Guy Fawkes Day: The History Behind the Gunpowder Plot - Learning Mind (2022)

Remember remember the 5th of November, gunpowder, treason and plot.” Everyone in the UK celebrates Guy Fawkes Day on the 5th of November. We huddle around bonfires. We gaze into the night’s sky to marvel at dazzling fireworks.

In fact, since the Gunpowder Plot, we still have a tradition where royal bodyguards will search underneath the Houses of Parliament whenever a King or Queen is due to visit.

Who was Guy Fawkes?

But just who was Guy Fawkes? We all have a vague idea about his life; he was the man who tried to blow up parliament. However, his story is much more than that. Sit back and relax. Let me take you on a historic journey of a plot to kill a king, a mysterious warning which backfired and ended in the torture and death of Guy Fawkes.

Protestant and Catholic Britain

Before we talk about Guy Fawkes Day, we need some background. So let’s get some context. Fawkes lived in troubled times. We can go back as far as Elizabeth I’s reign.

Elizabeth I ascended the throne in 1558. Fiercely Protestant, she created a Protestant National Church. She wanted a religious uniformity across the UK. Catholicism was now a crime. Anyone practising Catholicism faced serious punishment. For example, it was now a crime of treason to print or read catholic books.

Elizabeth didn’t stop there. This religious zealotry affected everyday lives. Anyone with an administrative job, such as a school teacher or doctor, had to swear an oath denying the Catholic Pope. Instead, they had to sign a palace document to state that they recognised the queen as the head of the church.

The problem was that the country was a mix of Catholics and Protestants. Elizabeth ruled these turbulent times until her death in 1603. The people of England hoped her successor – James I – would restore peace to the country.

James may have been a Protestant, but his mother was Mary, Queen of Scots, and a devout Catholic. The Catholics in England hoped that James would show compassion and reason. However, the king kept all of Elizabeth’s rules. As a result, certain factions of society decided enough was enough.

(Video) Guy Fawkes and The Gunpowder Plot | History KS1| BBC Teach

The Gunpowder Plot

The Catholics hoped that James would be a sympathetic ruler, but he was not. At this point, one person decided to take drastic action. Despite popular belief, that person was not Guy Fawkes.

Robert Catesby is not as well-known as Fawkes, but he was the instigator of the plot against James I government. Catesby came from a wealthy family. By all accounts, he was a charming and persuasive man. One historian describes him:

“He is said to have exercised a magical influence on all who mixed with him.”

Catesby had already decided on extreme violence. In his mind, it was the only way to right the suffering of Catholics at the hand of the English Protestant Parliament. Now he had to convince others. His idea? To blow up James I at the opening of Parliament. He started looking for possible conspirators. He came across a man called Guy Fawkes.

The Gunpowder Conspirators

Funnily enough, Guy Fawkes was born a Protestant but converted to Catholicism later in life. He possessed a cool head, intelligence, and he was strong. Plus, he had extensive knowledge of explosives. Catesby had found his man.

Catesby began to put his plan into action. Over the next 18 months, he recruited like-minded conspirators. He rented a house close to the Parliament building. One conspirator lived in the house.

Guy Fawkes, who changed his name to John Johnson, was his servant. All the while Fawkes lived close to parliament, other members of the conspiracy began stockpiling gunpowder. By March 1605, they had rented a storeroom in the basement of the Palace of Westminster.

Now, in the dead of night, Fawkes began secreting the gunpowder into this storeroom. Finally, they had enough gunpowder to bring down the Houses of Parliament. Catesby set the date. Fawkes guarded the barrels at night. Catesby finalised the plans. They were ready to blow up the Houses of Parliament. Everything was in position. However, someone had tipped off one of the lords due to attend.

The Letter That Foiled the Gunpowder Plot

Like most English noblemen, Lord Monteagle was preparing to attend the opening of Parliament. In a mysterious twist that changed the course of history, the lord received an anonymous letter. The letter warned him not to attend the forthcoming opening, and burn the letter after reading it:

(Video) Gunpowder Plot – Stories from Parliament (Part 1 of 2)

“My lord, out of the love I bear to some of your friends, I have a care of your preservation, therefore I would advise you as you tender your life to devise some excuse to shift of your attendance at this parliament.”

