The Story Behind the Gunpowder Plot of 1605

In 1605, thirteen men intended to blow up the Houses of Parliament and the House of Lords, in London, with barrels of gunpowder, and among those 13 was Guy Fawkes, Britain’s most infamous traitor.

The Background to the Plot

Following the death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603, English Catholics that had been victimized under her reign had anticipated that her successor, James I, would be more understanding of their religious convictions. James I had, in any case, had had a Catholic mother. Regrettably, James did not become to be more understanding than Elizabeth and a quantity of men, 13 to be precise, come to a decision that forceful action was the solution. The excellent historian Simon Adams of goes into more detail regarding the discontent of the plotters at that time:

“The primary focus of Catholic discontent was what had become known by 1605 as the penal laws. On one level they included all the Elizabethan religious legislation back to the Supremacy and Uniformity Acts of 1559, but the term was usually applied to a specific series of statutes passed between 1581 and 1593. The 1559 acts involved an oath to the royal supremacy over the church and obligatory attendance at a parish church every Sunday. Absence, soon described as recusancy (disobedience, hence recusant), incurred a one shilling fine. The later statutes made it treason to withdraw the Queenís subjects from their allegiance by converting them (1581) and treason for Jesuits and priests trained in foreign seminaries to enter England (1585). The 1581 statute also increased recusancy fines to the deliberately penal level of £20 a month.” You can find much more detail relating to the gunpowder plot at

The Collective Takes Shape

A small collective took shape, under the headship of Robert Catesby. Catesby came to be of the opinion that vehement action was necessary. In actual fact, the objective was to destroy the Houses of Parliament and the House of Lords. As a result, they would slay the King, and possibly even the Prince of Wales, as well as those Members of Parliament who were making life problematical for the Catholics. In the present day these plotters would be recognized as fanatics, or terrorists.

Gunpowder as the Weapon of Choice

In order to carry out their scheme, the plotters got hold of thirty-six large barrels of gunpowder, and stockpiled them in a cellar, which was situated beneath the House of Lords.

Second Thoughts

However as the faction worked on the scheme, it became apparent that there would be a risk to innocent citizens that would be injured or killed in the incident, together with some people that stood up for the rights of the Catholics. As a result, a number of the conspirators began having misgivings, and one of the troupe affiliates even sent a nameless letter forewarning his friend, Lord Monteagle, to keep away from the Parliament on November 5th. When the warning letter reached the King, the Kings men drew up plans to stop the plotters.

The Unfortunate Guy Fawkes

So it came to pass that the unfortunate Guy Fawkes, who was inside the cellar with the thirty-six casks of gunpowder when the Kings men stormed in, in the early hours of November 5th, was captured, tortured and put to death.

It is undecided whether the plotters would have been successful in pulling off their plan to destroy the Houses of Parliament, even if they had not been informed on. Some have even made suggestions that the gunpowder itself was too old as to be of any use.

The Start of an Institution

Even for the time which was infamously volatile, the Gunpowder Plot struck a very overpowering chord for the citizens of England. In actual fact, even in the present day, the reigning sovereign only enters the Parliament once day per year, on what is called “the State Opening of Parliament”. Preceding the Opening, and in keeping with tradition, the Yeomen of the Guard investigate the cellars of the Palace of Westminster for casks of gunpowder. These days, the Queen and Parliament still abide by this ritual.

The Birth of Bonfire Night

On the corresponding night that the Gunpowder Plot was thwarted, on November 5th, 1605, bonfires were set on fire in order to commemorate the safety of the King. Since then, November 5th has become known as Bonfire Night. The occasion is remembered every year with fireworks and the burning of effigies of Guy Fawkes on a bonfire.

So, Who was Robert Catesby?

Robert Catesby was the captivating organizer of the group of plotters. He seemed to have a way with people, and persuaded a number of his easily influenced acquaintances to go along with the deadly plan which would afterward be recognized as the Gunpowder Plot. At the same time as troubles with his plot arose and a number of members articulated their doubts, Catesby remained unwavering in his determination that aggressive action was the best way to go.

