In every kind of society, in all periods of history, there are people who are not satisfied with the laws and the government that supports those laws. People can look around today and see this fact in all facets of world politics, and then if they continue to look through history they will find that this fact is one of the only things that has remained true through changing times. This fact stands especially true in Elizabethan England, where assassination plots were an almost common occurrence during unrest of the religious world at the time. No other assassination plot gives people a better understanding of the truth behind the statement, ‘There will always be people unsatisfied with the government and its laws,’ than the Gunpowder Plot. The Gunpowder Plot is a true reflection of the religious turmoil in Elizabethan England while also serving as a precursor to modern religious terrorism.
In today’s world it is commonly thought that government should remain separate from the church, but through most of history this was not the case. It was especially not true in Elizabethan England where the ruling monarch made many decisions on the religion of the people they ruled. English Catholics suffered under the Protestant government of the Elizabethan Era. The persecution started in 1570 when the Catholic Pope excommunicated Queen Elizabeth, releasing her subjects from allegiance to her. They were forbidden to hear Catholic mass, forced instead to attend Anglican services, with steep fines for those who refused to attend. When the Queen became ill in 1603 and her reign was coming to an end, the Catholics were hopeful for change when the new government came about. Most signs pointed to her successor being James VI of Scotland, he himself was close with the Catholic religion, both his mother Mary, Queen of Scots and his wife were known Catholics.
Upon his succession to the throne the new king ended recusancy fines for those who choose not to go to Anglican services, as well as appointing important roles in the new government to known Catholic sympathizers. Balancing religion and government was not easy for the King James however, this fact was especially shown at the Hampton Court Conference of 1604. During his speech at the conference he expressed hostility towards the Catholic religion during his speech, trying to satisfy the demands other religious leaders had made to him. Within days of the conference the old fines were reintroduced for Catholics and Jesuits and priests were expelled from the country. By April of that year the king and the parliament introduced legislation refusing Catholics the right to rent or make wills.
Robert Catesby knew the price Catholics had to pay for their faith at the hand of the government and its laws. His father was imprisoned for harboring a priest as well as not being able to pay fines to the government. Catesby himself was forced to leave school without a degree to avoid taking a Protestant oath of worship. He was so devoted to his faith that he shaped his life around it, sacrificing things like his education to stay completely devote to the Catholic religion. Eventually, Catesby became tired of the government trying to control and confirmed Catholics, so he started to plan. He recruited his friends Thomas Winters, Thomas Percy, and John Wright to aid him in his plan to over through King James and his government. Winters was sent to Flanders to enlist the help of the Duke of Frais and the Constable of Castile who were in charge of negotiating peace between Spain and England. During his trip Winters met a man going by the name of Guido, or Guy, Fawkes while in Spain. Fawkes was an English nationalist who was at the time fighting in the Spanish Army. More important to Winter however is the fact that Fawkes was an explosive expert who happened to have a disdain for King James as he was a practicing Catholic. This was perfect for Catesby’s plan, which was to blow up the parliament building with King James and most of the government inside of it, as well as helping to start a Catholic uprising to seize control of this government. It is interesting to note of the way that Winter recruited Fawkes. Modern terrorists today use the same technique of finding people in other countries that have blended into to that culture and religion, then sending them back to their home country to help carry out attacks much like the Gunpowder plot. These five men, now having Fawkes to help carry out their plan, swear an oath of secrecy over the plan and get to work.
The first big step the men took in their plan was on May 24th, 1604. Winters rented a house that was adjoining to the House of the Lords. Fawkes was installed as the houses caretaker under the allies of John Johnson. The men then began to tunnel from the cellar of the small house to the underside of The House of the Lords and by March of the next year they were more than halfway through the wall. They abandoned the tunnel though, favoring to just rent a cellar that had opened up under the The House of the Lords. Over the next months 36 barrels of Gunpowder were moved into the tiny cellar under the darkness of night. During this time the number of conspirators grew from five to twelve, all of the new plotters were related by blood or marriage to one or more of the original five conspirators. Catesby also recruited some wealthy landowners. Who in addition to being wealthy owned large numbers of horses that would essential for the planned uprising. The conspirators would have to put their plan on pause however as the meeting of Parliament was pushed back to November 5th of 1605 due to the Black Plague that was raging through England at the time.
That did not mean that the plotters stayed in England however. Fawkes traveled back to Flanders, Spain in hope of foreign support. This was the beginning of the plotters downfall. Fawkes was spotted by English spies while in Flanders. They then reported back to Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury, who was James’ first minister. It was he who made the connection between Fawkes and Catesby. The plotters regrouped at the end of October to start the final preparations for the plan but there was a problem. On October 26th Lord Monteagle, who had ties to many conspirators and had engaged in Roman Catholic plots prior to King James’ rule, received an anonymous letter. The letter got straight to its point saying, “My lord, out of the love I bear to some of your friends, I have a care of your preservation, therefore I would advise you as you tender your life to devise some excuse to shift of your attendance at this parliament . . . for though there be no appearance of any stir, yet I say they shall receive a terrible blow.” This letter was thought to be sent by one of the plotters,Tresham, who was Monteagle’s brother in law, although this is disputed. Monteagle reported the letter to Robert Cecil and the other ministers. It was decided to search The House of the Lords before the parliament gathering. Monteagle’s servant who was a friend of Thomas Winter’s came to him on October 27th and told him that the plot had been discovered. When Catesby was told of this though by Winters he did not believe him, instead just telling Fawkes to keep guard during the following nights leading up to November 5th.
