On This Day: The Gunpowder Plot to assassinate the King of England is foiled

A gang of Catholics conspired to blow up Parliament with the king inside to protest his treatment of Catholics in England.

 The members of the Gunpowder Plot which planned to blow up Parliament. (photo credit: Crispijn van de Passe the Elder/Wikimedia Commons)
The members of the Gunpowder Plot which planned to blow up Parliament.
(photo credit: Crispijn van de Passe the Elder/Wikimedia Commons)

On this day in 1605, the conspiracy known as the Gunpowder Plot was set to be put into action. The aim of the plot, which was led by Robert Catesby, was to blow up the British Parliament which included King James I, the queen and his son. Conspiring with Catesby were Thomas Winter, Thomas Percy, John Wright and Guy Fawkes.

The gang were devout Roman Catholics, angered by King James' unwillingness to tolerate the Catholics, and they hoped that by killing the king, they would be free to take over England.

The plot first began to be planned in 1603 when the gang was assembled. In May of 1604, Percy hired a house adjoining the House of Lords. In December of that year, the team began to dig a tunnel from Percy's house but soon discovered that a vault under the House of Lords was available for rent, so they quickly snatched it up. Some 36 barrels of gunpowder were smuggled into the vault and hidden under coal and firewood.

The preparations were completed in May of 1605, and the gang dispersed until November 5, when the plan was to take place because that was the day that Parliament opened. The plan was to blow up Parliament and kidnap King James' daughter and younger son. The gang believed that the country would then give in to their demands.

While the preparations went well, there was some disagreement as to giving out warnings to certain people. Some of the conspirators wanted to warn Roman Catholics that were meant to be at Parliament on November 5, but Catesby refused.

 The sun rises over the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain  (credit: HANNAH MCKAY/ REUTERS) The sun rises over the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain (credit: HANNAH MCKAY/ REUTERS)

On October 26, Lord Monteagle - a Roman Catholic, a group that supported the king at the time - was sent an anonymous letter that warned him not to be in Parliament on November 5. To this day, the author of the letter is unknown.

Monteagle immediately took the letter to Robert Cecil, who decided to search the vault. The next day, members of the gang were told that the plot was known, but Fawkes told Catesby that nothing had been touched in the vault, so Catesby decided to continue as planned.

On November 4, the king sent Thomas Howard, the lord chamberlain, to examine the buildings around the House of Lords. When he reached the vault, he found Fawkes, who told him that there was only firewood on the cellar. Howard remained suspicious so he sent a magistrate to investigate, and the gunpowder was found. Fawkes was arrested in the early hours of November 5, and he later revealed his fellow conspirators under torture.

The rest of the gang was later killed in a gunfight with the authorities or arrested and executed.

Two months later, Parliament announced that November 5 would henceforth be a day of thanksgiving, and it is celebrated in England to this day. Also known as Guy Fawkes Day, the day is celebrated with bonfires in which an effigy of Guy Fawkes is burned.