Plot broke. It was then considered prudent to search the cellars on the day before each State Opening of Parliament, a ritual that survives to this day. [166]

Bonfire Night Edit

In January 1606, during the first sitting of Parliament since the plot, the Observance of 5th November Act 1605 was passed, making services and sermons commemorating the event an annual feature of English life [170] the act remained in force until 1859. [171] The tradition of marking the day with the ringing of church bells and bonfires started soon after the Plot's discovery, and fireworks were included in some of the earliest celebrations. [170] In Britain, 5 November is variously called Bonfire Night, Fireworks Night, or Guy Fawkes Night. [171]

It remains the custom in Britain, on or around 5 November, to let off fireworks. Traditionally, in the weeks running up to the 5th, children made "guys"—effigies supposedly of Fawkes—usually made from old clothes stuffed with newspaper, and fitted with a grotesque mask, to be burnt on 5 November bonfire. These guys were exhibited in the street to collect money for fireworks, although this custom has become less common. [172] The word guy thus came in the 19th century to mean an oddly dressed person, and hence in the 20th and 21st centuries to mean any male person. [171]

Remember, remember,
The Fifth of November,
Gunpowder treason and plot
For I see no reason
Why Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.

5 November firework displays and bonfire parties are common throughout Britain, in major public displays and in private gardens. [171] In some areas, particularly in Sussex, there are extensive processions, large bonfires and firework displays organised by local bonfire societies, the most elaborate of which take place in Lewes.

According to the biographer Esther Forbes, the Guy Fawkes Day celebration in the pre-revolutionary American colonies was a very popular holiday. In Boston, the revelry on "Pope Night" took on anti-authoritarian overtones, and often became so dangerous that many would not venture out of their homes. [174]

Reconstructing the explosion Edit

In the 2005 ITV programme The Gunpowder Plot: Exploding The Legend, a full-size replica of the House of Lords was built and destroyed with barrels of gunpowder, totalling 1 metric tonne of explosives. The experiment was conducted on the Advantica-owned Spadeadam test site and demonstrated that the explosion, if the gunpowder was in good order, would have killed all those in the building. [175] The power of the explosion was such that of the 7-foot (2.1 m) deep concrete walls making up the undercroft (replicating how archives suggest the walls of the old House of Lords were constructed), the end wall where the barrels were placed by, under the throne, was reduced to rubble, and the adjacent surviving portions of wall were shoved away. Measuring devices placed in the chamber to calculate the force of the blast were recorded as going off the scale just before their destruction by the explosion a piece of the head of the dummy representing King James, which had been placed on a throne inside the chamber surrounded by courtiers, peers and bishops, was found a considerable distance from its initial location. According to the findings of the programme, no one within 330 feet (100 m) of the blast could have survived, and all of the stained glass windows in Westminster Abbey would have been shattered, as would all of the windows in the vicinity of the Palace. The explosion would have been seen from miles away and heard from further away still. Even if only half of the gunpowder had gone off, which Fawkes was apparently prepared for, everyone in the House of Lords and its environs would have been killed instantly. [175]

The programme also disproved claims that some deterioration in the quality of the gunpowder would have prevented the explosion. A portion of deliberately deteriorated gunpowder, of such low quality as to make it unusable in firearms, when placed in a heap and ignited, still managed to create a large explosion. The impact of even deteriorated gunpowder would have been magnified by its containment in wooden barrels, compensating for the quality of the contents. The compression would have created a cannon effect, with the powder first blowing up from the top of the barrel before, a millisecond later, blowing out. Calculations showed that Fawkes, who was skilled in the use of gunpowder, had deployed double the amount needed. In a test detonation of all 12 kilograms (26 lb) of period-accurate gunpowder available in the UK inside the same size of barrel Fawkes had used, the experts for the project were surprised at how much more powerful an effect that compression had in creating an explosion. [176]

Some of the gunpowder guarded by Fawkes may have survived. In March 2002 workers cataloguing archives of diarist John Evelyn at the British Library found a box containing a number of gunpowder samples, including a compressed bar with a note in Evelyn's handwriting stating that it had belonged to Guy Fawkes. A further note, written in the 19th century, confirmed this provenance, although in 1952 the document acquired a new comment: "but there was none left!" [177]

Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot to Obliterate the British House of Lords - History

Guy Fawkes discovers Doctor Dee & Edward Kelley disinterring the body of Elizabeth Orton

13 cm high by 9.1 cm wide vignetted, facing p. 50

March 1840 engraving for William Harrison Ainsworth's Guy Fawkes, or The Gunpowder Treason , third number.

[Click on image to enlarge it.]

Serialised in Bentley's Miscellany Victorian Web in a print one.]

Passage Illustrated: Introducing Doctor Dee

On gaining the churchyard, Guy Fawkes perceived the warden and his companion creeping stealthily beneath the shadow of a wall in the direction of a low fabric, which appeared to be a bone-house, or charnel, situated at the north-western extremity of the church. Before this building grew a black and stunted yew-tree. Arrived at it, they paused, and looked round to see whether they were observed. They did not, however, notice Guy Fawkes, who had concealed himself behind a buttress. Kelley then unlocked the door of the charnel, and brought out a pickaxe and mattock. Having divested himself of his cloak, he proceeded to shovel out the mould from a new-made grave at a little distance from the building. Doctor Dee stood by, and held the lantern for his assistant.

Determined to watch their proceedings, Guy Fawkes crept towards the yew-tree, behind which he ensconced himself. Kelley, meanwhile, continued to ply his spade with a vigour that seemed almost incomprehensible in one so far stricken in years, and of such infirm appearance. At length he paused, and kneeling within the shallow grave, endeavoured to drag something from it. Doctor Dee knelt to assist him. After some exertion, they drew forth the corpse of a female, which had been interred without coffin, and apparently in the habiliments worn during life. A horrible suspicion crossed Guy Fawkes. Resolving to satisfy his doubts at once, he rushed forward, and beheld in the ghastly lineaments of the dead the features of the unfortunate prophetess, Elizabeth Orton. [Book I, "The Plot," Chapter VI, "The Disinterment," page 50]


Although "Guy Fawkes" became a byword for treason from the seventeenth century onward, very few people in Great Britain of the 1840s actually knew much about the leader of the infamous Gunpowder Plot, even though British children burned him in effigy every fifth of November to celebrate the preservation of King, Lords, and Commons — and the nation's Protestant establishment. Ainsworth and Cruikshank therefore had considerable latitude in how to present the ex-soldier and Catholic radical. Born about 1570 in York and thus in his early thirties at the time of the story, Fawkes had survived the Eighty Years War on the Continent, fighting on the side of the Catholic Spanish against the Protestant Dutch. Thus, Ainsworth could present him as both a man of action, a pillar of rectitude, and a staunch supporter of the Catholic religion in England, and blame the assassination plot on his associate Robert Catesby.

