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About the Gunpowder Plot

As we set out there were many causes which made a group of men want to blow up the Houses of Parliament with gunpowder and kill the King.

The group was not led by Guy Fawkes but he was a member. It was led by a clever and charming man called Robert Catesby from Warwickshire. In May 1604 he spoke about a plan to blow up the King, together with the House of Lords and the House of Commons.

He wanted it to take place during the opening of Parliament. This meant that a lot of them would be there including the King. After the explosion they planned to kidnap King James’ daughter Princess Elizabeth. It is not 100% clear but she would have given them something to bargain with. They also wanted other Catholics across England to join them to get rid of those in charge.

Trying to talk them out of it…

A small group of Catholic priests, including a man called Henry Garnett, the head of the Jesuit mission to England, did have some idea of what Guy Fawkes and his friends were thinking of doing. They did try to talk them out of it and did not tell anyone, like the Government in charge, what they knew.

Starting their plans….

To start with the group rented a house on one side of the House of Lords. They planned to dig a tunnel that they could put gunpowder into but this was too difficult.

In March 1605 they came up with another plan. They rented a basement storeroom. It was directly underneath the House of Lords.

After a few delays the opening of Parliament was finally set for 5 November 1605. 36 barrels of gunpowder were in place in the storeroom.

Someone tells Parliament

The Government did have their suspicions about a plot. The clearest message was when a Catholic nobleman, Lord Monteagle, was sent a letter that he should not go to the opening of Parliament on 5 November. The letter said;

My Lord…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…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.

The letter was a warning. Lord Monteagle passed the letter to Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury, the King’s most important minister. It is not known who wrote the letter, but it may have been Francis Tresham. He was in Monteagle’s family as his brother-in-law.

They find out about the Gunpowder Plot….

The group found out that the letter had been sent through one of Monteagle’s servants. They talked about stopping their plans, but decided to go ahead. At this point it’s unclear if the government was not sure how serious the plot was or they were playing it cool so as not to scare them into running away.

4th November

What happened then was, on 4th November someone who worked for the King, Sir Thomas Knyvett, and Edward Doubleday found Guy Fawkes, who was using the fake name, John Johnson. Because he was in the basement of the House of Parliament, they also found all the gunpowder. He could not escape.

5th – 9th November

By the next morning, the 5th November, the group found out their plot had been discovered. they ran away to the Midlands as the government found out who they were and wrote papers for their arrest.

Although they hadn’t been able to use their gunpowder, Catesby tried to get people who were Catholics like them to join them to get rid of the government. They stole horses from Warwick Castle but no more than fifty people joined them. It was clear this would not work.

They found the group in Staffordshire and there was a shoot-out. Catesby, Thomas Percy, Christopher and Jack Wright were killed. Thomas Winter and Ambrose Rookwood were captured and brought to London.

Sir Everard Digby, Thomas Bates, Robert Keyes and Francis Tresham were arrested over the next few days, whilst many others were brought in as they may have been involved. One of them, Robert Winter was not caught until January 1606.

9th November

On Saturday 9 November the King told Parliament all about the plot to blow them up during the opening of Parliament, to overthrow the government and replace him with a catholic. This was then written in a pamphlet (leaflet) for all to read.

More information

Read about what happened to Guy Fawkes and if you haven’t already what caused the plot