Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot
However, this era of tolerance was short-lived. In a speech to parliament in early 1604, King James VI announced his utter detestation for the papist religion. Three days later, he ordered all Jesuits and Catholic priests out of the realm and recusancy fines were reintroduced. It became clear to Catholics, that in order for change to be brought about, then action would have to be taken. Despite his association with the Gunpowder plot, Fawkes was not the mastermind behind it. Instead, it was Robert Catesby, a very charismatic and influential figure who was also a devout Catholic.
Catesby enlisted four others, his cousin, Thomas Wintour, along with Thomas Percy, and Christopher and John Wright. Fawkes first became aware of the plot when he met with Wintour in Brussels, and in May 1604, Catesby outlined his plan to the others of his intention to assassinate King James I by blowing up the Houses of Parliament during the state opening of parliament. As well as the king, the opening of parliament was due to be attended by 69 very senior men, including twelve senior judges and their legal attendants, the majority of the bishops of the Church of England, the members of the privy council, and the majority of the English aristocracy. It was a daring plot that potentially would have enormous political ramifications were the conspirators able to successfully execute their plan.
In the run-up, a lease on a house adjacent to the House of Lords had become vacant and Thomas Percy, who had been recently appointed to the King’s bodyguards, took up the lease on the house. Guy Fawkes took up residency using the fake name John Johnson, claiming to be Percy’s servant. As Fawkes had been out of the country for over ten years, he was effectively a stranger and could freely walk around unnoticed.
The plotters had been working to a deadline of February 1605, which was when the state opening of parliament was due to take place. However, due to an outbreak of plague in England, the opening of parliament was postponed for eight months until October, before it was delayed again until November 5. Although the plotters had to postpone their plans, the delay gave them more time to put the necessary steps in place to carry out their attack.
Catesby had lodgings in Lambeth, directly across the river from the Houses of Parliament. The barrels of gunpowder to be used in the attack were stored there. An opportunity arose which allowed the conspirators to get even closer to their target. A coal merchant had moved out of a vault directly under the House of Lords, and Percy takes up the lease. Percy’s cover story is that his wife is about to join him in London and he would, therefore, need extra storage space.
From Catesby’s house, the barrels of gunpowder are transported in a boat across the River Thames to the vault. At the time, the Thames would have been bustling with trade and traffic, so one more small boat crossing it would have been inconspicuous. By July 1605, a total of 36 barrels of gunpowder were now in the vault concealed under a large bundle of firewood directly underneath where King James would be seated in the House of Lords.