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British history

Gunpowder Plot

King James I of EnglandKing James I of England The Gunpowder Plot was a plan in which some Catholics, including Guy Fawkes, plotted to blow up James I, the first of Stuart king of England, in November 1605. It is commemorated in Britain each year on 5th November when “Guys” are burned in a celebration known as Bonfire Night. When James came to the throne in 1603, English Catholics, persecuted during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, had expected the new monarch to be more tolerant of them. Instead, he had all Catholic priests banished from the country. Incensed, some Catholics decided to assassinate James and put his daughter, Princess Elizabeth—who would be forced to become a Catholic—on the throne. Guy Fawkes and his fellow conspirators managed to get 36 barrels of gunpowder into the cellar of the House of Lords, ready to be ignited when James arrived to open Parliament. The plot was discovered, however, and the conspirators, including Guy Fawkes, were put to death.

Guy FawkesGuy Fawkes

Guy Fawkes

The exact date of Guy Fawkes’s birth is uncertain, although it is known that he was baptized on 16th April 1570 in York. Although his parents were Protestants, Guy converted to Catholicism during his teenage years—even though it was a crime to be a Catholic during Queen Elizabeth I’s reign (1558–1603). In 1592, he joined the army of Catholic Spain, which was at the time fighting the Protestant Dutch rebels over the control of the Netherlands, then under Spanish rule. By 1603, Guy—now known by the Italian version of his name “Guido”—had been recommended for promotion to captain in the Spanish army. In that same year, Guy tried to persuade the king of Spain, Philip III, to wage war against England and its new Protestant king, James I. Philip turned down his request, however.


Getting 36 barrels of gunpowder into the Houses of Parliament unnoticed was an extremely difficult and risky undertaking. Because of this, some historians believe that King James’s chief minister, Robert Cecil, who was known to detest Catholics, secretly masterminded the Gunpowder Plot (and its failure) in his bid to get James to ban Catholics altogether.

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