1. Britain In 1605

It should be remembered that, in 1605, King James I ad recently arrived from Scotland. In the reign of his predecessor, Elizabeth I (1533-1603) the Church of England had consolidated its break with Rome, but Catholicism retained many adherents in England. James must have been something of an unknown quantity, and among the Catholics there was great disappointment when it became apparent that, despite initial indications to the contrary, James was going to do nothing to reverse the religious status quo of the end of Elizabeth's reign, or to permit greater toleration.

The genesis of the plot is unclear. Generations of historians accepted it as a genuine last desperate attempt to re-establish the Catholic religion. Others have suspected it to be the work of a group of ‘agents-provocateurs’, anxious to set up as traitors a band of gullible men, to discredit the Jesuits. This would have reinforced the ascendancy of Protestantism, from the wave of popular revulsion, and hatred in James himself. Several commentators have postulated that the whole plot was conceived by Secretary of State Cecil, and suggested to Catesby, but there is little evidence to support this.

Whatever the truth of the origins of the plot, it must be accepted that most, if not all, of the conspirators felt that theirs was an honest attempt to root out heresy and re-establish the true religion. They would also have been spurred on by a number of executions of Catholics which had occurred in the autumn of 1604.

In any case, it is clear that five conspirators: Robert Catesby, Thomas Winter, Thomas Percy, John Wright and Guy (or Guido, the Spanish form of the name) Fawkes, later joined by Robert Keyes, determined during 1604 to undertake the blowing up of the House of Lords. The detonation was to take place on State Opening day, when the King, Lords and Commons would all be present in the Lords Chamber.


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