Discovery of the Plot (Henry Perronet Briggs)
On November 5, 1604, a group of English Catholic conspirators led by a man named Robert Catesby attempted a terrorist attack on the English parliament. The plan was to detonate a thirty-six barrel cache of gunpowder that had been hidden in an undercroft (basement room) beneath the House of Lords at the Palace of Westminster.
The explosion was to be timed to the State Opening of Parliament, a commencement of parliament sessions featuring a speech from the monarch—then King James I of England (who was also James IV of Scotland). If successful, the plot very likely would have leveled the building, killed the king, and killed or injured the countless members of the House of Lords and House of Commons who were gathered there.
In the chaos that would follow, the conspirators planned to stage a full-fledged revolt centered in the English Midlands and then install Princess Elizabeth—the nine year old daughter of King James—as a puppet queen who would be raised Catholic and then later married to a Catholic husband (apparently whether she liked it or not).
Needless to say, the plot failed. An anonymous letter revealing its details had been sent to authorities, and so they searched the building around midnight the night before the State Opening. There, they found Guy Fawkes—one of the conspirators—guarding the cache of gunpowder. Fawkes was the one who would be responsible for lighting the fuse at the proper time before escaping.
The plot—known as the Gunpowder Plot, Gunpowder Treason Plot, or Jesuit Treason—resulted in a major operation to find and either capture or kill the conspirators. Several were indeed killed during the hunt, including mastermind Catesby. Eight surviving conspirators, including Fawkes, were tried, convicted, and then put to death. The British continue to celebrate the failure of the Gunpowder Plot on November 5 each year, lighting bonfires, burning effigies of Guy Fawkes (and, in earlier years, the pope), and setting off fireworks. They call it Guy Fawkes Day or Bonfire Night, and it’s the rough equivalent of our Independence Day celebrations here in the United States. Read More…