The Gunpowder Plot is the name given to the conspiracy to blow up the Houses of Parliament on the 5th November 1605 during the State Opening, when the King, Lords and Commons would all be present in the Lords Chamber. The plot itself was foiled at midnight on the 4th November during a search of the cellar by Sir Thomas Knyvett and his friend Edmund Doubleday.
Contrary to popular belief and folklore Guy Fawkes (or Guido) played but a minor role even though he is the name widely associated with the annual firework celebrations. He was a solitary figure guarding the gunpowder when the cellar was searched on the 4th November. No one knows why he was involved but it is widely believed that his inclusion was down to his particular set of skills and the fact he was not known in London at the time.
The plot centred around four main conspirators namely Robert Catesby, Thomas Percy, Thomas Winter, John Wright and the aforementioned Mr Fawkes. They were later joined by a number of other conspirators.
No one knows how the plot was discovered but history suggests an anonymous letter sent to Lord Monteagle, a catholic, warning the Lord not to attend the State Opening. A search was conducted and the rest as they say is history. Although we have a fair idea of what happened I’ll refrain from spoiling the Gunpowder series until the end of this article. Scroll down to find out what happens!
Gunpowder Episodes 2 and 3
After recovering from a brutal first episode last week, episode two aired on BBC One and episode three quickly followed via BBC’s iPlayer. I couldn’t wait to find out what happened! Episode two includes an early torture scene where two Spanish Jews are burned at the stake by the Constable of Castile. It left very little to the imagination with the screams of terror slowly falling silent to the crackles of twin fires.
Production values for all three episodes was amazing with the production painting quite the dreary picture. London is hemmed in and the majority of scenes were played out in dingy alleyways or candlelit rooms, it all added to a sense of fear and claustrophobia. You could almost smell the sewage with each step.
Of the three episodes I found episode two the weakest and I felt it reverted to torture to rescue any sense of drama, not even Kit Harington could rescue the episode. While Robert Emms (Father Gerard) is being stretched and pulled to all corners (the sound effects were gruesome!) Catesby played by Harington tries to rescue him from the Tower of London. In a combination of aromatic television and gloomy lit scenes it did allow the episode to end on a high – even if it was a little far fetched!
The final episode ties everything together quite nicely and as it hasn’t aired on BBC yet, I wont go into too much detail. It does leave a little to be desired with artistic license but this is after all a television drama not a documentary. They follow history very well and the dramatic pauses do serve a purpose.
The acting throughout is splendid and the BBC have once again delivered a classy three part series that is well worth watching again, once the dust settles. The one major gripe I had with the series was Mark Gatiss’ portrayal of Robert Cecil. He was far too one dimensional for me and his portrayal was what we’ve come to expect from the actor in past performances. On the flip side however, Shaun Dooley who plays Sir William Wade was incredible.
One has to remember not to feel sorry for these characters when they get their comeuppance, they were after all guilty of treason and plotting to kill not only the King, James I, but members of parliament. It’s easier said than done however because we all like the romantic ideal of our heroes beating the perceived baddies in film and tv!
So what happened in the end?
The conspirators were interrogated at the Tower of London for three months. Guy Fawkes was tortured on the command of King James, the document sits in the National Archives.
‘If he will not other wayes confesse, the gentler tortours are to be the first usid unto him…God speed youre goode worke. James.’
The following is taken from the parliament website:
Francis Tresham died of natural causes in the Tower of London on 23 December 1605. The eight surviving conspirators were tried in Westminster Hall on 27 January 1606. All were condemned to death for treason.
Four men – Sir Everard Digby, Robert Winter, John Grant and Thomas Bates – were executed on 30 January 1606 in St Paul’s Churchyard.
The other four – Guy Fawkes, Thomas Winter, Ambrose Rookwood and Robert Keyes – were executed just outside Westminster Hall, in Old Palace Yard, the following day.
The heads of the two ringleaders, Percy and Catesby, who had been killed earlier at Holbeach House in Staffordshire, were set up on the ‘Parliament House’.