But the narrative necessarily would involve other historical characters with whom educated Victorian readers would have had some familiarity, notably King James I and Dr. John Dee (1527-1608 or 1609), the occult scholar, magician, mathematician, astrologer, Hermetic philosopher, and tutor of both Sir Philip Sidney and Elizabeth I. Nevertheless, Ainsworth presents him principally as a conventional necromancer and a prototype for Prospero in Shakespeare's The Tempest . Ainsworth undoubtedly found his connection with Christ's College, Manchester, interesting, although in Elizabeth's appointment of him as Warden he failed to exert effective control over the institution, and returned to his home at Mortlake near London in 1605 dispirited by James I's refusal to support him, and by the pillaging of the great house that had occurred in his absences abroad and in the north of England.

Whereas Ainsworth utilizes history to present many of the novel's characters, he makes Fawkes a brooding, romantic hero, and uses the reputation of John Dee rather than the historical Dee to create a character out of romance. Since neither the real nor the mythical Dr. Dee was an anatomist or medical researcher, when Fawkes discovers him and his colleague, Edward Kelley, by lantern light exhuming the recently buried corpse of the prophetess of Elizabeth Orton, Fawkes and the reader can be sure that the occult scholar will not use the corpse for scientific investigations. Thus, in his presentations of Dee and Kelley Ainsworth blends history and romance, a combination evident in Fawkes's accosting him at the opening of Chapter VII, "Doctor Dee":

"Suffice it you are both known to me. You, John Dee, warden of Manchester, who deserve to be burnt at the stake for your damnable practices, rather than hold the sacred office you fill and you, Edward Kelley, his associate, who boast of familiar intercourse with demons, and, unless fame belies you, have purchased the intimacy at the price of your soul's salvation. I know you both. I know, also, whose body you have disinterred — it is that of the ill-fated prophetess, Elizabeth Orton. And if you do not instantly restore it to the grave whence you have snatched it, I will denounce you to the authorities of the town." [p. 51]

In the illustration, Fawkes, suspecting the pair have no legitimate reason for removing the body of prophetess from the cemetery, observes them but not intervene. The reader recognizes Fawkes from the previous illustration, in which he wears a feathered Spanish hat and cloak, signifiers of his foreign military experience and Catholicism. The lantern throws an eerie chiaroscuro over the bearded countenance and spindly, aged legs of Dee and his shovel, leaving the rest of the graveyard scene in comparative darkness. Of the twenty-two engravings that Cruikshank executed, he has set at least eight at night or in the darkness of a stone cell, and all effectively contribute to the eerie atmosphere of the romance. This particular nocturnal scene sets up two re-animation scenes as Dee and his assistant attempt to resuscitate Elizabeth Orton here and Fawkes later.

As John Sutherland points out in his synopsis of novel’s plot, Ainsworth, fascinated as always by the history of his native Manchester, opens the story of the Gunpowder Plot with the public execution of Catholic priests there in 1605 before introducing the fanatical ex-soldier bent on vengeance, Guy Fawkes. The scenes with the dying prophetess, Elizabeth Orton, and Dr. John Dee and his assistant Edward Kelley in the cemetery remind the reader that, for all of Ainsworth’s pretentions to be an historical novelist, he consistently uses the methods of a romancer. He creates exciting incidents out of entirely baseless connections, introducing Dr. Dee into the plot despite his having no historical connection whatsoever with Fawkes, and he fashions a complicated romantic entanglement between Viviana Radcliffe, daughter of a local aristocratic (Catholic) family, the conspirator Robert Catesby, the historical young merchant Humphrey Chetham (who in later life will found a charitable institution in Manchester), and Fawkes. Cruikshank convincingly portrays the nocturnal activity of Fawkes, Dee, and the plotters in dark plates that anticipate Phiz’s innovation of the next decade in Dickens's Bleak House .

Robert L. Patten ably summarizes Ainsworth's fusing of history and the conventions of romance in Guy Fawkes in the writer's incorporation of Dr. Dee into the Gunpowder Plot:

To some extent, he was on familiar territory, setting the first part of his story around Manchester and bringing in Humphrey Chetham, whose merchant fortune endowed a library and a hospital, and the infamous conjurer Doctor Dee, warden of the Collegiate Church. For this tale Ainsworth wrote the letterpress first and then sent it to Cruikshank with suggestions for subjects. [144]

In fact, from what correspondence is extant, Ainsworth seems to have proposed two subjects for each instalment's illustration, so that in all likelihood Cruikshank provided the gothic graveyard scene at the author's prompting.


Ainsworth, William Harrison. Guy Fawkes, or The Gunpowder Treason: An Historical Romance . With 22 illustrations by George Cruikshank. London: Cunningham & Mortimer, 1841 (first edition). Rpt., London: George Routledge & Sons, n. d.

Patten, Robert L. Chapter 29, "The Tower! Is the Word — Forward to the Tower." George Cruikshank's Life, Times, and Art Vol. 2: 1835-1878. Cambridge: Lutterworth, 1996. Pp. 129-152.

Sutherland, John. " Guy Fawkes " in The Stanford Companion to Victorian Fiction . Stanford: Stanford U. P., 19893. Pp. 267-68.

Vann, J. Don. " Guy Fawkes in Bentley's Miscellany , January 1840-Noevmber 18401." Victorian Novels in Serial . New York: MLA, 1985. P. 20.



