History of the Gunpowder Plot & Guy Fawkes Night

The Gunpowder Plot of 1605

In November 1605, a group of 13 notorious men plotted to blow up parliament, to kill King James 1st and his lords. One of the most famous members was Guy Fawkes, he had the job to light the gunpowder. The Gunpowder Plot story has been told each November 5th for over 400 years, the celebration is custom to be known as “Bonfire Night” and is also known as Guy Fawkes Night.

Henry VIII Portrait for The Gunpowder Plot.When Henry VIII was not able to produce a son with Catherine of Aragon, the mother of Mary I of England, he wanted to marry his second wife, Anne Boleyn, he asked the Pope to make their marriage made legally invalid.

The Pope question the cancellation and refused. Henry disagreed, which led him to initiate the Reformation. This would separate the Church of England from papal authority and would make him Supreme Head of the Church of England.

Ever since Henry VIII was made the Supreme Head of the Church of England, Catholics were forced into secrecy. For many years, Catholics in England was tormented, punished and was killed. Until  James VI and I, become king. Catholics awaited for him to be more in favour of them. As time went on he was, in fact, less tolerant.

A plot was formed by Roberts Catesby who was angry. He decided to kill James and put his Catholic daughter Elizabeth on the throne. It was simple, “hide 36 barrels of gunpowder under the house of lords, and on the morning of 5 November 1605, on parliament opening, to light the fuse and blow King James and his lords away.”

Catesby conspirators these were:

  • Robert and Thomas Wintour,
  • Christopher and John Wright,
  • Thomas Percy,
  • Francis Tresham,
  • Everard Digby,
  • Ambrose Rookwood,
  • Thomas Bates,
  • Robert Keyes,
  • Hugh Owen,
  • John Grant,
  • Guy Fawkes

These conspirators had a major role to play in the gunpowder plot, they managed to rent out a house next to the Houses of Parliament, that had a direct connection to its cellar’s, so they could easily transport the full 36 barrels of gunpowder under the House of Lords.

The Gunpowder Plot famous conspirators portrait.


An anonymous letter was sent to William Parker, 4th Baron Monteagle, on 26 October 1605. Guy Fawkes, being an explosive expert was left to light the fuse. On this very night, James ordered a search throughout the parliament, including the cellars where he was caught and arrested.

They took Fawkes to the Tower of London, Orders from King James Lieutenant, Sir William Wade to use whatever means of torture was necessary to obtain the information from him, he was tortured for days, he eventually confesses and gave up his fellow conspirators names.

The other plotters were sent to the tower of London where they were sentenced be hung, drawn and quartered, with Fawkes, in January 1606, during the public execution, Guy Fawkes fell from the scaffolding, breaking his neck in the process, and saving him from the agony of mutilation. Percy and Catesby was hunted and shot down.

Guy Fawkes Signature, before torture and after.

How we celebrate now

James ordered the people of England to build massive bonfires on the evening of November 5th in celebration of his survival. During the early years of this tradition effigy of the pope was thrown on top of the fires, and later it was Guy Fawkes. This was around the time fireworks was introduced to the public. Lewes bonfire societies, in East Sussex, still burn the effigies of the pope, Guy Fawkes and other unpopular celebrities.

Food was introduced early in the celebration, jacket potatoes were cooked on huge bonfires and were a nice winter warmer for the chilly evenings. Many recipes were introduced to this night, such as Yorkshire Parkin, bonfire toffee, they have now, in fact, have a traditional time to when they are cooked and eaten.

Many media have shown and told this The Gunpowder Plot story in different ways over the years, one such film v for vendetta became viral among the activists for a sense, of anti-government protests or any protests around the world. With the v mask,  it was created by a painter David Lloyd for the comic ” v for vendetta ” in 1982, which plot a story regarding the efforts of a vigilante who was in the title v to eliminate the dictator of the dictator (Dystopian) where the plot of the story occurred in ” UK future ” And also his attempt to blow up Parliament. The v’s main character is synonymous with the “Guy Fawkes mask” who used the vigilante in the comic.

The other iconic footage from the film was the words from v; “remember, remembering the fifth of November of gunpowder treason and plot”. These words are the adaptation of the above plot designed by Catesby and Guy Fawkes with the 11 other conspirators.

See also:

Traditional Bonfire Night Food

Guy Fawkes

Further Reading:

Guy Fawkes Mask – Wikipedia

James I and VI (1566 – 1625) – BBC