Now, Lord Monteagle was a devout Catholic. This letter had been secreted to him, at great risk, to save his life. But the act of kindness backfired. Lord Monteagle did not burn the letter, nor did he heed the warning. Instead, he forwarded the letter onto a minister of James I.

But who was this anonymous writer? To this day, historians still do not know. But, they suspect it was the lord’s brother-in-law who was one of the conspirators.

As soon as he received the letter, the plot was doomed. James I ordered a search of Parliament where they discovered the gunpowder. Parliament officials found Guy Fawkes hiding behind barrels of explosives in the early morning of November 5th. He was arrested and taken to the Tower of London.

Guy Fawkes Is Caught

Fawkes was a tough man, after all, that was why Catesby chose him in the first place. For hours and hours, he resisted interrogation. However, on the second day James I authorised the use of torture to elicit a confession. Officials in the Tower tortured Fawkes on the rack. They broke him two days later.

He named his fellow conspirators. However, many had already run, knowing that Fawkes had been arrested. Some were shot while they were on the run. Others were captured and returned to the Tower of London. James sentenced them all to die by hanging for treason. Their bodies would then be drawn and quartered.

“These wretches, who thought to have blown up the whole world of this Island.” James I

January 1606 arrived and the execution date was set. In a twist of fate, Guy Fawkes escaped the noose. He jumped from the gallows and subsequently broke his neck.

(Video) Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot For Kids

James I used the now-defunct plot to try and bring peace to both Catholics and Protestants. He didn’t downplay the significance of the plot. Instead, he stressed that many Catholics were loyal servants of the Crown. James declared 5th November a day of public thanksgiving. We celebrate the date as Guy Fawkes Day.

Final Thoughts

Guy Fawkes Day

Today, we celebrate this foiled plot. The fireworks represent the gunpowder and we burn effigies of him on Guy Fawkes Day. Guy Fawkes has entered English folklore, despite the fact he was not the ringleader. It is him we all remember on November 5th.

To this day, a stylised version of his distinctive features of a long chin, wide moustache, thin beard and smiling face are used by protesters across the globe. Guy Fawkes may have failed in his attempt to blow up Parliament. However, his legacy lives on as the face of anti-government protests.

Guy Fawkes Day: The History Behind the Gunpowder Plot - Learning Mind (3)

References:

  1. https://www.history.com
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
  • Author
  • Recent Posts

Janey Davies, B.A. (Hons)

Sub-editor & staff writer at Learning Mind

Janey Davies has been published online for over 10 years. She has suffered from a panic disorder for over 30 years, which prompted her to study and receive an Honours degree in Psychology with the Open University. Janey uses the experiences of her own anxiety to offer help and advice to others dealing with mental health issues.

(Video) The Gunpowder Plot Story and Quiz for Kids

Latest posts by Janey Davies, B.A. (Hons) (see all)

  • The Strange and Bizarre Story of Kaspar Hauser: A Boy with No Past - August 5, 2022
  • 12 Dark Night of the Soul SymptomsThat Mean You’re Awakening - July 26, 2022
  • 7 Stages of Healing After Narcissistic Abuse - July 20, 2022


Copyright © 2012-2022 Learning Mind. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint, contact us.

(Video) The Gunpowder Plot - Full Documentary

Guy Fawkes Day: The History Behind the Gunpowder Plot - Learning Mind (6)

FAQs

What is the story of Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot? ›

Every 5 November in Britain on Guy Fawkes Day, we remember the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, when Guy Fawkes and fellow Catholic conspirators attempted to blow up Parliament and assassinate James I of England.

Why did they plot the Gunpowder Plot? ›

Contents. The Gunpowder Plot was a failed attempt to blow up England's King James I (1566-1625) and the Parliament on November 5, 1605. The plot was organized by Robert Catesby (c. 1572-1605) in an effort to end the persecution of Roman Catholics by the English government.

