The Gunpowder Plot – Ken Bell – 18th August 2014.

A tale of treason, religious conflict, oppression,  treachery, revenge, torture and brutal killings. The plot failed to assassinate James 1st of  England ( V1 of Scotland ).  The ruling Protestant elite would taint  all English Catholics with treason for centuries to come. Why were the Catholics so bitter and what did they hope the Gunpowder Plot would achieve?

On the accession of James  he was sympathetic towards the Catholics but he became concerned at their growing strength and finally expressed hostility towards them. To satisfy the Puritans.  priests and Jesuits were expelled and fines levied on Catholics.    Not everybody was prepared to bow to the Protestant demands.

Guy Fawkes 1605

A small band of conspirators led by Robert Catesby had their first meeting on 20th May 1604.   One of the original band was a Guy Fawkes, originally from York and  recruited in Flanders where he was an explosives expert with the Spanish Army. The plot was hatched with the aims of killing James 1st , to kill all his family, to kill the Protestant aristocracy and incite a revolution by Catholics.

In March 1605 the group took out a lease on a ground-floor cellar which lay directly under the House of Lords.  Over a period of months, 1800 lbs of gunpowder was stored in the cellar enough to blow up the Houses of Parliament and much of the surrounding city.  More Catholic peers and sympathisers were recruited and the plot was finalised.   Guy Fawkes was to light the fuse and escape to the continent. Simultaneously, Sir Everard Digby would lead an uprising in the Midlands and kidnap  James’s daughter, Elizabeth, and install her as a puppet Queen.

On the night of 26th October an anonymous letter was delivered to Lord Monteagle, a Catholic peer, warning him not to attend the opening of parliament on 5th November 1605.   Lord Monteagle sent the letter to the Earl of Salisbury, James’s first minister. The plotters were tipped off regarding the letter and the plot was starting to become  public.   Undaunted, the plotters returned to London on 4th November in readiness. The Earl of Salisbury ordered Westminster to be searched and a large amount of firewood was found .   Later around midnight, Guy Fawkes was arrested.

The plotters fled to Midlands by horse but over  several days the majority were arrested or killed.   Jesuit priests were implicated with the ‘Powder Treason’ and over 2000 were killed.   James 1st gave permission to use torture and serve the traditional punishment for traitors of being hanged, drawn and quartered.  Guy Fawkes met his fate on 31st January 1606.

The repercussions rumbled on as a result of the Gunpowder Plot. British Catholics were stigmatised for centuries and it was not until 1829 that they were allowed to vote again.

An interesting topic but the presentation could have been better  if supported by slides and the delivery not so rushed.