I’ve been meaning to do an episode on the Gunpowder Plot in early November for ages, but I always seem to forget. So this year I put it in my trusty Tudor Planner (see how I worked that in there?) and boom, I was ready
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Previous episode on Catholics in Elizabethan England
Throwback Episode 26: Catholics in Elizabethan England
Faith and Treason, the Story of the Gunpowder Plot by Antonia Fraser
God’s Secret Agents: Queen Elizabeth’s Forbidden Priests and the Hatching of the Gunpowder Plot by Alice Hogge
BBC Series: Gunpowder, Treason, and Plot
Exploring the Legend (hosted by Top Gear’s Richard Hammond for those of you who like him)
Welcome to the Renaissance English History Podcast your host Heather Teysko. And I’m a Storyteller who makes history accessible because I believe it’s a pathway to understanding Who We Are, our place in the universe and being more deeply in touch with our own Humanity. So today is November 5th. Remember remember the 5th of November? And I have been wanting to do an episode on the Gunpowder Plot on November 5th for years, but I keep forgetting. So guess what? It’s November 5th, and it’s time for a special Gunpowder Plot episode because I remembered so just really quick before we get started in on it a reminder actually an announcement that the 2019 Tudor planners are available now to pre-order at a discount at tudorfair.com. They are beautiful. I have a video of them there. And so you can check it out to Tudorfair.com to get your 2019 two-door planner for you ordered at a discount. They will ship the week of Thanksgiving in the US which is for those of you who don’t celebrate Thanksgiving at the end of November.
So there goes another couple of weeks till they’re going to be shipped out. So let’s talk about the Gunpowder Plot because even though it doesn’t happen during our official Tudor Elizabethan period. The seeds were sown during that time. And it was one of the biggest tests of the early reign of James of what’s not one of it was the biggest test of the early reign of James VI.
Then became James the first of England. So one thing I want to say, is that a couple of years ago. I did do an episode on the Catholic experience in Elizabethan England and I will go back and put that in the show notes and link to that so you can go back and listen to that for some context, but I want to set the stage for the Gunpowder Plot with what was happening for Catholics in Elizabethan England. I’m not going to go into quite the same amount of detail that I did in that other episode, but just let you know that Catholics were not treated that well in Elizabethan England, I always have kind of a hard time when I hear people talk about Bloody Mary and how awful she was to Protestants and she was don’t get me wrong. But Elizabeth was almost as bad as Mary was towards Catholics. Now the logic of that was that during this period England was at war with Spain and in 1570. There was a papal bull issued.
By the pope obviously saying that any Catholics were officially absolved of having to listen or obey. Elizabeth they were absolved of having any kind of obedience towards her and they were in fact actually encouraged to rebel against her. So because of this bull, which was initially designed to put fear in Elizabeth Ann actually backfired and made life very difficult for Catholics in Elizabethan England. And if you didn’t at least pretend to be Protestant and go to the Protestant Services, you were named and Catholic recusant meant to refuse so you were refusing the Protestant service.
And if you did that you would be fined crippling amounts of fines and for your house would be subject to be searched at any time.
If you wanted to celebrate your mess you would have to have a priest in your home to Harbor a priest was actually considered treason. So if you hide a priest, that would that was officially treason. So It was really not a good time to be Catholic in England. So let’s jump forward to the end of Elizabeth’s reign in 1602.
I called Thomas Percy. He was related to the Earl’s Northumberland. He rode North to meet James the first Change the 60 was it’s in Scotland then so he rode North he knew Elizabeth was dying and that James would be her likely successor and he wrote to meet James. He met him and he said, You know, we would like when you become king. We would like to tell you that we are loyal to you and we would like to know that you will give us tolerance and you would let us worship as we Want to worship thing is James never actually promised anything.
But Thomas Percy left that meeting believing that James was on their side James of course was the son of Mary Queen of Scots who was a Catholic martyr. He was married to a wife who had actually converted to Catholicism. So it seemed like even if he wasn’t going to become Catholic himself, he was going to make life easier for Catholics. So Thomas Percy was a friend of a guy called Robert Catesby.
