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The Gunpowder Plot 1605

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The Gunpowder Plot was a failed assassination attempt against King James I of England (James VI of Scotland) by a group of English Catholics.

When Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) was on the throne of England she made laws against the Roman Catholics. People who were not Protestants were known as "recusants" and were fined ("recusancy fines") for not attending the Protestant church on a Sunday. Catholics had to practise their religion in secret. They had been severely persecuted since 1570 and the year 1603 marked the end of an era. English Catholics were excited when King James I, who had recently arrived from Scotland, came to the throne as they thought that he was more warmly disposed to Catholics. Early signs were encouraging. James ended the recusancy fines, and awarded some important government posts to Catholics. He tried to juggle different religious demands but then James became unhappy about the increasing strength of the Catholics. In February 1604 he publicly announced his "utter detestation" of Catholicism. Priests were expelled, and recusancy fines reintroduced.

Although disappointed, many English Catholics settled down to live double lives and paid the fines. However, this approach did not satisfy everyone.

Robert Catesby was a devout Catholic and he decided to do something more drastic about the situation. Catesby was joined by several friends, including Guy Fawkes. Originally from York, Guy Fawkes had served in the Spanish Army and was experienced with explosives. Eventually there were some thirteen conspirators involved. They planned the gunpowder plot, the blowing up of the House of Lords, as a last desperate attempt to re-establish the Catholic religion in England.

The detonation was to take place on State Opening day when the King, Lords and Commons would all be present in the Lords Chamber. The opening had been delayed to the 5th November because of the plague. At the time there were many buildings with cellars around Parliament and the conspirators were able to rent a cellar right under the Lords chamber. Thirty-six barrels of gunpowder were acquired and stored there. On 4th November the conspirators left Guy Fawkes to ignite the gunpowder. The plot was revealed by an anonymous letter, presumably from a friend, sent to William Parker warning him not to be at the State Opening because he may be in danger. This resulted in a search of the House of Lords and about midnight on 4th November 1605 when Fawkes was discovered and arrested.

Guy Fawkes was tortured and revealed the names of other conspirators. At the trial in January 1606 eight of the surviving conspirators were hung, drawn and quartered.

As a celebration of his survival King James ordered that the people of England should have great bonfires on 5th November. The event is still commemorated each year on 5th November with bonfires, burning Guys lighting fireworks, and food such as baked potatoes, sausages, burgers and the traditional Parkin Cake, a sticky cake containing oatmeal, ginger, treacle and syrup.

Remember, remember,
The fifth of November,
Gunpowder Treason and Plot
We see no reason
Why Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!