The Plot Thickens

One of the first things Catesby did, was to enlist the help of his close acquaintances and relations, such as Thomas Wintour, Jack Wright and Thomas Percy, nevertheless the faction grew quickly and included the now infamous Guido Fawkes. The small nucleus of conspirators was of the opinion that Guy would be an effective addition to the team. Guy was not a part of the cohesive circle of Catesby’s little unit, nevertheless, he had spent some time in the Holland and Spain where he had go into battle, as a mercenary. Whilst in Spain he earned the moniker Guido. As a matter of fact, he even signed his name ìGuido Fawkesî in a few of places.

Fawkes Takes his Place

Fawkes was as fervent regarding the predicament of the Catholics in England as his contemporaries, and as a part of the group; he rapidly became a trusted associate, and was later given the responsibility of overseeing the risky task of getting hold of the 36 barrels of gunpowder neeed, as well as hoarding them in a rented area below the House of Lords.

Almost immediately after Fawkes’ addition, others who joined the unit were Robert Wintour, Christopher Wright, Robert Keyes and Thomas Bates. Late arrivals to the troupe were John Grant, Ambrose Rookwood, Francis Tresham, and Everard Digby, and in all, there were 13 plotters involved in the Gunpowder Plot.

So, if Robert Catesby was the ringleader, how on earth did Guy Fawkes turn out to be the most infamous member of the Gunpowder Plot?

Capture, Torture and Death

Unfortunately for Guy Fawkes, he was the one who was discovered beneath the House of Lords with the thirty-six casks of gunpowder. For two whole days, Guy was the solitary suspect held in custody and his name became inexorably linked with the ìPowder Treasonî, as the Gunpowder Plot was recognized as at the time.

Apprehension and Surrender

However Guy was not in prison on his own for long. In next to no time, many plotters were either apprehended outright as they tried to escape from London, or else they surrendered soon after that. A number of them, on the other hand, including the gang leader Robert Catesby, were slain in a siege inside a few days of the unsuccessful attempt.

All of the plotters that were not killed during the siege were locked up, tortured, and put to death in the most ghastly way (all except Francis Tresham who became sick and passed away whilst in jail).

As is frequently the case with declarations of guilt made under coercion, the plotters confessed to everything they knew, and in all likelihood supplemented this info with the things that the powers that be yearned to hear, in hopes of ending their torment. The upshot was dubious declarations of guilt, likely amplified by the establishment for their own objectives. These admissions incriminated two foremost English Jesuits who, according to some experts in the time period, were not likely to have had any participation in the Plot. If truth be told, they would most likely to have been opposed to it. Nonetheless, the government made use of the Gunpowder Plot to give good reason for additional anti-Catholic oppression, including the execution of at least 2 Jesuits leaders they believed was endangering their influence.

Death Sentences

All locked up conspirators were put to death in public in March 1607. They were “hanged, drawn, and quartered”; a vicious custom which the powers that be hoped would implant terror into other possible turncoats.

Guy and the Plot in Modern Times

Guy Lent his moniker for Daily Usage

In the present day, we use the expression “guy” to denote a “person” or “man”, as in “that guy across the road”. Even though the Oxford English Dictionary will not vouch for this hypothesis, many linguists and historians believe that our use of the name in that way is from our old friend Guy Fawkes.

Tracing the Origin of the Name

It is not easy to pin down the exact route of the expression through the centuries, however, it in all probability it started with the referring of the effigy of Fawkes, which was chucked on top of the bonfire every November 5th as “a guy”. Still in the present day, as people walk down the road, kids that are trying to collect cash for fireworks will ask for “a penny for the guy.” The Opening of Parliament.

Nobody, if truth be told, supposes that they are going to find thirty-six barrels of gunpowder when the Yeomen take on this task each year. Nevertheless, just like most people who like a good Bonfire Night, it is clear the Lords and Members of Parliament like a bit of a celebration, as well.

In Summary

It seems as though the plot was doomed to fail even before Guy Fawkes was discovered with thirty-six barrels of gunpowder. Even if the group had been successful in blowing up the houses of parliament and killing the King, it still would have been unlikely that the conspirators would have been able to put a Catholic on to the throne of England, not without outside help anyway, but of course we will never know.