Robert Catesby is the other fellow who is a key player in the Gunpowder Plot Catesby is actually the one who has the idea for the Gunpowder Plot. He was an extremely charismatic young nobleman. He had connections, but he was also again and open Catholic and open Recusant Catholic and he didn’t want Catholics to just be positive and let their beliefs die. Let their old religions die. He looked down on the Catholics who pretended to be Protestant just for their own success. He was very fanatic about being a Catholic and he wore that very proudly.
So those two knew each other. And let’s move forward now to early 1603 when Queen Elizabeth dies save. Thomas Percy. Telling his friends, you know James is going to promise that he will give us Toleration. He will give his tolerance and. We’re going to all be liberated. These recusant laws will be got rid of, and things will be good. I’ve gotten James words on this now the thing is in the early days James did relax the persecution of Catholics. He stopped collecting the records and see fines and it seems like things might be letting up.
But by 1604 so a year so into his Reign the law still hadn’t been repealed. And the English Catholics felt that he had betrayed them. They felt like they had given it held up their end of the bargain and been loyal to him and supported him as king and he had not done the same thing for them by 1604 James reimpose the fines for records and see and he ordered all of the priest out of England.
So again, if you are Catholic and you want to practice the mass, you can’t legally because the priests are all ordered out of England. So Catesby and Percy, they’re all very angry and especially Thinks that James deserves to die for this. He had given them false hope, he had lied to them. And he was going against God’s will so sometime in the spring of 1604 Catesby decided on a plan. He was going to blow up James and all of Parliament.
He had decided that it was God’s intention that this happened. So the whole plot got started on the 20th of May and 1604. The pub just off the Strand called the duck and Drake. Catesby met with four of his friends and this was the beginning of the Gunpowder Plot. They all took a vow of secrecy and then Catesby outlined his plan to use gunpowder to blow up Parliament. And this was different than any other kind of assassination attempt in the past. This was going to be something that hurt everyone
It was going to take out not just the king. Not just the King’s children. So it was not just going to affect the succession, but it was also going to take out the Bishops. And the Lord’s all the members of parliament who are going to be there all of the Gentry in the House of Commons. They were all going to be destroyed in one blow. All of the leaders of England were going to be taken out. This is basically a huge plan for domestic terrorism is the largest domestic terrorism plan that England has ever seen ever did see and ever has seen since that time if they would have been successful.
It would have rocked and shaken England to its core to the people who were there in that meeting were Thomas Percy and then keep his cousin Thomas winter and then a guy called Jack Wright who is Catesby’s old friend and then a final person in addition to catesby, Guido Fawkes.
I’ll pick up Guy Fawkes, he was a soldier and he had a lot of experience in mining. So he had been in the Spanish Netherlands. He was from Yorkshire have been a soldier in. The Netherlands fighting with the Catholic forces there and he had been there for about 10 years and these men believed that they were going to be fighting for their freedom. Not just their freedom, but the freedom of all Catholics in England, so they had this secret meeting where they went where they talked about their plan and then they sealed the meeting by having a private mass. And then the planning really began the first thing that they needed if they were going to be successful with this was to have a base in Westminster and they immediately got lucky.
And not independently apropos of nothing Percy with a pointed a gentleman pensioner. This was kind of a guard of the parliament which was ironic and he was able to rent lodgings in Westminster then and you put Fawkes there. Now guy Fawkes was somebody who was not known to people in London that he could come and go quite easily and he didn’t attract any kind of Suspicion. Two more people got involved at this point, a guy called Thomas Bates and then another one called Robert keys. They were the ones who were tasked with helping Fawkes stock the gunpowder. There was a large gunpowder plant Mill in Rotherhithe at that point and because war with Spain had just concluded.
Earlier that year with the unofficial peace treaty. There was a glut.
