Bonfire night is celebrated by communities all over the UK, but only recently has there been a growth in popularity for a new conspiracy theory about the plot. In today’s blog post, we look at the 400 year old tale and examine “gunpowder, treason and plot”.
The key motives behind the attempt to blow up the House of Lords was a desperate hope within the secret and mostly illegal catholic community that the government would be returned to their traditional religion – or at least make it legal to publicly worship.
Additionally, non-Protestants had hoped that the new King James I would fulfil his promise that Catholics could be treated better during his reign. However, the King buckled under pressure from relatives and people across the border; he was forced to command the exile of all Catholic priests known to be in the nation.
Robert Catesby, whose father had been prosecuted by the extremely Protestant Elizabeth I, led the plan, and was by far the most obstinate and refusing member of the gang.
He was young, successful and with plenty of power to carry out treason on this level.
The only conspirator to tell a full end-to-end story of the plot, Thomas Wintour, joined with the impressive Thomas Percy.
Guy Fawkes, a soldier and explosives expert, is often shamed the most, however this is merely a public mistake due to his crucial role and capture in the plot.
The operative group of five was completed by John Wright, one who had taken part in the Essex Rebellion.
An underground room was successfully rented beneath a tavern, and, after making an oath of loyalty to their religion, the crew set off on a long digging job.
However, Percy received funding which enabled him to rent a cellar connected to the House of Lords, which defeated the need to dig such a long tunnel.
With a major Catholic uprising planned in the Midlands, the plotters transported 36 barrels of gunpowder, probably acquired through Fawkes’ contacts in France and Spain.
It seems pure coincidence that at the very last second a search party descended into the vault which the explosive material had been hidden in. The explosives expert was caught in the action, but put up a valiant effort denying any involvement in the crime.
He even called himself “John Johnson” and stuck to this title for a long time even throughout torture.
Contrary to the common belief that the five men (and thirteen total planners) were encouraged purely by evil intentions and a desire for a new beginning of England’s government, some suggest that the government had its role to play in the schemes.
One of the conspiracy theories holds that the King deliberately made it possible for the gunpowder to be smuggled in and set up in the cellar beneath the House of Lords.
Why would James do this?
So he could make an example to any other Catholic rebels that might plan to launch an attack in this manner.
There is some evidence for this, but many historians are disgusted at the theory, giving logical reasons for why it couldn’t have been that way at all. Here are two frequently mentioned ones:
- How come no one noticed the gunpowder being delivered though London? Surely this is a clue that monarchy let it happen
Most well-off people in the 1600s had some gunpowder, and the transportation of a barrel every few weeks would not be considered suspicious. It almost certainly would have been done at night, and possibly ferried up the Thames.
- It cannot be pure chance that the guards checked the cellar at precisely the right time.
Yes, but in the end, Monteagle had received the “letter of warning” from his brother-in-law and likely alerted the government shortly before the action took place. This suggests that they uncovered the plot at a later time, rather than knowing about it from earlier on.
After all, Fawkes or Wintour never said anything about being persuaded by the government or having been framed in their confessions. Theories like these may be true, but from a sensible point of view, appear too abstract.