Table of Contents
- King James, I and the Parliament were targeted by a Catholic plot in 1605.
- The Gunpowder Plot aimed to blow up both leaders and force out Protestant leadership by replacing them with Roman Catholicism.
- Early in the morning, one of the rebels was found in the basement of Parliament. He was carrying barrels of gunpowder.
- Fawkes and other men involved in the plot were tried for treason. They were executed for this crime.
The Gunpowder Plot was a plan to blow up the king and parliament. The plan failed.
King James I came from Scotland. When his predecessor, Queen Elizabeth, died, the Church of England broke away from Rome.
Catholics were disappointed when it became apparent that James was not going to change the religious situation in England.
The Plot Begins
The conspirators felt that they were doing the right thing. They wanted to get rid of heresy and bring back the true religion. The conspirators also might have been angry because some Catholics were executed.
Five people decided to blow up the House of Lords. Robert Catesby, Thomas Winter, Thomas Percy, John Wright, and Guy (or Guido). Later they added Robert Keyes.
The detonation was planned for the day when the King, Lords, and Commons would all be in the Lords Chamber.
The Plot Thickens
The conspirators drove a tunnel to the House of Lords. They did it by using wood and piles to make the house stay up.
Underneath the Lords, Chamber was a coal cellar, where they intended to make a cavity.
At the same time, conspirators stored twenty kegs of powder in a house at Lambeth. They planned to take it on a boat at night to Westminster.
However, to have a friendly government after the explosion, plans were drawn up to find the heir to the throne. The crown prince and princess were children.
During this time, conspirators needed to grow. That is when they planned the explosion for November 5th.
The plan ended when Guy Fawkes had to light the fuses. He was then supposed to escape by boat to continental Europe.
The Discovery of the Plot
It was very hard for the conspirators to keep a secret because many people knew.
According to the official account, the plot was uncovered when a strange anonymous letter arrived at Lord Monteagle, a Catholic, urging him not to attend the State Opening.
We do not know if the letter was genuine, not from a fellow Catholic, or forgery sent by someone in government.
On November 4th, an initial search was done by Lord Monteagle and the Lord Chamberlain. They found Guy Fawkes with the wood and coal that Percy had provided to cover the kegs of powder used to blow up Parliament.
The men searched the cellar with a group of people at midnight. It was there that they found the gunpowder. A bit later, they arrested Fawkes.
Guy Fawkes was carrying an iron lantern when he was arrested in the cellars under the Houses of Parliament. The lantern had been given to Oxford University by Robert Heywood. He was responsible for making sure that people followed the rules.
His brother, Peter Heywood, went down to the cellar with Sir Thomas Knyvett. He found the lantern and took it away from Guy Fawkes when he tried to blow up the gunpowder.
Ralph Ewens, who is a clerk in the House, made a note of the event, and it says (in modern English):
This last night, the Upper House of Parliament was searched by Sir Thomas Knyvett, and one Johnson, servant to Mr Thomas Percy, was there apprehended, who had placed 36 barrels of gunpowder in the vault under the House with a purpose to blow [up] it and the whole company when they should here assemble.
Arrest and Executions
Fawkes was taken before the Secretary of State and King James. He did not answer their questions about his co-conspirators.
When asked what Fawkes was doing in the cellars, he replied with a bold answer:
I wish to blow the Scottish King and his Scottish Lords back to Scotland.
He was sorry that he failed. James I didn’t like it, but he said the traitor had a “Roman resolution.”
However, the people who helped him may not have been secret. All of them, except Robert Winter, were killed or arrested by November 12th.
A lot of people were involved in the plot. Some left and had been killed, but some stayed and were taken to the Tower of London.
All of the people would have probably been subject to a lot of torture, which was often done at this time. But it was never officially sanctioned by English law.
On 5th November, there was great rejoicing in London. They also had Thanksgiving day on the following Sunday (10th November).
The people who were accused of high treason had a trial. They pleaded not guilty, but they were found guilty and sentenced to death.
The executions for this group included a beheading. They set up the heads in different places in London, England.
A person wrote about the death of Fawkes with these words:
Last came the great devil of all, Guy Fawkes, alias Johnson, who should have put fire to the powder. His body being weak with the torture and sickness, he was scarce able to go up the ladder, yet with much ado, by the help of the hangman, went high enough to break his neck by the fall.
He made no speech, but with his crosses and idle ceremonies, made his end upon the gallows and the block, to the great joy of all the beholders that the land was ended of so wicked a villainy.
Commemoration of the Plot
November fifth is when people burn fireworks and light bonfires. It is called Firework Night, Bonfire Night, or Guy Fawkes Day.
A law was passed to make November 5th each year a day of thanksgiving.
On 5th November 1605, people in London celebrated the defeat of a plot. They did this by lighting fires and celebrating in the streets.
Many celebrations happen on the same date. People start to do these celebrations each year, and after time it has become a tradition for some people. However, in Northern Ireland, there is no celebration of this day.
Families in Britain like to let off fireworks around November 5th. Some people make guys (effigies) out of old clothes stuffed with newspaper, and sometimes they put masks on them. These are burned on the bonfire on November 5th.
In the 19th century, `guy’ was used to refer to people who dressed strangely. In the 20th century in America, it was used in slang to mean any male person.
Some towns and institutions may have firework displays. But people do this on a smaller scale in back gardens all over the country.
There are processions in some places, like Lewes and Battle in Sussex. Children show Guy Fawkes’ effigies to collect money for fireworks.
Kids sometimes chant:
the fifth of November
Gunpowder treason and plot
We see no reason
Why Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!
In the 1890s, boys in East Essex would wear old hats and coats covered with paper. They would also cover their faces with coal to make them dark. Then they would chant a rhyme with a further verse:
This is the day they did contrive
To blow up King and Parliament alive
Through God’s great mercy, they were taken
With a slow fuse and a dark lantern
Holler boys, holler boys,
God Save the Queen
Penny for the Guys
Searching the Houses of Parliament Today
Today, the Houses of Parliament are still searched. The Yeomen of the Guard do that before any State Opening. They do this to ensure that no one is hiding in the cellars. But it is for show and not serious anti-terrorism precautions.
Some people think there will not be a State Opening on 5 November, but that is false. For example, the State Opening was on 5 November 1957.
Who was Guy Fawkes?
Guy Fawkes was born in York. His dad was a lawyer and Protestant. Guy’s mom had a Catholic family, but they hid this.
At the time, it was dangerous to be Catholic. There were many plots and rebellions against Elizabeth I led by Catholics. If priests were caught leading secret services, they were tortured and executed.
Guy converted to Catholicism. He knew that the dangers were there, but he still did it.
Guy Fawkes travelled to Europe at 21 to fight for Catholic Spain against Protestant Dutch reformers.
Guy Fawkes met with an Englishman who wanted to join a group of Catholic conspirators. They were in Spain.
Devout Fawkes was a brave and skilled man. He and one other man went to England, where the new king James I had come to power.
He was chosen for his siegecraft skill, which was good because people in London did not know him.
In the first part of the story and during the first part of his interrogation, he used an alias. Fawkes is reported to have said that he would have fired the gunpowder. He said it when Knyvett discovered him. The truth is that he was outside.