The Gunpowder Plot: Terror and Toleration

Simon Adams investigates the political and religious options available to the Catholics of early Jacobean England, and asks why some chose to attempt the spectacular coup in November 1605.

The etching of eight of the thirteen conspirators, by Crispijn van de Passe. Missing are Digby, Keyes, Rookwood, Grant, and TreshamEveryone knows what the Gunpowder Plotters looked like. Thanks to one of the best-known etchings of the seventeenth century we see them ‘plotting’, broad brims of their hats over their noses, cloaks on their shoulders, mustachios and beards bristling – the archetypical band of desperados. Almost as well known are the broad outlines of the discovery of the ‘plot’:  the mysterious warning sent to Lord Monteagle on October 26th, 1605, the investigation of the cellars under the Palace of Westminster on November 4th, the discovery of the gunpowder and Guy Fawkes, the flight of the other conspirators, the shoot-out at Holbeach in Staffordshire on  November 8th in which four (Robert Catesby, Thomas Percy and the brothers Christopher and John Wright) were killed, and then the trial and execution of Fawkes and seven others in January 1606.

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