Guy Fawkes was born in 1570 in Stonegate, York. He was the second of four children born to Edward Fawkes, a proctor and an advocate of the consistory court at York, [b] and his wife, Edith. [c] Guy's parents were regular communicants of the Church of England, as were his paternal grandparents his grandmother, born Ellen Harrington, was the daughter of a prominent merchant, who served as Lord Mayor of York in 1536. [4] Guy's mother's family were recusant Catholics, and his cousin, Richard Cowling, became a Jesuit priest. [5] Guy was an uncommon name in England, but may have been popular in York on account of a local notable, Sir Guy Fairfax of Steeton. [6]

The date of Fawkes's birth is unknown, but he was baptised in the church of St Michael le Belfrey, York on 16 April. As the customary gap between birth and baptism was three days, he was probably born about 13 April. [5] In 1568, Edith had given birth to a daughter named Anne, but the child died aged about seven weeks, in November that year. She bore two more children after Guy: Anne (b. 1572), and Elizabeth (b. 1575). Both were married, in 1599 and 1594 respectively. [6] [7]

In 1579, when Guy was eight years old, his father died. His mother remarried several years later, to the Catholic Dionis Baynbrigge (or Denis Bainbridge) of Scotton, Harrogate. Fawkes may have become a Catholic through the Baynbrigge family's recusant tendencies, and also the Catholic branches of the Pulleyn and Percy families of Scotton, [8] but also from his time at St. Peter's School in York. A governor of the school had spent about 20 years in prison for recusancy, and its headmaster, John Pulleyn, came from a family of noted Yorkshire recusants, the Pulleyns of Blubberhouses. In her 1915 work The Pulleynes of Yorkshire, author Catharine Pullein suggested that Fawkes's Catholic education came from his Harrington relatives, who were known for harbouring priests, one of whom later accompanied Fawkes to Flanders in 1592–1593. [9] Fawkes's fellow students included John Wright and his brother Christopher (both later involved with Fawkes in the Gunpowder Plot) and Oswald Tesimond, Edward Oldcorne and Robert Middleton, who became priests (the latter executed in 1601). [10]

After leaving school Fawkes entered the service of Anthony Browne, 1st Viscount Montagu. The Viscount took a dislike to Fawkes and after a short time dismissed him he was subsequently employed by Anthony-Maria Browne, 2nd Viscount Montagu, who succeeded his grandfather at the age of 18. [11] At least one source claims that Fawkes married and had a son, but no known contemporary accounts confirm this. [12] [d]

Military career

In October 1591 Fawkes sold the estate in Clifton in York that he had inherited from his father. [e] He travelled to the continent to fight in the Eighty Years War for Catholic Spain against the new Dutch Republic and, from 1595 until the Peace of Vervins in 1598, France. Although England was not by then engaged in land operations against Spain, the two countries were still at war, and the Spanish Armada of 1588 was only five years in the past. He joined Sir William Stanley, an English Catholic and veteran commander in his mid-fifties who had raised an army in Ireland to fight in Leicester's expedition to the Netherlands. Stanley had been held in high regard by Elizabeth I, but following his surrender of Deventer to the Spanish in 1587 he, and most of his troops, had switched sides to serve Spain. Fawkes became an alférez or junior officer, fought well at the siege of Calais in 1596, and by 1603 had been recommended for a captaincy. [3] That year, he travelled to Spain to seek support for a Catholic rebellion in England. He used the occasion to adopt the Italian version of his name, Guido, and in his memorandum described James I (who became king of England that year) as "a heretic", who intended "to have all of the Papist sect driven out of England." He denounced Scotland, and the King's favourites among the Scottish nobles, writing "it will not be possible to reconcile these two nations, as they are, for very long". [13] Although he was received politely, the court of Philip III was unwilling to offer him any support. [14]

In 1604 Fawkes became involved with a small group of English Catholics, led by Robert Catesby, who planned to assassinate the Protestant King James and replace him with his daughter, third in the line of succession, Princess Elizabeth. [15] [16] Fawkes was described by the Jesuit priest and former school friend Oswald Tesimond as "pleasant of approach and cheerful of manner, opposed to quarrels and strife . loyal to his friends". Tesimond also claimed Fawkes was "a man highly skilled in matters of war", and that it was this mixture of piety and professionalism that endeared him to his fellow conspirators. [3] The author Antonia Fraser describes Fawkes as "a tall, powerfully built man, with thick reddish-brown hair, a flowing moustache in the tradition of the time, and a bushy reddish-brown beard", and that he was "a man of action . capable of intelligent argument as well as physical endurance, somewhat to the surprise of his enemies." [5]

The first meeting of the five central conspirators took place on Sunday 20 May 1604, at an inn called the Duck and Drake, in the fashionable Strand district of London. [f] Catesby had already proposed at an earlier meeting with Thomas Wintour and John Wright to kill the King and his government by blowing up "the Parliament House with gunpowder". Wintour, who at first objected to the plan, was convinced by Catesby to travel to the continent to seek help. Wintour met with the Constable of Castile, the exiled Welsh spy Hugh Owen, [18] and Sir William Stanley, who said that Catesby would receive no support from Spain. Owen did, however, introduce Wintour to Fawkes, who had by then been away from England for many years, and thus was largely unknown in the country. Wintour and Fawkes were contemporaries each was militant, and had first-hand experience of the unwillingness of the Spaniards to help. Wintour told Fawkes of their plan to "doe some whatt in Ingland if the pece with Spaine healped us nott", [3] and thus in April 1604 the two men returned to England. [17] Wintour's news did not surprise Catesby despite positive noises from the Spanish authorities, he feared that "the deeds would nott answere". [g]

One of the conspirators, Thomas Percy, was promoted in June 1604, gaining access to a house in London that belonged to John Whynniard, Keeper of the King's Wardrobe. Fawkes was installed as a caretaker and began using the pseudonym John Johnson, servant to Percy. [20] The contemporaneous account of the prosecution (taken from Thomas Wintour's confession) [21] claimed that the conspirators attempted to dig a tunnel from beneath Whynniard's house to Parliament, although this story may have been a government fabrication no evidence for the existence of a tunnel was presented by the prosecution, and no trace of one has ever been found Fawkes himself did not admit the existence of such a scheme until his fifth interrogation, but even then he could not locate the tunnel. [22] If the story is true, however, by December 1604 the conspirators were busy tunnelling from their rented house to the House of Lords. They ceased their efforts when, during tunnelling, they heard a noise from above. Fawkes was sent out to investigate, and returned with the news that the tenant's widow was clearing out a nearby undercroft, directly beneath the House of Lords. [3] [23]