And harder as being sold off cheap with very few questions asked so Fawkes was able to buy a 36 barrels over several months is not to attract attention. This is over 10,000 pounds of gunpowder. And the equivalent force would be if you set off 250 Canon.
All at one time it was going to rock buildings it was going to rock Parliament, but the other thing they needed then to really have this happened was to be close to Parliament to be underneath Parliament to get all of this done powder underneath. It was originally scheduled to open in February of 1605.
So they originally had about 8 months or so to plan all of this. But then in December with two months left to go they the king delayed Parliament until early winter the next year, so it was moved till November. And that gave them an additional 6 to 8 months to plan. So with this extra time catesby started to plan the second stage of the plot and that was going to be a full-on Catholic Uprising. He reunited some more friends and families and what they envisioned was forming a Hunting Party
That was actually then once the king who died was going to show its true colors was going to kidnap the princess Elizabeth who was the eldest daughter and they thought that it would be possible to rule through her to essentially that her up as a puppet Queen. And Rule through her.
And they were really counting on the fact that things would be really chaotic that with the King dead with all the princes with all of the Lord all of the Gentry. All of the Bishops that was everybody dead it would be chaotic and people could just rise to the top and that’s what they were banking on. So then they have another sign that God is smiling on their plot when Percy was able to get a lease on a celler.
It had been an old Palace kitchens and was directly underneath the Parliament House. So for whatever reason Percy was able to get this lease on the celler and we’ll talk in a little bit about conspiracy theories. There are some who say that this whole thing was masterminded by Robert Cecil for the king for the purposes of entrapping in trapping trapping all of these people. So for whatever reason if you believe in The Conspiracy Theory, then you might say well it was specifically for this but Percy was able to get this lease on this seller at right underneath the Parliament building.
And so they started moving the gunpowder over and you know having everything store there they put firewood all around it to to hide it to disguise it and by October 1605 they were all set up. They had the gunpowder hidden there was firewood all around it, but keeps be was running out of money. And so he wanted to recruit one more conspirator who had Deep Pockets. The person that he brought in was Francis tresham. He was a substantial landholder he had access to land and funds and to horses and all kinds of stuff but tresham was really hesitant about this. He did not like this idea at all.
And he initially said this is a really bad idea. We need to not do this but trash and finally came around keeps being like I said before was very charismatic and keeps being talked to him around so who got tresham being brought in kind of unwillingly and he’s clearly going to be the one that is not necessarily the strongest supporter of it.
So tresham has friends in the House of Lords. Can he had friends who were catholic he was a Catholic peers who would also die. So there was the danger that tresham would try to warn his Catholic friends about what was happening to that was again. If you want to believe in conspiracy theories, it’s possible that trash and was brought in kind of my purpose. She said all this emotion and we’ll talk about that in a little bit. So on October 26th the plan starts to fall apart. It’s just 10 days out.
Parliament opening and about a mile north of London in hoxton trash and brother-in-law or Monteagle get the letter and he was one of these Catholic peers who would die. He was also it was called a church papist. He was somebody who pretended to be Protestant so that his career would go well, but really he was a Catholic. So the official version of the story is that Thomas Ward who was a servant of Lord Monteagle delivered a letter to Monteagle it dinner at awards said that he didn’t know who the person was who delivered it, but that basically he is going
to cost it outside by a man wearing a mask and the letter was actually a warning that Monteagle should not go to Parliament because of a great blow that was going to happen. So Monteagle rides to Whitehall he gives the letter to James the Secretary of State Robert Cecil Robert Cecil is the son of William Cecil Lord Burleigh who was of course Queen Elizabeth’s great secretary of state and the person who masterminded so much of what happened with relationships between The Catholics and Elizabeth and what happened with Mary Queen of Scots and all of that. So Robert is his son. Robert is just as Protestant as his father was and he also has the the entire intelligence Network that France is holding a hot.
