The gunpowder plot goes up in smoke
The scheme is foiled and the conspirators arrested
The gunpowder plot was a long time in the making. The first meeting of the conspirators, who planned to blow up the House of Lords, kill James VI and I and replace him with his nine-year-old daughter Elizabeth under Catholic guidance, took place as early as May 1604.
By the following summer, the plotters had rented an undercroft beneath the Houses of Parliament and had filled it with several dozen barrels of gunpowder. But then there was a hitch. Because of the plague, the opening of parliament was delayed until 5 November. That would be the moment of decision.
On the day before parliament opened, the most infamous of the plotters, the Yorkshireman Guy Fawkes, was in place in the undercroft when there was the first sign of trouble. Alarmed by a warning one plotter had sent to his brother-in-law, a group of James I’s men had decided to search the building. Showing impressive sang-froid, Fawkes insisted that he was a servant guarding his master’s firewood, and they seemed to believe him.
But then, in the small hours of the following morning, the king’s men unexpectedly returned. This time they discovered Fawkes, calling himself John Johnson, in a large cloak and hat, carrying a pocket watch, lantern and matches. Beneath his so-called firewood were at least 30 barrels of gunpowder.
When Fawkes’ captors asked what he was doing, he said defiantly that he wanted to “blow you Scotch beggars back to your native mountains”. For the next two days, even under torture, he refused to name his co-conspirators. But the king’s interrogators broke him eventually. Hanged almost three months later, Fawkes was reincarnated every bonfire night for centuries to come.
People celebrate “deliverance” from the gunpowder plot in a 1641 depiction. A poem underneath reads: “They bounteous bonfires make... Tryumphing in their streets with fireworks rare”