The plotters purchased the lease to the room, which also belonged to John Whynniard. Unused and filthy, it was considered an ideal hiding place for the gunpowder the plotters planned to store. [24] According to Fawkes, 20 barrels of gunpowder were brought in at first, followed by 16 more on 20 July. [25] On 28 July however, the ever-present threat of the plague delayed the opening of Parliament until Tuesday, 5 November. [26]


In an attempt to gain foreign support, in May 1605 Fawkes travelled overseas and informed Hugh Owen of the plotters' plan. [27] At some point during this trip his name made its way into the files of Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, who employed a network of spies across Europe. One of these spies, Captain William Turner, may have been responsible. Although the information he provided to Salisbury usually amounted to no more than a vague pattern of invasion reports, and included nothing which regarded the Gunpowder Plot, on 21 April he told how Fawkes was to be brought by Tesimond to England. Fawkes was a well-known Flemish mercenary, and would be introduced to "Mr Catesby" and "honourable friends of the nobility and others who would have arms and horses in readiness". [28] Turner's report did not, however, mention Fawkes's pseudonym in England, John Johnson, and did not reach Cecil until late in November, well after the plot had been discovered. [3] [29]

It is uncertain when Fawkes returned to England, but he was back in London by late August 1605, when he and Wintour discovered that the gunpowder stored in the undercroft had decayed. More gunpowder was brought into the room, along with firewood to conceal it. [30] Fawkes's final role in the plot was settled during a series of meetings in October. He was to light the fuse and then escape across the Thames. Simultaneously, a revolt in the Midlands would help to ensure the capture of Princess Elizabeth. Acts of regicide were frowned upon, and Fawkes would therefore head to the continent, where he would explain to the Catholic powers his holy duty to kill the King and his retinue. [31]


A few of the conspirators were concerned about fellow Catholics who would be present at Parliament during the opening. [32] On the evening of 26 October, Lord Monteagle received an anonymous letter warning him to stay away, and to "retyre youre self into yowre contee whence yow maye expect the event in safti for . they shall receyve a terrible blowe this parleament". [33] Despite quickly becoming aware of the letter – informed by one of Monteagle's servants – the conspirators resolved to continue with their plans, as it appeared that it "was clearly thought to be a hoax". [34] Fawkes checked the undercroft on 30 October, and reported that nothing had been disturbed. [35] Monteagle's suspicions had been aroused, however, and the letter was shown to King James. The King ordered Sir Thomas Knyvet to conduct a search of the cellars underneath Parliament, which he did in the early hours of 5 November. Fawkes had taken up his station late on the previous night, armed with a slow match and a watch given to him by Percy "becaus he should knowe howe the time went away". [3] He was found leaving the cellar, shortly after midnight, and arrested. Inside, the barrels of gunpowder were discovered hidden under piles of firewood and coal. [36]


Fawkes gave his name as John Johnson and was first interrogated by members of the King's Privy chamber, where he remained defiant. [37] When asked by one of the lords what he was doing in possession of so much gunpowder, Fawkes answered that his intention was "to blow you Scotch beggars back to your native mountains." [38] He identified himself as a 36-year-old Catholic from Netherdale in Yorkshire, and gave his father's name as Thomas and his mother's as Edith Jackson. Wounds on his body noted by his questioners he explained as the effects of pleurisy. Fawkes admitted his intention to blow up the House of Lords, and expressed regret at his failure to do so. His steadfast manner earned him the admiration of King James, who described Fawkes as possessing "a Roman resolution". [39]

James's admiration did not, however, prevent him from ordering on 6 November that "John Johnson" be tortured, to reveal the names of his co-conspirators. [40] He directed that the torture be light at first, referring to the use of manacles, but more severe if necessary, authorising the use of the rack: "the gentler Tortures are to be first used unto him et sic per gradus ad ima tenditur [and so by degrees proceeding to the worst]". [37] [41] Fawkes was transferred to the Tower of London. The King composed a list of questions to be put to "Johnson", such as "as to what he is, For I can never yet hear of any man that knows him", "When and where he learned to speak French?", and "If he was a Papist, who brought him up in it?" [42] The room in which Fawkes was interrogated subsequently became known as the Guy Fawkes Room. [43]

Sir William Waad, Lieutenant of the Tower, supervised the torture and obtained Fawkes's confession. [37] He searched his prisoner, and found a letter addressed to Guy Fawkes. To Waad's surprise, "Johnson" remained silent, revealing nothing about the plot or its authors. [44] On the night of 6 November he spoke with Waad, who reported to Salisbury "He [Johnson] told us that since he undertook this action he did every day pray to God he might perform that which might be for the advancement of the Catholic Faith and saving his own soul". According to Waad, Fawkes managed to rest through the night, despite his being warned that he would be interrogated until "I had gotton the inwards secret of his thoughts and all his complices". [45] His composure was broken at some point during the following day. [46]

The observer Sir Edward Hoby remarked "Since Johnson's being in the Tower, he beginneth to speak English". Fawkes revealed his true identity on 7 November, and told his interrogators that there were five people involved in the plot to kill the King. He began to reveal their names on 8 November, and told how they intended to place Princess Elizabeth on the throne. His third confession, on 9 November, implicated Francis Tresham. Following the Ridolfi plot of 1571, prisoners were made to dictate their confessions, before copying and signing them, if they still could. [47] Although it is uncertain if he was tortured on the rack, Fawkes's scrawled signature suggests the suffering he endured at the hands of his interrogators. [48]

The trial of eight of the plotters began on Monday 27 January 1606. Fawkes shared the barge from the Tower to Westminster Hall with seven of his co-conspirators. [h] They were kept in the Star Chamber before being taken to Westminster Hall, where they were displayed on a purpose-built scaffold. The King and his close family, watching in secret, were among the spectators as the Lords Commissioners read out the list of charges. Fawkes was identified as Guido Fawkes, "otherwise called Guido Johnson". He pleaded not guilty, despite his apparent acceptance of guilt from the moment he was captured. [50]

