THE GUNPOWDER PLOT

Background

On the death of Elizabeth 1 in 1603 the English Crown went to the next descendant of Henry VI 1. This was the Scottish King Jarnes VI who had already been the King of Scotland for 36 years, having been crowned when he was only 1 year old. He became James 1 of England and believed in 'the divine right of kings' and took little notice of Members of Parliament. He found a country divided by religion and although he managed to make enemies of both Protestants and Catholics he was looked upon as a Protestant king and persecution of Catholics continued. A plot to kill him was devised only two years after James was crowned King of England which became known as 'The Gunpowder Plot'. Members of this group of Catholics included Robert Catesby, John Wright, Thomas Percy and Thomas Winter although the best remembered of the group is Guy Fawkes -

Initially a house was rented next door to the Houses of Parliament and it was proposed to dig a funnel f ram the cellar to the House of Lords. There, barrels of gunpowder would be piled and when the King and all the Members of Parliament were assembled for the opening of Parliament on February 7th 1605 the barrels would be ignited. Guy Fawkes was set the task of lighting the fuse and escaping as best he could. Digging began but progress was slow and by December 1604 the House of Lords had not been reached. It was then learnt that the Opening had been postponed until 3rd October. A cellar directly under the House of Lords was then taken by Guy Fawkes, under the name of Johnson, and he was instcilled as the servant of the new owner. Small barrels of gunpowder were ferried across the River Thames by night, taken one by one into the cellarand covered with firewood. Elaborate plans had been made by Catesby and the others as to wha t was to happen following the death of King James. The Princess Elizabeth, a daughter of King James, was at once to be proclaimed Queen. Fighting was anticipated before James' followers would agree to her accession and in prepciration arms and ammunition were stored in various parts of the country. At this point a f urther member was brought into the plot, Francis Tresham. Money was needed to buy arms and Tresham promised to give £2,000.

The gro returned to London in September ready for the opening of Parliament but again it was postponed, th is time to November 5th. During this further period of waiting one of the plotters, probably Francis Tresham, wrote to Lord Mounteagle (his brother-in-law) with a warning not to be afthe ceremony as...'they shall receive a terrible blow ... and yet shall not see who hurts them'. Guy Fawkes had been left in London again whilethe others rode to positions around the country to be ready to 'rouse their fellow Catholics after the death of the King. He was to spend the day prior to the ceremony in the cellar. A special slow-burning fuse had been prepared and placed in position. Suddenly there was a knock on the door and outside he found Lord Mounteagle and the Lord Chancellor who asked who he was and what he was doing. He replied he was a servant of Thomas Percy (the cellar had been hired in his name). A quick look in the c ellar obviously revealed nothing but stacks of firewood ready for winter and the two men went away. Guy Fawkes, after contact with Thomas Percy to report the incident, returned calmly to the cellar. However, his sense of relief was short-lived for late rthat night a magistrate and a file of soldiers suddenly appeared and Guy Fawkes was overpowered. A more thorough search of the cellar soon revealed the thirty or more barrels of gunpowder and Fawkes was taken away. The others could not be warned of the failure of the plot.

King James himself questioned Guy Fawkes and although he admitted to plotting to blow up the Houses of Parliament he refused to give the names of other conspirators. Several of the group had joined together at Holbeach and all realised there was no support for them - no-one would take up arms with them and risk their lives in a cause that was obviously doomed to failure. Eventually the house they were staying in was surrounded by soldiers and armed men. Catesby was killed and the others taken prisoner when they were too weak or

badly wounded to fight any longer. All were executed on 31 st January 1606 except for Francis Tresham. He was sent to the Tower of London but not harshly treated. When he died shortly afterwards poison was suspected but never proved. Part of the ceremony of the Opening of Parliament each year includes a search of the buildings by the Yeoman of the Guards in their tudor uniforms, armed with pikes.

During the remaining years of Kings James' reign religious persecution of non Protestants continued. James trusted no-one and he remained suspicious of Parliament, many bitter disagreements broke out between them and he even tore out pages of the records of the House if they offended him. However, also at this time English sailors were making long and dangerous passages trying to find ways to India and China by the north-west passage. Although these attempts round the north of Canada failed many new lands were discovered and trade flourished with China and the East. Attempts in the reign of Elizabeth 1 to colonise North America had come to nothing but in 1620 a group of Pilgrim Fathers, finding life in England impossible because of the bitter persecution imposed by James, founded the first permanent British Colony there.This was the beginning of the British Empire. Also during the reign of King James the Bibl ewas revis ed 'by His Majesty's special command'. 450 scholars who knew between them every language into which the bible had been transcribed took 7 years to complete the task.