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Gunpowder, Treason & Plot

This 2001 UK ChanneL 4 documentary explores the legends and myths and historical realities behind the famous November 5 “gunpowder plot” of 1605, in which a group of disaffected Catholics -including the infamous Guido (Guy) Fawkes – allegedly planned to blow up King James I and his government at the State Opening of Parliament in 1605, using barrels of gunpowder stashed in the cellars of the palace of Westminster.

Happily for James the plot was fortuitously uncovered hours before the ceremony was due to commence. Guido Fawkes was apprehended in flagrante in the cellars, surrounded by kegs of gunpowder. He confessed under torture. The other alleged conspirators were soon rounded up and either died resisting arrest or were hanged drawn and quartered in batches.

The end result of this was a return of harsh state persecution of Catholics living in England, who had been permanently disenfranchised and persecuted since the early days of Elizabeth I’s reign, some fifty years earlier. In 1604 there had been a move to soften the government’s stance on this. But the “gunpowder plot” convinced even the most dovelike officials that there was no room for compromise with the “agents of the Pope.”

So, was the “gunpowder plot” exactly what you will read about in the history books, an ad hoc conspiracy by a few angry Catholics? Or does it have some hallmarks we will recognise as oddly modern and familiar? Was this an early case of LIHOP? Or something even darker than that?

This documentary dares to at least touch on some of these questions. If it were being made now, for a major mainstream outlet, would this be considered acceptable.


  1. michaelk says

    One of the key questions is, where and how did the gang manage to get hold of so much gunpowder so easily? For obvious reasons, gunpowder wasn’t something one could simply walk in a buy off the shelf. Even today one can’t buy high explosives, military grade, from an arsenal and this was true in the seventeenth century too. The manufacture of gunpowder was controlled and the sale of severely restricted and monitored and registered. That the gang could aquire so much without anyone wondering, is a bit of a mystery, still.

    • John says

      It was explained in the programme.
      This was a period in which warring was not going on and gunpowder manufacturers had a glut of powder on their hands.
      Fawkes was therefore able to buy a few barrels at a time until he had amassed 36 barrels.
      The gunpowder mill at Rotherhithe would have welcomed the trade and be happy to sell it without any questions being asked.
      I imagine a plausible excuse then would have been that he was a civil engineer and needed the powder for quarrying or other forms of rock clearances.
      Then – as now – the death industry was – and is – always happy to sell anything to anyone – for a price.
      The fact that Cecil knew about the plot reminds me of the Mossad agents “witnessing” 9/11 – except they did nothing to stop it, unlike Cecil.
      Is that the difference between a black flag and a false flag operation?

  2. Brian Burgess says

    Was Guido Fawkes the original “fall guy?”
    Apart from his forced confession under torture (hardly indicative of his guilt by itself – I would confess to it too “under torture” even though I wasn’t even born yet) and hearsay that he was allegedly caught “in the act” (who was it that alleged he was caught in the act? The same people who felt it necessary for good measure to torture a “confession” out of him?) how do we really know whether or not this “gunpowder plot” was a “false flag” event? It was very convenient timing coming as it did just on the cusp of a planned loosening up of restrictions on Catholics. I smell a rat, and it aint necessarily Guido who was the rat!

    • Bailed says

      Simpler than that.

      The fact that he ‘confessed under torture’ is a giveaway. Had he really been found in charge of the kegs there would have been no room for doubt.

      Could there be any doubt what the kegs were for?
      Could there be any other reason for a person milling about in a secure area with those kegs?

      Instead, like so many of today’s ad hoc ‘terrorists’ he had first to be convinced that he was a terrorist. Then he had to be persuaded to accept responsibility for the keg plan.

    • John says

      You both have it wrong. Fawkes – as shown in the programme – admitted his guilt in person to the King.
      It was only after he confessed his guilt – though initially under the assumed name of John Johnson – that he was subjected to torture, which was designed to obtain further details as to the identities of all the plotters.
      His eventual “written” and “signed” confession was then used to convict the surviving plotters.
      Having said that, the programme suggests that Cecil already knew who all or most of the plotters were.
      He could have apprehended them before November 5th but he “let the plot ripen” to catch them all.
      It also provided an opportunity for an outburst of monarchic and religious loyalty afterwards.
      It suggested that god was with the Protestant English too – a very important sentiment in its day.
      It reinforced the shaky popularity of the King and made a crackdown on Catholics much easier.

  3. JJA says

    But for that ludicrous religious schism caused by a syphalitic king, the English people may well have remained ‘good’ Europeans rather than rabid brexiters.

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