The jury found all the defendants guilty, and the Lord Chief Justice Sir John Popham pronounced them guilty of high treason. [51] The Attorney General Sir Edward Coke told the court that each of the condemned would be drawn backwards to his death, by a horse, his head near the ground. They were to be "put to death halfway between heaven and earth as unworthy of both". Their genitals would be cut off and burnt before their eyes, and their bowels and hearts removed. They would then be decapitated, and the dismembered parts of their bodies displayed so that they might become "prey for the fowls of the air". [52] Fawkes's and Tresham's testimony regarding the Spanish treason was read aloud, as well as confessions related specifically to the Gunpowder Plot. The last piece of evidence offered was a conversation between Fawkes and Wintour, who had been kept in adjacent cells. The two men apparently thought they had been speaking in private, but their conversation was intercepted by a government spy. When the prisoners were allowed to speak, Fawkes explained his not guilty plea as ignorance of certain aspects of the indictment. [53]

On 31 January 1606, Fawkes and three others – Thomas Wintour, Ambrose Rookwood, and Robert Keyes – were dragged (i.e., "drawn") from the Tower on wattled hurdles to the Old Palace Yard at Westminster, opposite the building they had attempted to destroy. [54] His fellow plotters were then hanged and quartered. Fawkes was the last to stand on the scaffold. He asked for forgiveness of the King and state, while keeping up his "crosses and idle ceremonies" (Catholic practices). Weakened by torture and aided by the hangman, Fawkes began to climb the ladder to the noose, but either through jumping to his death or climbing too high so the rope was incorrectly set, he managed to avoid the agony of the latter part of his execution by breaking his neck. [37] [55] [56] His lifeless body was nevertheless quartered [57] and, as was the custom, [58] his body parts were then distributed to "the four corners of the kingdom", to be displayed as a warning to other would-be traitors. [59]

On 5 November 1605, Londoners were encouraged to celebrate the King's escape from assassination by lighting bonfires, provided that "this testemonye of joy be carefull done without any danger or disorder". [3] An Act of Parliament designated each 5 November as a day of thanksgiving for "the joyful day of deliverance", and remained in force until 1859. [60] Fawkes was one of 13 conspirators, but he is the individual most associated with the plot. [61]

In Britain, 5 November has variously been called Guy Fawkes Night, Guy Fawkes Day, Plot Night, [62] and Bonfire Night (which can be traced directly back to the original celebration of 5 November 1605). [63] Bonfires were accompanied by fireworks from the 1650s onwards, and it became the custom after 1673 to burn an effigy (usually of the pope) when heir presumptive James, Duke of York, converted to Catholicism. [3] Effigies of other notable figures have found their way onto the bonfires, such as Paul Kruger and Margaret Thatcher, [64] although most modern effigies are of Fawkes. [60] The "guy" is normally created by children from old clothes, newspapers, and a mask. [60] During the 19th century, "guy" came to mean an oddly dressed person, while in many places it has lost any pejorative connotation and instead refers to any male person and the plural form can refer to people of any gender (as in "you guys"). [60] [65]

James Sharpe, professor of history at the University of York, has described how Guy Fawkes came to be toasted as "the last man to enter Parliament with honest intentions". [66] William Harrison Ainsworth's 1841 historical romance Guy Fawkes or, The Gunpowder Treason portrays Fawkes in a generally sympathetic light, [67] and his novel transformed Fawkes in the public perception into an "acceptable fictional character". Fawkes subsequently appeared as "essentially an action hero" in children's books and penny dreadfuls such as The Boyhood Days of Guy Fawkes or, The Conspirators of Old London, published around 1905. [68] According to historian Lewis Call, Fawkes is now "a major icon in modern political culture" whose face has become "a potentially powerful instrument for the articulation of postmodern anarchism" [i] in the late 20th century. [69]

9 places associated with Guy Fawkes and the gunpowder plot

Lord Monteagle received a startling letter on the evening of 26 October 1605. An anonymous correspondent advised the English nobleman against attending the upcoming session of parliament, due to begin a few days later. The letter warned: “They shall receive a terrible blow this parliament and yet they shall not see who hurts them.”

It was a chilling message. Monteagle raced from his home in Hoxton to Whitehall where he passed the letter to Robert Cecil, the secretary of state and second most powerful man in the land. Cecil’s investigations led to a cellar under the Palace of Westminster and the discovery of the most audacious terrorist attack ever attempted on British soil.

It was a plot that had its origins back in the reign of Elizabeth I. Henry VIII and Edward VI laid the foundations of the English Reformation, but Elizabeth took it a stage further, ensuring the country was firmly Protestant. As the 16th century drew to a close, the country’s remaining Catholics faced increasing levels of persecution. Fierce regulations included the death penalty for those found to be sheltering priests. It was a grim time to be a Catholic in England.

Hopes rested on the mortality of Elizabeth and the likely choice for the Virgin Queen’s successor, James VI of Scotland. Though himself a Protestant, James was the son of Catholic martyr Mary Queen of Scots and his own wife was a Catholic as well. Furthermore, prior to his succession to the English throne he had hinted that his reign would bring greater toleration for the country’s Catholic minority.

When he came to replace Elizabeth in 1603 James did indeed limit the restrictions on Catholicism in England. However within a year he had reversed this policy after opposition from English Protestants. Furious at being let down, a small group of young Catholics began plotting a violent act of revenge. The head of this band was Robert Catesby, a rebellious member of the minor gentry.

In May 1604 they gathered in London and started to hatch out their plan. The idea they settled upon was to ignite a huge cache of gunpowder underneath Westminster on the opening session of parliament. The resulting explosion would then wipe out almost the entire English establishment: the royal family, the MPs, the lords and the leading bishops. Guy Fawkes, a Catholic volunteer who had been fighting in the Low Countries, was the man selected to prepare the gunpowder and light the fuse.

The plotters rented a cellar below the Palace of Westminster and filled it with gunpowder, ready for the state opening of parliament on 5 November 1605. All seemed to be going to plan but then, with just over a week to go, Lord Monteagle received a tip-off. Armed with this information, Robert Cecil liaised with King James who apparently suggested that the cellars under Westminster be searched. On the night of 4–5 November Fawkes was apprehended there red-handed alongside 36 barrels of gunpowder.

Despite Fawkes’s arrest, Catesby opted to incite an armed insurrection in the Midlands but found few willing to support his cause. The rebel leader was gunned down alongside a few of his remaining supporters on 8 November. Those who weren’t killed were despatched to the Tower of London where they, alongside Fawkes, were brutally executed in January 1606.

