Scotlands History

The Gunpowder Plot

Remember remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder, treason
Should ever be forgot...

As midnight approached on the night of 4 November 1605 a group of armed men led by a Sir Thomas Knyvett, a Westminster magistrate, was searching the under croft below the House of Lords. They discovered Guy Fawkes and 36 barrels of gunpowder.

Fawkes was part of a daring plot to murder King James VI and I, his family, Parliamentarians and the Protestant nobility during the State Opening of Parliament on November 5th.

The 13 Gunpowder Plotters included wealthy Catholics including Robert Catesby, Thomas Winter, Robert Keyes, Sir Thomas Percy, Sir Ambrose Rokewood and Sir Francis Tresham. They planned regicide and mass murder - an act of terror - against the Protestant administration that they hoped would spark a Catholic rebellion in England.

Sir Francis Tresham wrote a letter to his friend Lord Monteagle warning him to stay away from the House of Lords on November 5th. Monteagle took the letter to the Secretary of State - Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, England’s Chief Spymaster.

When the plot was revealed the net began to close on the conspirators. Guy Fawkes was captured on 4 November and the other plotters fled London. Most were caught, tortured, tried and executed.

Some of the Gunpowder Plotters staged a final showdown with the authorities at Holbeche House in Staffordshire. The powder for their firearms was wet so they tried to dry it by the fire. A spark lit the gunpowder and an explosion tore through the house. The plotters were encircled by the Sheriff of Worcester and his men. Most died in a gun fight.

If the Gunpowder Plot had succeeded hundreds would have died in the blast including the King, his son and heir Henry, his Lords and Bishops. Experts believe that Fawkes had more than 20 times the gunpowder he needed to totally destroy the Westminster Parliament.

  • Image of Gunpowder Plot conspirators, including Guy Fawkes, 1605

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