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Gunpowder Plot: 1605

The assassination attempt known now as the Gunpowder Plot is devised primarily by Robert Catesby, who is angered that the new king, James I, has not introduced an act of toleration for Roman Catholics. His drastic intention is to blow up the house of lords on the opening day of a parliament summoned in 1605, and thus to kill the king together with much of the nobility of the kingdom. His aim is to restore a Roman Cathlic dynasty, though how this is expected to follow from the mayhem is not clear.

The conspirators contrive to rent a building close to the houses of parliament. From it they dig a tunnel to the cellar below the house of lords.

A soldier, Guy Fawkes, is entrusted with the task of moving explosive into the vault. He manages to bring in as many as twenty barrels of gunpowder and to prime them for an explosion. The conspirators await November 5, the day scheduled for the opening of parliament.

The plot is discovered because one of the perpetrators, Francis Tresham, feels compelled to warn his brother-in-law, Lord Monteagle, that he should not attend the opening ceremony. Monteagle passes the letter to the authorities, who on November 4 search the parliament building and discover Guy Fawkes lurking in the cellar among his barrels.

All the conspirators are eventually caught and executed, but the plot becomes for ever associated with Guy Fawkes (its humblest member) because he is the one caught on the scene of the crime and his is the first name known.

Parliament in 1606 orders November 5 to be kept as a day of national thanksgiving. It is still celebrated in England with fireworks and with bonfires, on which effigies of Guy Fawkes - or the 'guy' - are burnt.

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