The Gunpowder Plot had failed utterly, to the delight of the Protestant English. On 5 November bonfires were lit in celebration, a practice that continues to this day. For the Catholic minority the attempt at mass murder had disastrous consequences. “The long-term contribution of the gunpowder plot was to provide another reason for Protestants to dislike and be scared of Catholics,” explains James Sharpe, author of Remember, Remember the Fifth of November (Profile, 2005). “Protestant propaganda had for a long time been saying ‘the Catholics are out to get us’ and the Gunpowder Plot just demonstrated that.”

King James responded to the attempt on his life relatively calmly, without the bloody reprisals that might have been expected. Nevertheless the Gunpowder Plot did lead to a worsening of Catholic/Protestant relations, which were not normalised until the 19th century. The celebrations of 5 November became not just a commemoration of lives preserved but also an opportunity to vent anti-Catholic feelings. As much as anything else, it was England’s deliverance from Catholics that the revellers chose to remember.

9 places associated with the gunpowder plot

Baddesley Clinton, Warwickshire

Where priests were concealed

England’s Catholics were under a great deal of pressure towards the end of Elizabeth I’s reign. A raft of measures, including crippling fines for non-attendance at Protestant services, made life very difficult indeed. Some accepted defeat and joined the Anglican fold but others resolved to continue observing what they believed to be the true faith.

Catholic priests who had trained on the continent were smuggled into England where they could facilitate worship. They were sheltered in Catholic safehouses, which were often equipped with priest’s holes that could be used as hiding places when inspectors arrived. The punishment for the priests and those who harboured them could be death so it was vital that secrecy was maintained.

Built in the 15th century, Baddesley Clinton became an important place of refuge for Catholics. Though it belonged to the Ferrers family, it was rented by the Vaux sisters who were committed to shielding priests. Members of the Jesuit order (a controversial Catholic missionary group) are believed to have met at Baddesley Clinton in 1592 and escaped detection by hiding in a tunnel when government officers turned up. The English Jesuit leader Henry Garnett was among their number.

Baddesley Clinton remained with the Ferrers until the late 20th century when it was taken over by the National Trust. Three priest’s holes survive from its days as a Catholic refuge.

Banqueting House, London

Where a promising new king lived

Disillusioned by Elizabeth I, England’s Catholics expected better things under her successor, James VI of Scotland. Born in 1566 James had acceded to the Scottish throne when barely a year old and managed to hang on to his crown, despite several intrigues against him.

As Henry VII’s great-great grandson James was the leading contender to replace Elizabeth I when the queen died childless in 1603.

James VI did indeed become James I of England and on the surface this was a promising development for Catholics. James was the son of a Catholic martyr (Mary Queen of Scots), while his wife (Anne of Denmark) was a Catholic as well. During his time in Scotland James had been relatively accepting of Catholics and made noises to the effect that this lenience would follow him south. “Great hope [there] is of toleration,” wrote Henry Garnett when James took the throne.

After arriving in London, James was installed in the Palace of Whitehall, then the principal residence of English monarchs. Later in his reign James had Inigo Jones design him a new palace but this burnt down in 1698 leaving only the magnificent Banqueting House. Today in the care of Historic Royal Palaces, the building testifies to Jones’s architectural genius and also contains a marvellous ceiling by the artist Peter Paul Rubens.

Alnwick Castle, Northumberland

Where a plotter was employed

James I’s reign had begun well for Catholics. One of his earliest acts had been to halt the collection of fines from those who refused to attend the established church. That though was as far as the new king was prepared to go. James had no intention of granting Catholics religious freedom and when prompted by Protestant critics, he relented and restored the financial penalties. Once again Catholic liberation seemed a very distant dream. To compound matters James began negotiating a peace deal with Catholic Spain, putting pay to the possibility of a military overthrow of Protestant rule.

Their hopes dashed, some of England’s most committed Catholics turned their thoughts to violence. In May 1604, the Warwickshire gentleman Robert Catesby met with four friends in London where they began to develop a murderous scheme to be rid of James and his ministers.

One of Catesby’s co-conspirators was Thomas Percy, a relative of the Ninth Earl of Northumberland, who was then in the earl’s employ as constable of Alnwick Castle. Percy had good reason to be angry with King James. It was he who had met with James prior to Elizabeth’s death and received assurances of better treatment for Catholics. Already a wild character, who had once been jailed for killing a man, Percy was keen to mete out the ultimate punishment to the heretical king.

The Gunpowder Plot took Thomas away from Northumberland but the Percy family remained at the castle and still does so today. This year they celebrate 700 years at Alnwick, which is currently the second largest inhabited castle in England. It was built in stages since the 14th century and is undoubtedly one of the finest fortresses in the land.

Guy Fawkes Inn, York

Where a failed regicide may have been born

This charming old inn is the reputed birthplace of a man who is still burned on bonfires 400 years after his death. Guy Fawkes arrived in the world in 1570 and was baptised at St Michael le Belfrey church in York. He was born into Protestantism but his mother’s second marriage was to a Catholic and it is likely that this event prompted her son’s conversion as well.

The young Fawkes became a soldier. Like many other Catholics seeking military experience he went to fight in the Low Countries for Spain against Dutch Protestants. There he gained valuable experience in munitions and it is partly because of these skills that he was recruited by the plotters. Having been out of the country for several years Fawkes was also relatively unknown in London, meaning he could move freely in the city without arousing too much suspicion.

Thomas Percy rented a small property close to the Houses of Parliament in May 1604. Here Fawkes was installed under the assumed name of John Johnson to oversee the project. The plotters’ initial idea was to dig a mine from their property’s cellar underneath the Palace of Westminster. This, however, proved to be laborious work and so the conspirators were delighted when they discovered that a vault right underneath the Lords Chamber was available to rent. Percy managed to lease the vault. It was here that the gunpowder would be stored in advance of the opening of parliament.

The Palace of Westminster, London

Where a massacre was averted

The initial group of conspirators numbered five but by October 1605 it had grown to 13. Additional members provided funds and connections. There was however a risk that the wider the plot grew, the more likely it was to be found out.