So he has a lot of resources and this is where the conspiracy theorists are with this. So Monteagle goes and hands over the letter while Monteagle is scanning over the letter his servant who was also Catholic goes and tells the conspiracy conspirators about the letter and they of course. Suspect trash him right away that he’s the the prime suspect and he says he has no idea what happened and in truth. Why would he write that letter if Lord Montego was his brother-in-law he could just go visit and say don’t go to Parliament. So again, this is another aspect of this that gets really tricky so they eventually believe that he was innocent. And that he didn’t know about the letter and during this time. We’ve also got then separately at Whitehall. We’ve got Monteagle and Cecil talking about the letter staying up late.
Through the night looking at it trying to figure out where I was from. There’s actually a theory that it was perhaps one of the platters wives who wrote that letter or maybe Monteagle wrote it himself. It’s possible that he was tuned-in enough to the Catholic underworld in the plans that he had heard about this and he decided that it would be a way to set himself up and be a hero if he wrote this fake letter and had it delivered himself and he in fact he was very richly rewarded. He received a tension of 500 pounds a year for life. So that’s another theory as well. But of course, there’s also the theory that Cecil was involved from the beginning that all of this was masterminded by Cecil and that everybody kind of just fell into his plans, right? So at this point catesby knows that the plan is up that everybody is aware of it. And for some reason he still decides to stick around the smart move at that point would have been to leave to go to maybe Ireland which was Catholic or the Netherlands somewhere else, but no he decides to stick around and keep going the plan is still on. It’s still what you know, the original what’s going to happen. So Monteagle and Cecil show the letter to the king and
the official version of courses that the King was the one who grasped what blow meant and ordered the
Searching for gunpowder that he’s the one who understood that a great below mint and explosion and that he called to search Westminster.
Now of course is probably likely that the up that Cecil knew about this too, but it really worked for the narrative to have the king be the one to think about it and then to show that God. God’s anointed was the one who solved the mystery so catesby was going to stay in London and then ride to the Midlands where the Hunting Party would kidnap princess Elizabeth Fox prepares a fuse that would take about 8 hours to simmer and he was going to stay in Westminster to confirm that it had all gone down and then he was going to ride to the Midlands to join the hunting party as well and then kidnap Elizabeth and all of this chaos was going to happen and and it would all go well for them, so they believe but Cecil was ready so during these couple of days that’s what was getting ready for this and he did he could have pounced on them as well right away, but he wanted to wait and let the plot play out and kind of let it reach its it’s a game before he jumped on it as well. So again, the official state version is that they all search The Cellar they saw bearded man and a pile of firewood. That was too big for the cellar. It was just going to make too big of a fire. You didn’t need of firewood. So they then research and show that the seller was actually least to a Catholic so they go to James and James of course says, oh well, this is clearly of the plot in this is the gunpowder. You need to go back and have a second search again. It’s this is kind of propaganda the official version. It’s probably pretty clear that Cecil and they were able to put this together as well. But you know James gets the credit for this. So on the 5th of November just after midnight they have second search and they find a man in Boots and Spurs. He’s ready to ready to skate and they arrest him They find the gunpowder. This man gives a false name. He says his name is John Johnson. It’s really Guy Fawkes. So the conspirators and London hear about this they decide that it’s time to leave for the outskirts to go back to their homes. And Ride Like the Wind they catch up with catesby who it already left.
And told him what had happened catesby rides to northamptonshire to meet some of the other conspirators and still at this point. He still doesn’t give up this man is a fanatic at this point. You would think. Okay. Well, it’s up. It’s done. Let’s let’s just escape and see if we can escape with our lives, but he really clearly wants to be a religious martyr. And so he decides they’re still going to do The Hunting Party. They’re still going to spread a rumor that the king is dead. And see if they can kidnap princess Elizabeth.
Because Why Not Right. But as he goes around and tries to push this message he finds that there’s very little support for him, it’s clear that the Catholics were quite loyal to James and they they didn’t like the idea that he had props died when catesby told the Catholics that James had died they were very upset by this because it is again was going to lead to more uncertainty they were going to be blamed for it. They didn’t want to have anything to do with him. So we’ve got Guy Fawkes in jail in the Tower of London and we’ve got keeps peeing his people running around northamptonshire spreading rumors that the King has died and they finally then reach on November 7th their last safe house, which is in Staffordshire, On the Border at Staffordshire.
