The Gunpowder Plot
by Richard Thomas
Resume of the Talk given to the Society on May 21st 2018
The failed Gunpowder Plot of November 1605, the subject of Richard Thomas' recent presentation, was planned and led by Robert Catesby a prominent Roman Catholic who refused to swear The Oath of Supremacy to Elizabeth 1. Severe penalties were given to many such Catholics who were liable for imprisonment or death for treason. Robert initially tolerant, married a Protestant, but became very disillusioned after his wife's death and reverted to Catholicism. Imprisoned and heavily fined for his part in Essex's rebellion in 1598, he felt betrayed that Catholics were not better treated when James came to the throne. Now more militant, the charismatic Catesby, persuaded close Midland friends (Thomas Wintour, John Wright and Thomas Percy) that re-establishment of the faith was vital. This would be achieved by killing James and the Protestant Establishment by blowing up the House of Lords at the State Opening of Parliament and installing James’ daughter Elizabeth as a Catholic Monarch.
Guy Fawkes who had fought for Spain against the Dutch, was persuaded to join the group. They met in secret at the Duck and Drake in the Strand to finalise plans and celebrated mass together. By 1605, the undercroft beneath the House of Lords became available to the conspirators and their number had increased. By July, 36 barrels of Gunpowder had been installed. An anonymous letter, with no detail, advising people to keep away from the State Opening on the 5thNovember, finally led to a precautionary search of the House of Lords the prior evening. Fawkes, using the alibi John Johnson, was found in the undercroft with a watch, tinder box, fuse and the gunpowder and arrested. After days of torture, Johnson named Catesby and the principal conspirators who had already rapidly left London and met up at Holbeck House in Staffs, stealing arms at Warwick en route.A damp supply of gunpowder laid on the floor to dry ignited. Catesby and Percy were not badly injured but shot dead when troops surrounded the house on 8th Nov. The survivors were arrested, interrogated under torture and finally sentenced to be drawn, hung and quartered alive. Johnson (i.e. Fawkes) never revealed his real name and avoided the last stage of this terrible fate by breaking his neck on the scaffold. Catesby and Percy were exhumed and their heads and body parts publicly displayed like Fawkes and the others. Richard's excellent talk emphasised that, contrary to popular belief, Fawkes was not instrumental in forging the plot.