History is full of treacherous and deceitful acts committed by ruthless men and women. In desperate times there have always been those who conspire to alter the course of history. Some have succeed while others have failed. The Gunpowder Plot is one such effort by a few would be conspirators that would have changed the course of history in England some 400 years ago. History books though many omit certain facts, skirt so many details, and even stretch the truth a bit. But, when we hear about shrewd and calculating measures taken by some of histories most infamous characters, people that could have played a pivotal role in altering the course of history the Gunpowder Plot is one such instance. This coming November 5th is the anniversary of a plot so astonishing the history of England would have been rewritten had it succeeded. Yet, there is little mention of it here in the United States about what happened on the 5th of November over 400 years ago in merry old England.
Questions, concerning the events that led to the almost successful terrorist attack against the King of England and Parliament continue to fascinate historians today. One of which is how could a small band of conspirators that had their own misgivings about each other come together and come so close to bringing down the whole government of England? Yet, the Gunpowder Plot came inches away from destroying the entire structure of the monarchy, the church and state in what would have been the biggest mass explosion in England up until that time. Hollywood couldn’t have written a better script. Maybe the Gunpowder Plot was used as the basis for the recent TV show Designated Survivor. The only twist is the conspirators succeeded in Designated Survivor by blowing up the Capital. And, I bet some would like to blow up the Trump administration today. This considering all the accusations surrounding the present administration. One would be hard pressed not to consider the likelihood of a plot much like the Gunpowder plot. A plot to eradicate an administration that has become one bad soap opera after another right from the start. In any event the fact remains that a small band of men banded together to strike a fatal blow against a government that continued to persecute those who practiced the Catholic religion.
We have to remind ourselves what led up to that fateful night on November 5th in 1605. We have to back to 1533 when Henry VIII took control of the English church just because the Pope at the time refused to grant Henry VIII a divorce. With the Catholic religion out of favor by the King was the start of several decades of religious tensions in England. This is a time when English Catholics struggled in a society that was dominated by the now separate and increasingly more powerful Protestant Church of England. When Elizabeth I became queen she introduced the Elizabeth Religious Settlement. This required anyone appointed to a public office swear allegiance to the monarch as head of state and Church. This was probably the real beginning of increasing number of Catholic uprisings against the Protestants because the Pope Pius V excommunicated the Queen.
By 1603 the end of an era came when Queen Elizabeth died. The Catholics for over 33 years suffered sever persecution. Ever since she was excommunicated many Catholics were now considered enemies of the state. And, they were severely punished if caught practicing their faith. Their hope was revitalized when James I ascended the English throne following the Queens death. For a short time James whose own wife was Catholic relaxed the fines and persecution. But, as time went on the growing number of Catholics began to trouble the King. It didn’t help when a Catholic plot was discovered to overthrow the King. As a result James grew increasingly antagonistic toward all Catholics. As the number of Catholics rose so did the tensions between the King and those who were openly Catholic practitioners.
By 1604 at the Hampton Court Conference it was King James that turned the tables on the increasing numbers of practicing Catholics when he decreed that all priests and Jesuits to be expelled and fined. Apparently afterward one Robert Catesby who was a devout Catholic whose own father had been imprisoned for harboring a priest had to leave his studies to avoid taking the Protestant Oath now mandated by the King. He hence forth began recruiting this small band of would be conspirators. History tells us that in May of 1604 Catesby was joined by Thomas Wintour, Jack wright and Thomas Percy in Strand England. They were joined by Guy Fawkes who had been serving in the Spanish Army. This was the beginning of the Gunpowder Plot. the conspiracy plot to blow up Parliament.
On the night of the 26th of October turned into the first inclination that the plot was going to be foiled. An anonymous letter sent to Lord Monteagle warned against opening Parliament of November 5th. Either by overconfidence or by sheer lack of concern by the warning that Lord Monteagle knew of their plot they went ahead. The first suspicion that something was going to happen was when Monteagle sent Salisbury to search the cellar beneath the House of Lords where they found large barrels of gunpowder. Around Midnight Guy Fawkes was found hiding. The Plot was foiled at the last minute.
Questions still arise even today as to how could a small band of conspirators hope to bring down the government when so many previous conspiracies failed? Yet, the Gunpowder Plot came just inches away from dismembering the entire structure of the English monarchy. So on the 5th of November we remember one of England’s most notorious villains or one of their most celebrated heroes. that depend on one’s ideological leaning. Some still say that Guy Fawkes was the last man to enter Parliament with honest intentions.
Could such a plot similar to the Gunpowder Plot occur today right here in the United States? It just might be possible considering the mood of much of the public. A plot to right the wrongs of a political system that has become too corrupt, and ineffectual to improve everyone’s quality of life. Just think if Guy Fawkes succeed what the course of history would have been. We would be wise to remember Guy Fawkes day on November 5th.