Where did the 36 barrels of gunpowder come from? ›

Guy Fawkes and his fellow conspirators, having rented out a house right by the Houses of Parliament, managed to get 36 barrels of gunpowder into a cellar of the House of Lords. Robert Catesby. The explosive expert, Guy Fawkes, had been left in the cellars to set off the fuse.

What was Guy Fawkes punishment for the Gunpowder Plot? ›

Fawkes and the conspirators who remained alive, were tried for high treason in Westminster Hall on 27 January 1606 and all were convicted and sentenced to death. The executions took place on 30 and 31 January (Fawkes was executed on 31) and included hanging, drawing and quartering.

Who was to blame for the Gunpowder Plot? ›

The leader of the plot, Robert Catesby, together with his four coconspirators—Thomas Winter, Thomas Percy, John Wright, and Guy Fawkes—were zealous Roman Catholics angered by James's refusal to grant more religious toleration to Catholics.

Where did the Gunpowder Plot happen? ›

History of the Gunpowder Plot. Four hundred years ago, in 1605, a man called Guy Fawkes and a group of plotters attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament in London with barrels of gunpowder placed in the basement. They wanted to kill King James and the king's leaders.

How did the Gunpowder Plot fail? ›

' The Gunpowder Plot was stopped because of an anonymous letter sent to a member of parliament. In reality, we don't 100% know who sent the letters — but historians pretty confidently place bets on Francis Tresham because the guy was Not Subtle At All.

Was Guy Fawkes a good Guy? ›

In the immediate aftermath of his execution, Fawkes was widely regarded as “a huge villain,” Holland said. Guy became a pejorative term used to describe someone as grotesque (though nowadays the word simply refers to a man or a person).

Is gunpowder still used today? ›

Although largely obsolete in modern weaponry, gunpowder, also known as black powder, is still used in historical weapons, fireworks and pyrotechnics. The explosive is a combination of varying ratios of potassium nitrate (or "saltpeter"), sulfur and charcoal.

What crime was Guy Fawkes found guilty of? ›

Fawkes was tortured on the rack before being tried for high treason in January 1606. He was found guilty and sentenced to execution by hanging, drawing, and quartering, but his neck was broken after he jumped or fell from the gallows ladder, thus evading the full punishment.

How did the Gunpowder Plot affect crime and punishment? ›

The plot was uncovered and the conspirators were found guilty of treason. They were sentenced to death by being hanged, drawn and quartered. Following the plot, Catholics experienced more persecution, and were excluded by law from voting and becoming MPs for many years.

What did Guy Fawkes stand for? ›

The British holiday, celebrated with fireworks and bonfires, commemorates the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605. Observed in the United Kingdom every year on November 5, Guy Fawkes Day—also called Bonfire Night or Fireworks Night—commemorates a failed assassination attempt from over 400 years ago.

Was the Gunpowder Plot successful? ›

The Gunpowder Plot of 1605, in earlier centuries often called the Gunpowder Treason Plot or the Jesuit Treason, was a failed assassination attempt against King James I by a group of provincial English Catholics led by Robert Catesby who sought to restore the Catholic monarchy to England after decades of persecution ...

Is gunpowder a true story? ›

For all intents and purposes, Gunpowder is based on a very real story and remains relatively accurate, according to another article by The Telegraph. The outlet states that even the gruesome torture and execution scenes were relatively true to life, and they were something Harington felt were musts to include.

What is gunpowder used for? ›

gunpowder, any of several low-explosive mixtures used as propelling charges in guns and as blasting agents in mining. The first such explosive was black powder, which consists of a mixture of saltpetre (potassium nitrate), sulfur, and charcoal.

Why was Guy Fawkes plan not successful? ›

the plot was a guaranteed failure was simply that the powder would not have blown. Both these fatal weaknesses were contingent, however, on one accident of history; the postponement of Parliament.

