The Fifth of November,
Gunpowder treason and plot;
For I see no reason
Why Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
The plotters, who were led by Robert Catesby, were Catholics, who having suffered years of persecution under Elizabeth I had hoped James, who became king in 1603, would be better deposed to them. While initial signs were good, following an earlier failed plot and the need to satisfy the Puritans in his Parliament, in February 1604 the king publicly announced his 'utter detestation' of Catholicism. Consequently, Catholic hopes were not met and the Gunpowder plotters began to draw their plans.
The plotters leased a small house in the heart of Westminster, installing Fawkes as caretaker under the alias of John Johnson. In March 1605 the group took out another lease on a ground-floor cellar close by the house. The cellar lay directly beneath the House of Lords and over the following months, 36 barrels of gunpowder were moved in, enough to completely destroy the chamber above, if ignited. Fawkes, who had 10 years of military experience fighting in the Spanish military, was given charge of the explosives.
The plot was however revealed when an anonymous letter was sent on the 26th October to William Parker, Baron Monteagle, warning him to avoid the house on the 5th November. He took it to Cecil, Earl of Salisbury who was already aware of certain stirrings, but did not yet know the exact nature of the plot, or who exactly was involved. He therefore elected to wait to see how events would unfold. Searches of the House was ordered on the 5th; the first found a suspiciously large amount of firewood in one of the cellars. The second, at around midnight, found Fawkes and his gunpowder.
At their trial on 27th January 1606, eight of the surviving plotters, including Fawkes, were convicted and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered, which was carried out on the 30th and 31st.
The impact on ordinary Catholics would be immense and last several centuries. New laws were passed preventing them from practising law, serving as officers in the military, or standing or voting in local or Parliamentary elections. They became the scapegoat for many tragic event, including the Great Fire of London of 1666. While penal laws started to be dismantled from around 1766 , it would not be until the Roman Catholic Relief Act on 1829 that the most substantial restrictions would be lifted, including the right to vote. It was not until 2011 that the law barring a British monarch from marrying a Catholic was lifted, while the monarch cannot be a Catholic to this day.
This scene was built by James Pegrum as part of a series of models on British history. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to see them first.