Guy Fawkes Attempt

Discover how Guy Fawkes was caught preparing to blow up James I and the Houses of Parliament.

The battle for religious control in England was at a peak during the 1500's. It began in earnest during the reign of Henry VIII, who was a staunch Catholic. As seemed to be the fashion in those days, those who did not conform to Catholic ways, that is Protestants, were dealt with very severely. However, the situation changed when the Pope refused to give Henry his blessing when the latter wished to divorce Catherine of Aragon. In his rage, Henry turned his back on Catholicism and made himself the head of the Church of England. The teachings of the church though, were still very much Catholic orientated, so Protestants found that they weren't much better off.

Henry's successor, Edward VI was a protestant, and so the religious vogue turned full circle. Subsequently, Mary I was a Catholic and she made it quite clear what she thought of protestants, crushing any who dared to make a stand against her religion.

Elizabeth I was in power in the years leading up to the gunpowder plot, which as we shall see, was a desperate attempt by Catholic conspirators to blow up James I, allowing for a Catholic successor to the throne. Elizabeth had several reasons to promote Protestantism. First, she was very wary of interference of a Catholic power from Europe, invading and defeating her. This would be made easier if Catholic sympathisers in England forced some sort of rebellion. Also, when she found out Mary, Queen of Scots planned to wrest the throne from her, she put her in the Tower of London. But again, fearful of Catholic sympathisers freeing her, she had her executed to dispel that threat. All through her reign she was extremely harsh to anyone who was in the slightest bit pro Catholic, in order to protect her own interests.

The Catholics of England though, rejoiced when in 1603, James VI of Scotland became James I of England. It was widely assumed that he would relent on the persecution of Catholics, and for the first few days it seemed that he would. After a couple of weeks however, it became clear that he would be just as severe, if not even more so, than his predecessor.

In desperation, five Catholics met up in a pub in London called the Duck and Drake, to discuss what to do about the situation. The five were Robert Catesby, Thomas Percy, Thomas Wintour, John Wright and Guy Fawkes. All were staunch Catholics and had played some hand in pro catholic rebellions or wars. Guy Fawkes, for example had fought in Flanders, under the Spanish flag, and proved himself to be a great warrior. The five pledged that they would blow up the houses of Parliament at the next sitting, with King James inside, and thus the Gunpowder Plot was hatched.

Initially a house close to the Houses of Parliament was hired. The men began to dig a tunnel, but after several days, declared it unfeasible, due to the backbreaking nature of the work. All was not lost though; Thomas Percy, through his connections, was able to rent a cellar that was part of Parliament buildings, directly under the House of Lords, and it was here that they hid thirty-six barrels of gunpowder. Guy Fawkes stored them, acting as the personal servant of Percy, under the pseudonym John Johnson.

All the time, Robert Catesy, probably the most important Catholic amongst the men, was recruiting more people to aid with the plot. Christopher Wright, Robert Wintour, Thomas Bates and Francis Tresham were amongst them. Indeed, when all is told, only Bates and Guy Fawkes were members of the plot not related by blood or marriage.

Frustratingly for the conspirators, the sitting of Parliament was continuously delayed, so much so that the gunpowder began to go off. Fawkes travelled back to Flanders to acquire some fresh powder, and possibly to tell Spanish connections of the groups progress. Upon his return, he was able to replace the bad powder.

On October 26, 1605, a letter was sent anonymously to William Parker (Lord Monteagle), warning him of the impending explosion, and pleading with him to find an excuse not to attend. The sender of the letter obviously thought of Monteagle as a close Catholic friend, but the Lord had found favour under the new Protestant regime. Subsequently, he passed the letter on to the King's Secretary of state. It is interesting to note that Monteagle was the brother in law of Francis Tresham.

The Gunpowder Plot conspirators heard of the letter and decided to wait. Tresham denied any involvement, although it remains a point of contention over who did send the letter, and he has to be a prime suspect. After much deliberation, the group decided that the government did not know sufficiently of their plan, and so pressed ahead.

On the night of November 4, the cellar that Percy had rented out was searched twice, and the second time the gunpowder was found under a stack of wood. Also present was Guy Fawkes, who maintained he was John Johnson. Unfortunately, devices were found on his body that were designed to detonate the explosion, so he was arrested.

Consequently, the King's men began their torture of Fawkes, and after two days he confessed his real name, the nature of the plot and the names of his fellow conspirators. Meanwhile, those other cohorts heard of Fawkes' arrest and fled to Staffordshire, holing up at Holbeche house. Francis Tresham decided to stay in London. On November 8 the Sheriff of Worcester and his men surrounded the house. A gunfight ensued in which Catesby, the Wright brothers and Thomas Percy were all mortally wounded. All the other conspirators were eventually apprehended, although Robert Wintour was on the run for the best part of two months.

The survivors were taken to London to await trial, whilst Tresham was thrown in the Tower of London. Some theorists claim this was to prevent the part he played in revealing the Gunpowder Plot from being known. Nobody would find out because he died in the Tower.

On January 27 the eight survivors all pleaded guilty to the crime and a day later were all hung, drawn and quartered.

In modern day Britain the Gunpowder Plot is remembered by building large fires, called bonfires, on November 5. Fireworks, to symbolise the explosion that could have been, are also set off. A human dummy, symbolising Guy Fawkes, known as "˜the Guy' is usually thrown onto the fire.

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