It all seems a little too perfect doesn’t it? Just at the moment that a conspiring catholic is lighting a match to destroy the Houses of Parliament, a guard walks in. The same guard who missed 36 barrels of gunpowder being loaded by catholics into a rented cellar? The same guard who had the bright idea of conducting the unprecedented search of basements at midnight? It was almost as if this was a set up but by whom and why?
There is no doubt that Guy Fawkes was intent on destroying protestant England. He had fought in the Spanish military for twelve years against the protestant Dutch. He personally petitioned King Philip III for support in igniting a catholic rebellion at home.
The leader of the infamous Gunpowder Plot Robert Catesby approached Fawkes in 1603. The 13 conspirators required a man with a professional knowledge of explosives who could add military precision to the operation. They need not have looked further.
But let’s not look at the much heralded events in isolation. The year was 1605. ‘Good Queen Bess’ had died four years previously and her cousin James came to the throne. He had previously been James VI of Scotland. His claim to the English monarchy was that his grandmother was the sister of Henry VII (Elizabeth’s grandfather) who married the king of Scotland in 1503. An issue of concern was that his mother was Mary Queen of Scots. Remember her? A devout Catholic and centre of many foiled plots, her execution order was signed by Elizabeth.
Fine. So what was the problem? The upper echelons of James’ government were unsure of his supposed hard-line approach towards catholics. For upper echelons, read Robert Cecil his Chief Minister and SpyMaster. Although James had ordered all priests to leave the country immediately, concerns still lingered. Cecil knew that it would take a lot more than a few cursory meetings to convince the king for a change in policy. James was a paranoid man who embraced flamboyance and theatrics. After all he was the man who paid Shakespeare to write Macbeth as Stuart propaganda warning people about what happened to those who rebelled against the true king. Remember how even nature reacted to Macbeth usurping the throne? No? Do you remember what happened to the climate of Pride Rock when Scar took over? There you go. It was bad.
So Cecil knew that to win over James a fantastic and elaborate plot was needed. He got to work. This would be his best yet – indeed he had framed many a man in the final years of the Tudor dynasty but he was saving the best until last.
A cellar was rented underneath parliament. Conveniently right beneath the seat of King James. It was available for lease. 36 large barrels of gunpowder, over which the government had a strict monopoly, became available and easily transported through the city by cart. Bringing it by the river ran the risk of it becoming wet and useless. It was sneaked into the most guarded building in the country. During a time of intense paranoia.
On 3rd November, two days before parliament was to open, Lord Monteagle received a mysterious letter. The messenger insisted upon reading it aloud to him. It warned that he should not attend parliament because his life was in danger. He swiftly brought it to Cecil the next day. That evening the basement cellar which Fawkes was in was raided.
Immediately after this, two leading co-conspirators who were expecting Fawkes were executed in their Midlands hideout by a soldier who received a very generous pension. Another was ‘poisoned’ in the Tower after his swift arrest, seemingly before he could talk. Was a paper trail back to Cecil being quickly stamped upon?
Fawkes was tortured for two days (How do we know? Search for a picture of his confession signature compared with his regular one) and ceremoniously dragged to Tower Hill for his long and ‘drawn out’ execution. The play did not last as long as planned as he quickly jumped off the gallows, snapping his neck and not giving the crowd the pleasure of witnessing his organs being sliced out of his torso as he looked on.
Mission accomplished. Unsettled by the threat of his dramatic death, James adopted a more punitive approach against catholics. He then decreed that on each 5th November bonfires were to be lit annually across the country to celebrate the Gunpowder Plot being stopped. Initially effigies of the pope were burned but during the nineteenth century this was switched to Fawkes instead.
So is this conspiracy true? Possibly. But possibly not. All of this could have been achieved without a clandestine puppet master pulling the strings. But we all like a good story don’t we?