BRIT POLITICS, Study, Learn,  Create, Inspire

The Gunpowder Plot – 1605

The Gunpowder Plot is the attempt by a group of men, including someone called Guy Fawkes, to blow up the Houses of Parliament and at the same time murder James I, King of England. What made him want to do it? It was about religion, politics and who was in charge at the time.

Below we set out the causes for the Gunpowder Plot. You can also click these links to read about the Gunpowder Plotters plan itself and what happened when they were caught.

What was going on at the time of Guy Fawkes?

When Henry VIII started the Church of England (known as the reformation) in the 16th century (1500s), Protestants across Europe wanted things to change in how the Roman Catholic Church was organised. They questioned its teachings and the authority of the Pope.

With the help of some of Europe’s rulers the Catholic Church tried to stop this. Protestants found their own support among other kings and princes. In the last thirty years of the 16th century Europe there were very nasty wars.

When Henry VIII died, protestant ways became even stronger under his son, King Edward VI (1547-53)

When Edward VI’s died, his sister, Queen Mary I (1553-58), tried to put the old Catholic faith back in. But she died and her sister Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603) took over and became the greatest Protestant power in Europe.

Find out more in these recommended reads (paid links)

Being on the wrong side…

With all the changes we talked about above, In the 16th century many people became on the wrong side either by being protestant or catholic at the wrong time. If they did they were called ‘heretics’ and were often hunted down by people in charge.

In England, Queen Elizabeth I’s government became very nervous about what people who were catholic were doing (remember she was a protestant like her dad, Henry VIII) She killed 100 Catholic priests when she was Queen to make her feel more secure. Some were hurt to get them to talk.

A crisis happens…

The fight between Queen Elizabeth I and rulers who were Catholic in Europe started to worsen. In 1570 the Pope said that she was ‘excommunicated’. What this meant was that anyone who wanted to stop her being Queen (even killing her) had the support of the Pope.

Queen Elizabeth I responded by supporting her fellow Protestants in the Netherlands and France with military arms, money and soldiers.

Tensions grew between Protestant England and Catholic Spain by 1585 England and Spain were at war.

A new King, King James I

Queen Elizabeth died in 1603 and many hoped this would end of all the religious fighting. James VI, King of Scotland took over. James was a Protestant like Elizabeth but he thought of himself as someone who would bring peace.

As the son of the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots, he was also expected to treat Catholics better than Queen Elizabeth I. Some even thought he might let them worship in the open.

The King under pressure

James was under pressure from many people in the House of Commons who were strongly against Catholics.

This was not helped when he found out some catholics were talking about hurting him and taking away his crown.

One of these was the Bye Plot in 1603. This was a plan to kidnap the King and change all laws that were against Catholics like them.

The Main Plot was also a plan by Catholic nobles to get rid of the King and make his cousin queen. Arabella Stuart was a catholic.

King James’ wife becomes a Catholic

Although she was a Protestant, James’s wife, Anne of Denmark, changed or converted to become a Catholic. This was one of a number of things that led many Catholics to think things would get better under King James.

With Queen Elizabeth I and King Philip II of Spain gone, both countries wanted to end 15 years of war.

They signed a peace treaty at the Somerset House Conference in London in 1604. At this meeting, Catholics hoped the Spanish would get James to agree to make things better for them. He didn’t.

Who was Guy Fawkes?

Guy Fawkes was English and very serious about his religion. Fawkes was a catholic who had fought in Spain against the Netherlands where he called himself Guido Fawkes.

He was born in York and was one in a group of catholics who came up with the plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament and King James I.

He wanted to see a Catholic as King or Queen and not James. This was the Gunpowder Plot.


Everything you have just read shows that there were real problems in England at this time.

Starting with Henry VIII’s decision to start a new church, many Catholics after decades of trouble under Queen Elizabeth I felt badly let down by King James I.

Those men who set out to blow up the Houses of Parliament and the King, felt that they were being stopped from practicing their true religion, they may have had friends and family killed, and they felt that the people in charge were doing things wrong.