Guy Fawkes Day

Painting: The conspirators of the Gunpowder Plot
The conspirators of the Gunpowder Plot. Guy Fawkes is third from the right.

When Queen Elizabeth died in 1603, her cousin James VI of Scotland became James I of England. James was a Protestant. He did not allow Catholics to practise their religion. Instead, he ordered Catholic priests to leave the country and he forced Catholics to attend Protestant church services. Recusants (Catholics who didn’t attend Protestant church services) were punished.

This made Catholics angry, and a small group of them planned to kill the king by blowing up the Houses of Parliament. The conspirators knew that on 5th November 1605 the king and other nobles would be at the Houses of Parliament for the State Opening. That was the day when they wanted to blow them all up.

On 26th October a nobleman called Lord Monteagle received an anonymous letter telling him not to go to the State Opening. Lord Monteagle was a Catholic – this is probably why he received the letter. He was also loyal to the king, however, and immediately passed the letter on to him. So now the king knew about the plot.

In the morning of 5th November, guards searched the cellars of the Houses of Parliament. They found 36 barrels of gunpowder and arrested one of the conspirators, Guy Fawkes.

Guy Fawkes was tortured until he confessed. Some other conspirators were arrested later, and they were all hung, drawn and quartered.

5th November became known as Guy Fawkes Day (or Gunpowder Day). On this day people celebrate the failure of the Gunpowder Plot with bonfires and fireworks.

Further Information

On the BBC website you can play a game and answer questions on the Gunpowder Plot to save the Houses of Parliament. Some of the answers can be found in our text.

Questions on the text

Are the statements true or false?

  • The conspirators were Catholics.

  • They wanted to blow up the Houses of Parliament on 26th October.

  • Guy Fawkes sent a letter to the king warning him to go to the State Opening.

  • The conspirators hid the gunpowder in the cellars of the Houses of Parliament.

  • People celebrate Gunpowder Day because the conspirators were successful.