The last of the band to be recruited was Francis Tresham, a wealthy Catholic gentleman whose riches were sought after by Catesby. Tresham though was far from convinced by the plan and tried to persuade the plotters to abandon their enterprise. Many also believe that he sent the anonymous letter to his brother-in-law, Lord Monteagle, on 26 October warning him that something was afoot.

Monteagle took the note to Robert Cecil, the secretary of state. Cecil oversaw a powerful intelligence network and it is possible that he knew of the plot already. In fact theories persist that he himself had penned the letter in order to test Monteagle’s loyalty.

In any case the information passing into Cecil’s hands was a worrying development indeed for the conspirators. One of the plotters, Thomas Winter, got wind of the Monteagle letter and told Catesby the news but the ringleader refused to be dissuaded and decided to continue with the plan, despite the increased risks.

Cecil took the message to King James but nothing was done with the information initially, perhaps so that the conspirators could be allowed to incriminate themselves further. Then on 4 November the Earl of Suffolk, who was responsible for the arrangements for the new parliamentary session, made an inspection of the vaults where they found Fawkes together with a great deal of firewood that was covering the gunpowder. Lord Monteagle was also in the search party and was surprised to find that the vault was rented by Thomas Percy, who he knew to be a Catholic. King James ordered a second search at midnight. This time Fawkes was arrested and the firewood was removed to uncover the gunpowder barrels.

The Houses of Parliament were saved. In 1834 a great fire destroyed most of the buildings, except for Westminster Hall. Charles Barry redesigned the Palace of Westminster in the following decades and it is now open to visitors either through arrangement or by paid admission during the summer months.

Warwick Castle, Warwickshire

Where Catesby gathered horses during his desperate flight

News of Fawkes’s arrest spread quickly, causing the flight of Catesby and the other plotters away from London. Had their scheme gone as planned, the conspirators hoped to ignite a Catholic uprising in the Midlands, with King James’s nine-year-old daughter Elizabeth as a potential new queen. Even though Fawkes was in custody, Catesby resolved to go ahead with his planned insurrection.

On the night of 5 November Catesby stopped off at Warwick Castle to steal horses and then spent the next couple of days with a dwindling group of followers, seeking support. Yet the Catholic hierarchy showed little interest in the revolt. With their dreams in tatters, Catesby’s men arrived at Holbeche House in Staffordshire on 7 November where they resolved to make their final stand.

This last hurrah began badly when some excess gunpowder exploded while it was being dried out near a fire, injuring several of the group. Then on the morning of 8 November, 200 men led by the Sheriff of Worcestershire arrived at Holbeche and surrounded the house. Catesby and a few others charged outside to meet them and were shot down. It is said that the same bullet that killed Thomas Percy also went through the body of Catesby. As the leader of the plot was dying he reportedly staggered to the house’s chapel and clutched an image of the Virgin Mary.

When Catesby visited Warwick Castle, the medieval fortress was in a state of some disrepair. Over the subsequent centuries it underwent several phases of restoration including much recent work. In the last few years the castle has repositioned itself as a major heritage attraction boasting a ghoulish dungeon and a princess tower.

Hagley Hall, Worcestershire

Where a plotter was tracked down

Not all of the gunpowder conspirators met their end with Catesby. One leading plotter, Thomas Winter, was injured in the melee and taken to London as a captive for questioning.

His brother Robert ran from Holbeche on the night of 7 November and then spent two months in hiding around Worcestershire before he was apprehended at Hagley. He too was hauled off to London where he awaited his fate.

Hagley has been in the hands of the Lyttelton family since the mid-16th century. The current building was largely constructed in the Georgian era under the auspices of George Lyttelton, a one-time chancellor of the exchequer. It is a splendid Palladian mansion, elegantly furnished and complemented by landscaped gardens.

Coughton Court, Warwickshire

Where Henry Garnett heard of the failure

Coughton Court is a stately Tudor house currently owned by the National Trust but still inhabited by the Throckmorton family who have resided here since 1409. The Throckmortons are said to be the oldest Catholic family in England and unusually they have managed to keep hold of many of their religious treasures, some of which are now on display.

In 1605 the court was being rented by Sir Everard Digby, one of the gunpowder plotters. On 6 November he was on the move with Catesby when word got to the house of Fawkes’s arrest. Among those assembled there were Digby’s wife and Henry Garnett, England’s leading Jesuit. Garnett had known of the plot and had advised against it but all the same he found himself implicated and a wanted man.

Garnett left Coughton in late November, ending up in Hindlip Hall near Worcester. There he was captured on 27 January 1606, as part of a round-up of Jesuits, and taken to the Tower of London.

The Tower of London, London

Where Fawkes spent his final days

It was William the Conqueror who started work on London’s famous tower in the late 11th century. Over its history it has held numerous celebrity prisoners such as Walter Ralegh, Thomas More and the Kray twins. One of the most notorious inmates was Guy Fawkes who arrived here shortly after he had been caught with the barrels of gunpowder.

Initially Fawkes refused to betray his fellow conspirators but after a few days he relented and provided his interrogators with the information they wanted. James I had personally authorised the use of “the gentler tortures” and an examination of Fawkes’s signature on his first and second confessions suggests he had been badly shaken by the experience.

Other plotters who were subsequently rounded-up also found themselves in the Tower. Here they languished awaiting trial. Francis Tresham, who some believe sent the Monteagle letter, sickened and died in December before he could take the stand. Eight others, including Fawkes, went on trial on 27 January 1606, charged with high treason.

Held in Westminster Hall, the trial was a sensational event for which spectators had to pay good money to attend. All of the defendants except for Everard Digby pleaded innocent but there was very little chance any would be let off. Guilty verdicts were announced for the eight men and the executions were carried out on 30 and 31 January at St Paul’s Churchyard and Old Palace Yard, Westminster. As befitted traitors, Fawkes and his colleagues were hung, drawn and quartered.

Henry Garnett was captured too late for the main trial. He was nonetheless subjected to the same procedure and received a similar fate on 3 May 1606. The remains of plotters were attached to spikes on London Bridge as a stark warning to future conspirators.

Tel: 0844 482 7777

Words by Rob Attar. Historical advisor: Professor James Sharpe, University of York.