What would have happened if the Gunpowder Plot worked? ›

A new analysis by physicists shows that if the 1605 Gunpowder Plot to destroy the English parliament and kill the King had succeeded, it would have taken a large part of central London with it.

How old is Guy Fawkes now? ›

He was born and educated in York; his father died when Fawkes was eight years old, after which his mother married a recusant Catholic.
...
Guy Fawkes
Died31 January 1606 (aged 35) Westminster, London, England
Other namesGuido Fawkes, John Johnson
OccupationSoldier, alférez
Criminal statusExecuted
11 more rows

Why was Guy Fawkes a hero? ›

Guy Fawkes was arrested on the night of 4th November as he entered the cellar. Though he would be classed as a 'terrorist' in today's world, some people regard Guy Fawkes as a hero because he tried to fight wrongdoing in the only way he could.

What is inside gun bullet? ›

Most pistol bullets are made of a lead-antimony alloy encased in a soft brass or copper-plated soft steel jacket. In rifle and machine-gun bullets, a soft core of lead is encased in a harder jacket of steel or cupronickel. Armour-piercing bullets have a hardened-steel inner core.

How did gunpowder change the world? ›

Gunpowder made the construction and destruction of the land easier and cheaper allowing canals, roads and railways to be constructed.

How much gunpowder is in a bullet? ›

That means each bullet usually only takes 5 grains of powder for loading.

Was the Gunpowder Plot religious? ›

The Gunpowder Plot was a plan by a small group of young Roman Catholic extremists to blow up the House of Lords together with King James I and the whole of the Protestant government during the opening of Parliament on 5 November 1605.

What is the story behind Guy Fawkes? ›

On November 5, 1605, Guy Fawkes and a group of radical English Catholics tried to assassinate King James I by blowing up Parliament's House of Lords. The plot went awry and all of the conspirators were executed.

Was Guy Fawkes a good Guy? ›

In the immediate aftermath of his execution, Fawkes was widely regarded as “a huge villain,” Holland said. Guy became a pejorative term used to describe someone as grotesque (though nowadays the word simply refers to a man or a person).

Is gunpowder based on a true story? ›

For all intents and purposes, Gunpowder is based on a very real story and remains relatively accurate, according to another article by The Telegraph. The outlet states that even the gruesome torture and execution scenes were relatively true to life, and they were something Harington felt were musts to include.

Why did the Gunpowder Plot fail? ›

' The Gunpowder Plot was stopped because of an anonymous letter sent to a member of parliament. In reality, we don't 100% know who sent the letters — but historians pretty confidently place bets on Francis Tresham because the guy was Not Subtle At All.

How old is Guy Fawkes now? ›

He was born and educated in York; his father died when Fawkes was eight years old, after which his mother married a recusant Catholic.
...
Guy Fawkes
Died31 January 1606 (aged 35) Westminster, London, England
Other namesGuido Fawkes, John Johnson
OccupationSoldier, alférez
Criminal statusExecuted
11 more rows

Videos

1. Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot
(Fun Kids Learn)
2. Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot
(Learnhistory3)
3. 5th November 1605: Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot
(HistoryPod)
4. Why do we celebrate Guy Fawkes?
(Chit Chat History)
5. A lucky break - Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot - BBC
(BBC Studios)
6. Guy Fawkes, the Gunpowder Plot and Bonfire Night. (Amazing Stuarts 2)
(History Freak)

Top Articles

Latest Posts

Article information

Author: Van Hayes

Last Updated: 01/28/2023

Views: 6385

Rating: 4.6 / 5 (46 voted)

Reviews: 85% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Van Hayes

Birthday: 1994-06-07

Address: 2004 Kling Rapid, New Destiny, MT 64658-2367

Phone: +512425013758

Job: National Farming Director

Hobby: Reading, Polo, Genealogy, amateur radio, Scouting, Stand-up comedy, Cryptography

Introduction: My name is Van Hayes, I am a thankful, friendly, smiling, calm, powerful, fine, enthusiastic person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.