Fawkes guarding the cellar on the night of November 4th that was the feather that broke the camel’s back however. On November 4th the king ordered the Earl of Suffolk to examine the building. When the Earl and his guards examined the cellars below the house they became suspicious of the amount of firewood in the cellar being rented by Thomas Winters. It was then ordered that a further search be conducted. It was then that they found the 36 barrels of gunpowder that had been hidden underneath the firwood. Fawkes, who gave his name as John Johnson, was arrested and put under torture. Under torture he revealed his true name and the names of the other conspirators as well as their part in the plot. It was then that the rest of the plotters literally ran for the hills.
After Fawkes was arrested, everyone but Tresham fled in different directions, eventually meeting each other in Warwickshire, Wales like they plan to do if the plot had went smoothly. It was there that Catesby told them the plot failed, but he assured them that they were still to move in the direction of Wales because he hoped there were more people interested in a resistance were waiting for them to arrive. When the plotters arrived however, no one was there. No one had dared come to join the small band of insurgents. They broke into a Lord’s home where they planned to make their last stand. With no one coming to aid them they would be severely out number by the police forces that had been on their tail since the left England. The date is now November 8th. The day starts with an explosion in Lord Windor’s home, believed to have been caused by some gunpowder the plotters had left out to dry by the fireplace. The sheriff’s men, believed to have taken this as an act of aggression, start firing on house. Catesby, Percy, and Wright are killed in the following fight. Winter and Rokewood were wounded and taken prisoner with all of the other conspirators. From here they are taken back to England where they are tried with treason. They are inevitable found guilty after Fawkes signed a confession detailing all of their names. Seven conspirators, the two Winter brothers, Digby, Rokewood, Keys, Bates, as well as Fawkes were set to be executed. All of them were, except Fakes, who escaped his full sentaing by jumping from the gallows breaking his neck and killing himself on the day of his execution. Tresham died in the tower of London later on and of the priests involved one was tried and executed while the other two escaped to Spain.
It is obvious that this is not how the plotters wanted their plan to play out however. First off, they planned for an explosion. We know today that it would have been a big explosion should the plot have succeeded. In 2003, the Centre of Explosion Studies at the University of Aberystwyth in Wales concluded that is the barrels of gunpowder had been set off there would have been total destruction within a 40-yard radius, walls and roofs would have been destroyed at 100 yards and windows would have been broken at a 900 yards. After the plot however they was a great hunting match that was organized. A large number of Roman Catholic gentlemen were set to be invited supposedly to join the plot after the explosion. Immediately after the explosion the plotters had planned to take possession of young princess Elizabeth. They were also seize infant prince Charles and his sister to Wales. One of the priests involved would have been sent on a mission to Rome slightly before the explosion to on hand when the news of the explosion broke to try to win the pope over. Fawkes would have also been sent of a mission, him to Flanders, to spread the news to the continent and collect more support for what they thought would have been a growing resistance. The conspirators thought the government, being terrified and hopefully without a lot of leaders, would agree to any demand that they gave them. This is not what happened, and instead of being the ones who broke the Catholics out of perscention they were the cause of the government increasing the severity of laws in place against Roman Catholic and the creations of new ones that would hold them in persecution for years to come.
“Guy Fawkes fought like a modern terrorist today, he fought for what he perceived as a utopian fate,” said Haras Rafiq, who is a counter-terrorism expert. Consensus around the Gunpowder Plot has emerged to say that Fawkes and his fellow plotter were terrorists. Even if their fears of religious persecution were real, they sought to establish a Catholic hierarchy in England, which was a political goal. Likewise Islam is the goal of many Jihadist today. They hold the political ideology that the plotters of the Gunpowder Plot held; That their religion is superior and the government should rule under it. The Gunpowder Plot can be used as a cut and paste mold for many aspects of modern terrorism. Whether is be the recruitment of terrorists, like Guy Fawkes who was in the military and converted to Catholicism while serving in Spain, much like many government worry of their soldiers who are fighting in places like Iraq sympathizing and helping the Jihadists. Or whether it be the spreading of the religion by violence, like how terrorists today use bombs and public displays of violence to get their political or religious messages across, much like the plotters planed to do. Modern day religious conflicts, like the Israeli–Palestinian conflict are also very closely related to the Gunpowder Plot. Israel is the world’s only Jewish state and the Palestinians who are an Arab population that is from the land of Israel refer to the land as Palestine. They want establish a state by the name of Palestine on the same land that is now called Israel. The Gunpowder plot stemmed from a conflict of relatively the same nature, with two major religions fighting each other over the way that land they both held should be controlled. That’s when violence comes in, when conflicts like these can not be solved diplomatically or the government is controlled by one of these major religions. The Gunpowder Plot was the result of the religious conflict of Elizabethan England because the government was to heavily controlled by the Puritans.
The Gunpowder Plot is a example of the religious conflicts during the in Elizabethan Era but it is also a forerunner to religious conflicts today and the violence that can stem from them. The conflicts that the world has today, and the violence that has come out of those disagreements is the same type of conflicts and violence people had in Elizabethan England. The world will always have these problems because their will always be the Us versus Them stigma surrounding religions. Their will always be people that look at others of different religions, backgrounds or ethnicity and say they are wrong about what they believe in. There will always be people who disagree with the government and the way it rules that land and people it has control over. The Gunpowder Plot was the violent result of the people disagree with others on the basis of religion. This plot was only the beginning of conflicts and attacks over the next hundreds years stemming from people disagreeing with each other. While the Gunpowder Plot may have been the first example we can only expect this trend to continue into the future if people can not disagree without violence and disrespect. People need to try to open up their minds to the possibility of differences or the world will continue to suffer at the hand of violence.