The Gunpowder Conspiracy

The Gunpowder Plot of 1605 is one of the best known events in British history. Every year on November 5th, the foiling of the plot is commemorated with fireworks and the burning-in-effigy of Guy Fawkes, the best known of the conspirators. Ostensibly, their aim was to persuade the government to take a more tolerant attitude toward Roman Catholics… by blowing up the Houses of Parliament. But does that make sense? The actual effect was quite the opposite – a hardening of anti-Catholic feeling across the country. Before the end of the 17th century, people had begun to speculate that the Gunpowder Plot was, in fact, a false flag operation aimed at achieving exactly the result it did achieve.

The basic facts of the case are well established. At the end of October a junior member of the House of Lords, Baron Monteagle, received an anonymous letter warning him to stay away from the State Opening of Parliament on November 5th. Unsure what the letter meant, Monteagle passed it on to the King’s Secretary of State, Lord Salisbury. In turn, Salisbury showed the letter to King James I, who had succeeded the far more popular Queen Elizabeth I two years earlier. The King interpreted the letter to mean that an attack would be made on the House of Lords, which was duly searched. In the early hours of 5 November Guy Fawkes was discovered in the basement, along with enough gunpowder to destroy the entire building and everyone inside it.

It soon emerged that Fawkes belonged to a group of radical Catholics. With their plot exposed, the result was the polar opposite of everything they might have hoped for. More stringent anti-Catholic legislation was introduced, nationalistic paranoia against Catholicism intensified, and the previously unpopular King’s approval rating soared through the roof.

Was Guy Fawkes a villain… or a victim?

In today’s world of social media and instant communication, the situation would have attracted cynical suspicions from the start. When the supposed perpetrators of a plot lose out so badly, and their alleged victims gain so much, it’s natural to start thinking in terms of conspiracy theories. But that wasn’t how the Gunpowder Plot was viewed at the time. The conspiracy theories had to wait a couple of generations until one of history’s most audacious “false flag” operations hit the headlines… and then people started to draw parallels.

The Popish Plot dominated English politics during the 1670s. It was a hoax from beginning to end – the work of a small group of fervent anti-Catholics who created the appearance of a far-reaching Catholic plot to kill King Charles II. The latter was – in the eyes of many people – alarmingly tolerant toward Catholicism. The King’s own wife and brother were Catholics, and he had relaxed earlier restrictions on members of that faith. The Popish Plot put a stop to all that “progressive nonsense”. The country was gripped by anti-Catholic hysteria, and more than twenty prominent Catholics were falsely accused of treason and executed.

By the early 1680s, however, the Popish Plot had been exposed as a fraud – and the people of England knew they’d been conned. They began to wonder if their grandparents had been similarly conned back in 1605. Had the Gunpowder Plot been another False Flag operation? There were striking similarities between the two cases. They both involved alleged plots by Catholics against the Protestant establishment – and both resulted in worse, rather than better, conditions for Catholics.

There were differences, though. In the case of the Popish Plot, the accused Catholics were completely innocent of the charges against them. That wasn’t the case with the Gunpowder Plot. Guy Fawkes and his fellow conspirators really were Catholics, and they really did want to blow up Parliament. But who gave them the idea?

Retrospective conspiracy theories often target Lord Salisbury. After all, he was the one who exposed the alleged conspiracy to the world, and he was the one who went on to foil it like a blue-blooded English hero. Does this mean Salisbury was the real architect of the conspiracy… who somehow contrived to put it in the minds of the Catholic rebels? If that sounds too far-fetched, there is another possibility. Maybe Salisbury discovered the Catholic plot weeks or months before it was put into effect, and allowed it to go ahead just so he could jump in and foil it at the last minute. That’s just the sort of thing a ruthless, scheming politician might do to further his career.

Although most people associate conspiracy theories with the 21st century, the ideas behind them are as old as human civilization. The Popish Plot and Gunpowder Plot are just two of the many topics covered in my new book Conspiracy History . With a preface written by Mysterious Universe regular Nick Redfern, it’s packed with more than two millennia’s worth of hidden agendas, secret societies, convenient accidents and not-so-lone assassins.

Guy Fawkes

Guy Fawkes was born in 1570 and though his father was a staunch Protestant, his mother married for a second time into a strongly Catholic family.

He went to St Peter's School at York - like the Wright brothers - and later became a soldier, fighting for the Spanish against the Dutch.

Although not a senior officer, he gained a reputation for his technical expertise and on behalf of some of the English Catholics he discussed with the Spanish an invasion of England.

In 1604 he was recruited by Thomas Winter to join the Gunpowder conspiracy and came to London. Catesby initiated him and Thomas Percy into his plans in May.

Once Percy had rented the house next to the House of Lords later that month, it was decided that Fawkes would pretend to be Percy's servant, and live there. He adopted the false identity of John Johnson, and was closely involved in the business of digging a tunnel under the House of Lords and procuring gunpowder.

Once the House of Lords basement was rented, the tunnel was abandoned. Fawkes went abroad during the middle of 1605, but was back in London in late October to finalise the plan, and was ready on 4 November to carry it out.

When the basement was searched later that day Fawkes was found looking after a large pile of firewood. His explanations were initially accepted. But suspicions were subsequently aroused and, in a second search later that evening, the gunpowder was found under the wood and Fawkes was arrested.

Guy Fawkes was interrogated several times, but - to the admiration of members of the government, including the King - admitted almost nothing.

The King authorised the use of torture on 6 November and Fawkes's testimonies of 7, 8 and 9 November revealed much more information which the authorities used to begin to pick up some of the other conspirators.

Fawkes was tried with the other surviving conspirators on 27 January 1606 and executed in Old Palace Yard, Westminster, on 31 January.

The Man Behind the Gunpowder Plot

Robert had fairly strong motives to organize the plot. His father was an English Catholic who was persecuted by Queen Elizabeth I’s Protestant Government for refusing to follow the Church of England. Robert, too, refused to give up Catholicism and thought that by blowing up the current government, he could replace it with a Catholic one, thus ending persecution against Catholics. One of his allies, Thomas Wintour, is the one who found Guy Fawkes, a soldier, in Spain and asked him to join their cause.

Needless to say, Robert’s plot failed, but a couple of centuries later, his goal finally succeeded, and attitudes toward Catholicism began to change in the 1850s. The “Observance of 5th November Act” was repealed, and Guy Fawkes Day remained a social celebration and a lovely excuse for fireworks.