5 November commemorates the failure of the November 1605 Gunpowder Plot by a gang of Roman Catholic activists led by Warwickshire-born Robert Catesby.
When Protestant King James I acceded to the throne, English Catholics had hoped that the persecution they had felt for over 45 years under Queen Elizabeth I would finally end, and they would be granted the freedom to practice their religion.
When this didn’t transpire, a group of conspirators resolved to assassinate the King and his ministers by blowing up the Palace of Westminster during the state opening of Parliament.
The arrest of Guy Fawkes in the cellars of Parliament pictured in a wood engraving. Credit: Universal History Archive/Un/REX
Guy (Guido) Fawkes, from York, and his fellow conspirators, having rented out a house close to the Houses of Parliament, managed to smuggle 36 barrels of gunpowder into a cellar of the House of Lords – enough to completely destroy the building.
(Physicists from the Institute of Physics later calculated that the 2,500kg of gunpowder beneath Parliament would have obliterated an area 500 metres from the centre of the explosion).
The scheme began to unravel when an anonymous letter was sent to William Parker, the Fourth Baron Monteagle, warning him to avoid the House of Lords.
The letter (which could well have been sent by Lord Monteagle’s brother-in-law Francis Tresham), was made public and this led to a search of Westminster Palace in the early hours of November 5th.
Explosive expert Fawkes, who had been left in the cellars to set off the fuse, was subsequently caught when a group of guards discovered him at the last moment.
Fawkes was arrested, sent to the Tower of London and tortured until he gave up the names of his fellow plotters.
Lord Monteagle was rewarded with £500 plus £200 worth of lands for his service in protecting the crown.
Guy Fawkes Day was celebrated for quite a number of years.
However, the price was high, houses were burnt down, eyes blown out, fingers blown off and acts of vandalism were perpetrated with the letter box out the front a common target. And the poor household pets, dogs were whining, fish trembling in their tanks, cats meowing, budgies and cockies were dropping off their perches. It was finally stopped in the 1980s.