The Gunpowder Plot

A Brief Summary

The Gunpowder plot is arguable one of the most intriguing political conspiracies and failed assassination attempts in history. The plot first began to take shape in May 1604, when Robert Catesby, disappointed by the failure of King James I in delivering religious tolerance, proposed a plan to a group of English Catholics; to blow up the king, as well as the entire House of Lords and House of Commons. The plot was going to be carried out during the State Opening of the England's Parliament on the 5th of November, 1605, and after a series of uprisings, King James' nine-year-old daughter, Princess Elizabeth, would be installed as the Catholic head of state.

Around a year later, in March of 1605, the group of conspirators managed to rent a cellar directly underneath the House of Lords. By the time of the Parliaments opening seven months later, the room was filled with three-dozen barrels of gunpowder, guarded by Guy Fawkes.

Fortunately for the Parliament, the plot was exposed to the authorities in an anonymous letter sent by one of the conspirators to Lord Monteagle, warning him not to attend the opening of Parliament. Unsure of the letters meaning, Lord Monteagle immediately gave it to Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury. It is still not known who wrote the letter; most likely Francis Tresham, Monteagle's brother-in-law, or another conspirator, Thomas Wintour, who was well known in Lord Monteagle's household. Some theorists suggested that someone in the government, even Cecil himself, had written the letter.

On the evening of November 4th, the Parliament was searched, and Guy Fawkes was found in the basement with the barrels of gunpowder. The next morning, once realizing that the conspiracy had been discovered and Guy Fawkes had been arrested, most of the conspirators fled from London. On November 7, after being moved to and tortured at the Tower of London, Fawkes confessed to the plot. He revealed the list of fellow conspirators, and in the following days, most were either arrested or killed.


For more detailed summaries of the conspirators and the events before and after the plot, see the Further Research page!