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Who were the gunpowder plotters

01:00 Mon 01st Apr 2002 |

A.A band of at least 13 disaffected Catholics. Some would call them freedom fighters; others traitors. They were: Robert Catesby, Sir Everard Digby, John Grant, Thomas Percy, Robert Keyes, Ambrose Rookwood, Thomas 'Tom' Wintour, Robert Wintour, John 'Jack' Wright, Christopher Wright, Thomas Bates, Francis Tresham and Guy 'Guido' Fawkes.< xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

Q.What drove them to this conspiracy

A.When James I succeeded Elizabeth, it was thought he would be more tolerant to Catholics. He was, after all, son of a Catholic monarch (Mary, Queen of Scots). Instead, he continued Elizabeth's harsh stand.

Within a few weeks of James's decision in 1605, the five core members of the Gunpowder Plot - Catesby, Percy, Thomas Wintour, John Wright and Guy Fawkes - met and swore an oath on the Holy Sacrament to blow up James and the Houses of Parliament when Parliament next sat.

Q.Who were they

A.Robert Catesby, the leader, was son of Sir William Catesby, a prominent leader in the Catholic community who had been tried and jailed in 1581 for harbouring Father Edmund Campion, the English Jesuit. Thomas Percy was descended from the Earls of Northumberland, who had come to prominence in earlier Catholic uprisings involving Mary, Queen of Scots. Wintour and Wright, also members of the gentry, had both experienced first-hand the severity of the anti-Catholic government.

Fawkes was a soldier who had spent more than 10 years fighting in the Low Countries under the flag of Spain in the regiment of English exiles led by Sir William Stanley, a self-imposed Catholic exile.

Q.And what did they do

A.First they took lodgings near Parliament House and began digging a tunnel to take them under their target. But that didn't work. It seems likely that either water seeped in from the Thames, or the thick walls of the Parliament buildings stopped them in their tracks.

Q.So ...

A.Thomas Percy managed to get hold of a cellar within the Parliament buildings. Into it, the conspirators put 36 barrels of gunpowder hidden by stacks of wood and pieces of iron.

Q.Where do the other plotters come in

A.The conspiracy was proving expensive and time-consuming, so Catesby drew more accomplices into the inner circle, including his servant Thomas Bates, John Wright's brother Christopher, and Thomas Wintour's brother Robert. Plans were delayed, though, because Parliamentary sessions kept being cancelled.

Q.What happened then

A.The gunpowder began to spoil - to go 'off' - so Fawkes returned to Flanders to get more. Catesby organised further support, including John Grant, Sir Everard Digby, Robert Keyes, Ambrose Rookwood, and Catesby's cousin Francis Tresham. All but Fawkes and Bates were related either by blood or marriage.

Q.And all was proceeding to plan

A.Yes. Until 26 October, 10 ten days before Parliament was due to sit, an unknown messenger delivered a letter to Lord Monteagle at his house in Hoxton, outside London. Monteagle had been a staunch Catholic until he obtained favour in the new regime. The letter was an attempt to warn Monteagle not to attend the opening of Parliament because of a great calamity that would consume it. Monteagle at once delivered the letter to Robert Cecil, James's Secretary of State. The conspirators found out about the letter - suspecting Tresham - but concluded that the letter had not alerted the government to their plans.

Q.But ...

A.On the night of 4 November, the day before Parliament was to open, Fawkes was caught in the cellar with the powder. He was arrested and brought before the king. At first he said he was John Johnson, servant to Thomas Percy, but after torture he began to reveal details of the plot.

Q.And the others...

A.News spread of Fawkes's capture. The other plotters, except Tresham, left London for the Midlands in twos and threes. They arrived in Dunchurch, Warwickshire, and met a group of followers who had been gathered by Digby ostensibly as a hunting party. This group - probably about 60 - arrived at Holbeche House (home of the Stephen Littleton's rebellious Catholic family) on the Staffordshire border on the evening of 7 November.

Just before midday the next day, the Sheriff of Worcester arrived with his men and surrounded the house. A skirmish developed. Catesby, the two Wrights and Thomas Percy were fatally wounded. The remaining conspirators were caught, except Robert Wintour and Stephen Littleton, imprisoned in Worcester jail, and then taken to London. Four days after the siege at Holbeche, Francis Tresham was arrested in London and sent to the Tower of London. Wintour and Littleton were caught after two months on the run.

Q.Their fate

A.Francis Tresham died from a urinary tract infection in the Tower. On 27 January, 1606, the trial of the eight surviving conspirators began. All were condemned to death.

On Thursday, 30 January, Digby, Robert Wintour, John Grant and Thomas Bates were executed in St Paul's Churchyard. The next day, Thomas Wintour, Ambrose Rookwood, Robert Keyes and Guy Fawkes were executed in the Old Palace Yard at Westminster. All eight were hanged, drawn and quartered. The bodies of those who died at Holbeche were exhumed and their heads removed to be displayed on pikes.

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Steve Cunningham

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