November 5th bonfires are lit to celebrate the safety of the king and the princess and everybody basically everybody who’s everybody is now safe for the time being and so they like these bonfires to celebrate that bonfires worth of way that people celebrated in General on the episode. I did a couple of months ago on the summer solstice. We talked about burning burning bonfires throughout the summer solstice to celebrate. So it was the common way that people would celebrate was with these bonfire. That’s why the 5th of November is called bonfire night. So guy fox in the tower still is not talking. He still doesn’t give his real name. He refuses to say anything about his co-conspirators his accomplices. And then King James goes to meet him when James asked him his motive. Fawkes responded that a dangerous disease requires a desperate remedy and James then turns him over to the torturers at this point. And in English law you weren’t meant to torture somebody who is not proven to be guilty. But guy Fawkes clearly wasn’t trying to Proclaim his innocence and so they went ahead and tortured him to get more information out of him. He was racked and after that he did talk.
He talked and said everything to his confession then gave them all the information that they needed on the other conspirators the other people and and the plan in the plot and everything like that so that. Back up and Staffordshire conspirators are planning a final kind of Last Stand like an Alamo kind of thing and they still had a little bit of powder that they had kept aside. And so they were planning to use that for you know, what a big blowout fight, but the weather has been really rainy and really awful and the powder got wet.
So they did what any kind of you know, those books the Darwin Awards. They did a completely Darwin Award kind of thing. They decided that it would be a good idea to dry out the gunpowder in front of… Wait for it. …an open fire now no one was killed when the explosion the inevitable explosion happened, but one of them was blinded and they had very bad Burns were very badly injured. They saw this as a rebuke from God that God actually wasn’t as in support of their plan as they believed that he had been so they still say okay we’re going to we’re going to still put up a fight but by the following morning the 8th of November, the sheriff of Worcester has the house surrounded. He’s got 200 guards around in the house. Catesby and Percy are there they think that they will defend the house.
But then when it becomes clear that they’re not going to be able to do they decide to walk out together and in great poetic irony the same musket ball took them. Both out Percy died immediately cheats P did not Catesby was actually able to crawl away to a chapel. It was nearby and he died clutching. Picture icon of the Virgin Mary so it was almost as if he had planned this. He was making up a very dramatic death. So Kate Spade eyes clutching a picture of the Virgin Mary the others were immediately rounded up. They were putting the tower tresham died in his style of a urinary tract infection everybody was tried in 1606 and they received Traders dots so that meant they were pulled through the Streets of London and then hung until they were almost dead.
quite shut down and castrated and their stomachs pulled open their disemboweled all this kind of stuff while they were still alive. Hopefully they would have passed out so that
A lot of pain so that they weren’t conscious for it and then their heads were cut off their bodies were chopped into quarters their heads were put on spikes above Tower Bridge to warn other people to not engage in such things.
For Catholics life got a lot worse the Rockies and see laws stayed in place and there was more suspicion than ever.
Steam with the Catholics so it wound up really not being a good idea in terms of how Catholics were then treated and so that Is the story? The Gunpowder Plot and how it came about and how it reached its really kind of ironic ending with these conspirators drying out gunpowder in front of a fire. So I would love to hear what you think. Especially the conspiracy versions of the conspiracy theories. Do you think that Cecil was involved with this do you think that they were all just puppets in his game. Tell me I would love to know so you can go to England path.com facebook.com England cast. How to leave a comment you can tweet me at Teysko t e y s k o and remember that you can pre-order the tutor planner for
this year at Tudor fair.com. So, thank you so much for listening. I hope that if you are out burning bonfires tonight and
listening to me at the same time. Thank you, and I will be back again in another couple of weeks. Thanks for listening.
Everybody. Have a great one. send