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Gunpowder plot: Why November 5 is celebrated in the UK

The Gunpowder Plot is one of the most notorious events in British history. The shock it caused can still be sensed in the words of the House of Commons Journal for 5 November 1605. If many of will remember the 2005 movie "V for Vendetta", it also made mention of this date in history. 

Subsequently Catesby, Winter, and Fawkes, along with Percy, who joined the conspiracy in May, met in a house behind St. Clement’s Church. There they swore an oath of secrecy together, heard mass, and took Communion in an adjoining apartment from a priest stated by Fawkes to have been Father John Gerard. Later several other persons were included in the plot, including Winter’s brother Thomas, John Grant, Ambrose Rokewood, Robert Keyes, Sir Everard Digby, Catesby’s cousin Francis Tresham, and Catesby’s servant Thomas Bates. The Jesuits Oswald Tesimond (also known by the alias Father Greenway) and Father Henry Garnet were also cognizant of the plot.

On May 24, 1604, a house was hired in Percy’s name adjoining the House of Lords. From the cellar of this house the conspirators proposed to work a mine. They began digging on December 11, 1604, and by about March had gotten halfway through the wall. They then discovered that a vault immediately under the House of Lords was available. 

This was at once hired by Percy, and 36 barrels of gunpowder, amounting to about 1.5 tons, were brought in and concealed under coal and firewood. The preparations being completed in May 1605, the conspirators separated. Fawkes was dispatched to Flanders, where he imparted the plot to Hugh Owen, a Welsh Roman Catholic expatriate whose intrigues in England dated to at least the Ridolfi Plot against Elizabeth I in 1571.

 Before putting this plan into motion, however, it was decided to try a “quiet way” to obtain the repeal of the Penal Laws, a body of laws that essentially criminalized Roman Catholicism. Winter was sent to Flanders to enlist the aid of Juan de Velasco, duke of Frias and constable of Castile, who was conducting the negotiations for peace between England and Spain, returned to England about the end of April, bringing with him Fawkes, a man devoted to the Roman Catholic cause and recommended for undertaking perilous adventures.

The plan was that on the morning of Tuesday 5 November, Fawkes would light the length of slow match as soon as the king came into the Lords (presumably on hearing the noise overhead) and get away across the Thames before the explosion. Meanwhile Sir Everard Digby and his servants waited at the Red Lion inn in Dunchurch, under the guise of a hunting party. As soon as he learned of the plot’s success, Catesby would leave London for the midlands where he would meet Digby to mastermind the catholic rising that formed the next stage of the plot. 

They would seize Princess Elizabeth from Coombe Abbey near Coventry, the home of her governor, Lord Harington, and proclaim her queen. But little of this had been fully worked out. As the Jesuit Father Oswald Tesimond later commented, ‘They left all at random’. Tom Wintour was captured, shot in his right arm and unable to defend himself. Also captured were the injured Ambrose Rookwood and the severely burned John Grant. They were taken back to London, where others including Digby and Tresham later joined them in the Tower. By 9 November Fawkes had been tortured and given six statements on the conspiracy, each fuller than the last. He reiterated his intense dislike of the Scots, evident on his visit to Spain.

 The king immediately proposed questions to be put to Fawkes, including a query about the authorship of a hostile libel asserting that the monarch would die for taking the unpopular title of ‘King of Great Britain’. James leaped to the conclusion that anti-Scots hatred was at the heart of the plot, rather than his own slipperiness in raising and then dashing catholic hopes. However, Fawkes and Wintour were the only survivors of the original plotters and their testimony would be vital. 

The fight at Holbeach saved the government most of the task of hunting down survivors, as well as demonstrating beyond doubt that these were the guilty men. By 9 November the privy council could feel that they were back in control. The king’s speech that day at the prorogation of parliament was gracious, emphasising that he believed the plot to be the work of a few fanatics rather than the whole catholic community. He also exonerated catholic monarchs abroad. He gave thanks that God had delivered them all from ‘a roaring, nay a thundering sin of fire and brimstone’.  

Parliament, the king, most of the royal family, and leading officers of state. The aim was to set up a Roman Catholic regime in Protestant England, with James I’s daughter Elizabeth who would not be in attendance as its puppet ruler. Following the Gunpowder Plot in 1605, Parliament decreed November 5 a day of thanksgiving, which came to be known as Guy Fawkes Night. In the 1600s, Fawkes became a stand-in for the Catholic Church, as he was in this pamphlet published in 1630. 

A Thankful Remembrance of God’s Mercie was an account of “popish plots” and included an illustration of Fawkes with London Bridge with traitors’ heads on spikes in the background. The use of Fawkes’s image, however, has changed over time Guy Fawkes Night’s popularity continued to grow. Children often made effigies (called “Guys”) and asked people for “a penny for the guy.” In the 1920s, some prepared giant Guys to burn during the festivities. The one built in Beckenham, Kent, was 23 feet high.

source:::,, and wikipedia

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Fawkes Gunpowder Plot John Gerard John Grant Percy


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