The Gunpowder Plot of 1605, in earlier centuries often called the Gunpowder Treason Plot or the Jesuit Treason, was a failed assassination attempt against King James I of England and VI of Scotland by a group of provincial English Catholics led by Robert Catesby.
The plan was to blow up the House of Lords during the State Opening of England’s Parliament on 5 November 1605, as the prelude to a popular revolt in the Midlands during which James’s nine-year-old daughter, Princess Elizabeth, was to be installed as the Catholic head of state. Catesby may have embarked on the scheme after hopes of securing greater religious tolerance under King James had faded, leaving many English Catholics disappointed. His fellow plotters were John Wright, Thomas Wintour, Thomas Percy, Guy Fawkes, Robert Keyes, Thomas Bates, Robert Wintour, Christopher Wright, John Grant, Ambrose Rookwood, Sir Everard Digby and Francis Tresham. Fawkes, who had 10 years of military experience fighting in the Spanish Netherlands in suppression of the Dutch Revolt, was given charge of the explosives.
The plot was revealed to the authorities in an anonymous letter sent to William Parker, 4th Baron Monteagle, on 26 October 1605. During a search of the House of Lords at about midnight on 4 November 1605, Fawkes was discovered guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder—enough to reduce the House of Lords to rubble—and arrested. Most of the conspirators fled from London as they learned of the plot’s discovery, trying to enlist support along the way. Several made a stand against the pursuing Sheriff of Worcester and his men at Holbeche House; in the ensuing battle Catesby was one of those shot and killed. At their trial on 27 January 1606, eight of the survivors, including Fawkes, were convicted and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered.
Details of the assassination attempt were allegedly known by the principal Jesuit of England, Father Henry Garnet. Although he was convicted of treasonand sentenced to death, doubt has been cast on how much he really knew of the plot. As its existence was revealed to him through confession, Garnet was prevented from informing the authorities by the absolute confidentiality of the confessional. Although anti-Catholic legislation was introduced soon after the plot’s discovery, many important and loyal Catholics retained high office during King James I’s reign. The thwarting of the Gunpowder Plot was commemorated for many years afterwards by special sermons and other public events such as the ringing of church bells, which have evolved into theBonfire Night of today.
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 Ralegh 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 Henry IV of France 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. Ralegh, who had watched while his colleagues sweated, and who was due to be executed a few days later, was also pardoned. Stuart denied any knowledge of the Main Plot. The two priests, condemned by the pope, and “very bloodily handled”, were executed.
Letter to Lord Monteagle
26 October 1605 to download: http://www.parliament.uk/education-resources/Parliament%20explained%20articles/lord-monteagle-letter-pdf.pdf
- Remember, Remember the 5th November (conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com)
- Gunpowder plot (rushcliffesocialnetwork.wordpress.com)
- Guy Fawkes Day And How The Image Of A Traitor Transformed Into A Patriot (dangerouslee.biz)
- A different Thanksgiving Day (thestreetnames.wordpress.com)