The Gunpowder Plot and after



When he became king, James had wanted to be kind to the Catholics. It was not to be.

On 26 October 1605, a lord called Monteagle got an odd letter telling him to stay away from Parliament (see Source 1).  He took it to King James.  The king said it was a warning that Parliament was going to be blown up.

Nine days later, at midnight, 4 November 1605, the king's men went to check the cellars under Parliament.  They found 36 kegs of gunpowder and a Catholic called Guy Fawkes standing by them with a match.

The men grabbed Fawkes.  They tortured him.  After two days, he confessed Catholics had been trying to blow up the Parliament.  He named other plotters.  One of them, a man called Tresham, was Monteagle's cousin.

When they went to get the other plotters, the king's men killed both the leaders.  Tresham died in prison.



After you have studied this webpage, answer the question sheet by clicking on the 'Time to Work' icon at the top of the page.


The following websites will help you research further:


The Gunpowder Plot:

History Learning Site      

BBC KS3 Bitesize site - you need especially to read the Interpretations page  


Nick Knowles on the Plot


The Gunpowder Plot: the traditional story

1  The letter to Monteagle, 26 October 1605.  It was NOT written by his cousin, Tresham; most historians think it is forged.

If you love your life do not go to Parliament ...  This Parliament shall get a great blow, but will not see who hurt them.


2  Written by someone who was there when Guy Fawkes was being tortured.

We asked him if he was sorry.  He said he was only sorry he had failed. 

The king asked how could he think of so bad a treason.  He said that a bad disease ieeded a big cure



Was it a Set-Up?

On 9 November, people were told that eight Catholics had tried to blow up Parliament.

It was said that the men had tried to dig a tunnel first, but then they had rented the cellar and put the gunpowder there.

Everybody was happy that the king was safe.  Parliament gave James 250,000.

After that, James was not as nice to Catholics; 28 Catholics were executed when he was king.


Most modern historians believe that the Plotters were 'set-up' by the government:

a.  No one has ever found the 'tunnel'.

b.  Only the government could sell gunpowder no Catholic could buy gunpowder.

c.  The man who owned the cellar died suddenly on 5 November 1605.

d.  Fawkes was an ordinary soldier - a nobody.  He was not a lord.

e.  Some historians suggest Tresham was a government spy


The Gunpowder Plot: the Evidence for a Set-Up

3  Written by the modern historian John D Clare in a school textbook (2000).

The government knew of the plot long before 5th November.
They let the plot go on, to make it seem worse.


4  The plot was used by the government to make people hate the Catholics.  In this picture. Fawkes is walking to the cellar.  Who is helping him?  Can you see the Pope, the Devil, the King of Spain and some Catholic priests in the picture?

Meanwhile, the words 'Video Rideo' and Latin and mean: 'I see and I mock'.  Who saw and mocked Fawkes's plot?  What was the message to the people of England?



After 1605

The Gunpowder Plot was the last Catholic act of terrorism in England, but it did not see the end of Catholicism in England, nor the end of the Catholic threat.  During the 17th century, as you will see as you study the rest of this course, Catholicism remained a political issue:

  King Charles I (1625-49) introduced 'Arminian' reforms which were seen by Puritans as an attempt to make the Church of England more 'Catholic'; this was one of the causes of the Civil War of 1642-49, and of the execution of the king in 1649.

  In 1670 Charles II made a Secreat Treaty with King Louis XIV of France, in which he promised to restore Catholicism.

  King James II (1685-88) was openly Catholic; he gave Catholics freedom of religion, and built up a standing army with Catholic officers.


Only in 1701, after a century of conflict and alarms, did Parliament pass the Act of Succession, which insisted that the monarch always had to be a Protestant ... and still there were rebellions in 1715 and 1745 to try to restore the Catholic Stuart kings to the throne.