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The Deed and the End


To carry out their plan, the conspirators got hold of 36 barrels of gunpowder - and stored it in a cellar, just under the House of Lords. But as the group worked on the plot, it became clear that some innocent people would be hurt or killed in the attack. Some of the plotters started having second thoughts. One of the group members even sent an anonymous letter warning his friend, Lord Monteagle, to stay away from the Parliament on November 5th. Was the letter real? The warning letter reached the King, and the King's forces made plans to stop the conspirators. Guy Fawkes, who was in the cellar of the parliament with the 36 barrels of gunpowder when the authorities stormed it in the early hours of November 5th, was caught, tortured and executed. It's unclear if the conspirators would ever have been able to pull off their plan to blow up the Parliament even if they had not been betrayed - some people think the gunpowder they were planning to use was so old as to be useless. We will never know for certain.

Guy Fawkes was the one who was caught under the House of Lords with 36 barrels of gunpowder. For two days, Guido (as guy was known) was the only suspect in custody and his name became synonymous with the Powder Treason, as the Gunpowder Plot was known at the time. But Guy wasn't in prison alone for very long. Soon, the other conspirators were either caught outright as they flew from London, or surrenderred shortly thereafter. Some, however, including the ringleader Robert Catesby, were killed in a siege within a few days of the failed attempt. All the conspirators who were not killed in the siege were imprisonned, tortured, and executed in the most gruesome way (except Jeremy Tresham who fell sick and died while in prison). As is often the case with confessions made under duress, plotters admitted to everything they knew, and complemented this information with whatever authorities wanted to hear - in hopes to end their ordeal. The result was questionable confessions, at least partly manufactured by authorities for their own purposes. These "confessions" conveniently incriminated two leading English Jesuits (Catholics) - who according to some historians had no involvement in the Plot. Regardless, it allowed the government to justify further anti-Catholic and get rid of at least two problematic Catholic leaders. All imprisonned plotters were executed publicly in March 1607. They were "hanged, drawn, and quartered", a brutal practice which authorities hoped would instill terror in other potential traitors.

Was there really a Gunpowder Plot, or were the "conspirators" framed by the King? There was no doubt an attempt to blow up Parliament. But Guy Fawkes and his associates may have been caught in a Jacobean sting operation. Many of the plotters were known traitors. It would have been unlikely that they could gather 36 barrels of gunpowder and store them in a cellar under the house of Lords without the security forces getting suspicious. Furthermore, the letter warning one of the members of government to stay away from Parliament is believed today to have been fabricated by the king's officials. Historians suggest that the letter was simply a tool for the King's officials who already knew about the plot from the very mouth of one of the plotters. The suspected turncoat? Jeremy Tresham. As a tool for the king's men, the letter was ideal. It made it easy to explain how the king found out about the Plot and stopped it just in time before his untimely death. At the same time, the letter was vague enough to give the officials all the latitude they wanted in falsifying confessions and to pursue their own anti-Catholic ends. There are two fundamental problems with the letter. Firstly, the letter was unsigned. Any and all of the conspirators, once apprehended, might have saved themselves from torture and perhaps even death if they had claimed to have written it. None did. In fact, not one of the conspirators who was caught appears to have known about the letter. Secondly, the letter was very vague in its content. It said nothing about the details of the planned attack. Still, the king and his men knew exactly the where and when to catch the conspirators and stop the plot. How did they know?



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