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The Gunpowder Plot to Blow Up Parliament in 1605

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Gunpowder Plot Cellar

Image source: William Capon

The Gunpowder Plot of 1605 - Guy Fawkes

At the beginning of the seventeenth century Roman Catholics in England were still suffering the effects of King Henry VIII's 'Reformation' whereby all Catholics were still considered potential traitors because of their loyalty to the Pope in Rome. It was hoped that when King James VI of Scotland became King James I of England in 1603 that religious tolerances would improve. This was not to be, and within a few years the infamous Gunpowder Plot was hatched in 1605. The devout Roman Catholic conspirators were Robert Catesby, Guy Fawkes, Thomas Winter, Francis Gresham, Thomas Percy, John and Christopher Wright, and several others. Robert Catesby was the leader of the group.

The Roman Catholics were becoming increasingly angry at the lack of religious tolerance by the king and parliament so a plan was made to blow up parliament on 5 November when the king and his ministers were gathered inside the Palace of Westminster. The highly ambitious conspirators believed that if they could remove the king and government then they would be able to take over England.

A cellar was rented that had access to beneath of the Palace of Westminster. Here they stored barrels of gunpowder for use when parliament next met. As simple as their plan was, is was not perfect. The biggest risk of failure was one of the conspirators, Francis Gresham, who was related to the MP Lord Monteagle who was likely to die in the resulting explosion. Gresham kept worrying about this and finally told Lord Monteagle not to attend parliament on 5 November.

Monteagle was suspicious of Gresham's suggestion to keep away and reported his fears to the authorities. The basement of the Palace of Westminster was searched during the night of 4 November and, unfortunately for the conspirators, Guy Fawkes was caught guarding the gunpowder in the cellar. Guy Fawkes was subsequently tortured in the Tower of London in efforts to get him to reveal the names of all the plotters but he refused to name them. At this time the rest of the conspirators quickly escaped out of London but they were all eventually tracked down and captured.

During the capture four of them were killed by the authorities and the rest were later tried for high treason. They suffered the usual gruesome fate which is reserved for all traitors except for Guy Fawkes who, despite his torture pains and wounds, managed to hang himself by jumping through the gallows with a noose around his neck - thus killing himself instantly and avoiding being hung, drawn and quartered.

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