The gun­pow­der plot goes up in smoke

The scheme is foiled and the con­spir­a­tors ar­rested

BBC History Magazine - - Anniversaries -

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”

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