The Gunpowder Plot was a failed attempt to blow up England’s King James I (1566-1625) and the Parliament on November 5, 1605. The plot was organized by Robert Catesby (c.1572-1605) in an effort to end the persecution of Roman Catholics by the English government. Catesby and others hoped to replace the country’s Protestant government with Catholic leadership. Around midnight on November 4, 1605, one of the conspirators, Guy Fawkes (1570-1606), was discovered in the cellar of the Parliament building with barrels of gunpowder. Fawkes and other men involved in the plot were tried and executed for treason. Every November 5, the British celebrate Guy Fawkes Day by burning Fawkes in effigy.
Gunpowder Plot Discovered
At about midnight on the night of November 4-5, Sir Thomas Knyvet, a justice of the peace, found Guy Fawkes lurking in a cellar under the Parliament building and ordered the premises searched. Thirty-six barrels of gunpowder were found, and Fawkes was taken into custody. After being tortured, Fawkes revealed he was a participant in an English Catholic conspiracy to annihilate England’s Protestant government and replace it with Catholic leadership.
What became known as the Gunpowder Plot was organized by Robert Catesby, an English Catholic whose father had been persecuted by Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) for refusing to conform to the Church of England. Guy Fawkes had converted to Catholicism, and his religious zeal led him to fight in the army of Catholic Spain in the Protestant Netherlands.
Catesby and the handful of other plotters rented a cellar that extended under the House of Lords building, and Fawkes planted the gunpowder there. However, as the November 5 opening meeting of Parliament approached, Lord Monteagle (1575-1622), the brother-in-law of one of the conspirators, received an anonymous letter warning him not to attend Parliament on November 5. Monteagle alerted the government, and hours before the attack was to have taken place Fawkes and the explosives were found. By torturing Fawkes, King James’ government learned the identities of his co-conspirators. During the next few weeks, English authorities killed or captured all the plotters and put the survivors on trial
Gunpowder Plot: Aftermath
Fawkes and the other surviving chief conspirators were sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered in London. Moments before the start of his execution, on January 31, 1606, Fawkes jumped from a ladder while climbing to the gallows, breaking his neck and dying.
Following the failed Gunpowder Plot, new laws were instituted in England that eliminated the right of Catholics to vote, among other repressive restrictions.
Guy Fawkes Night
In 1606, Parliament established November 5 as a day of public thanksgiving. Guy Fawkes Night (also referred to as Guy Fawkes Day and Bonfire Night) now is celebrated annually across Great Britain on November 5 in remembrance of the Gunpowder Plot. As dusk falls, villagers and city dwellers across Britain light bonfires, set off fireworks and burn effigies of Fawkes.