Bonfire Night, Guy Fawkes and the story of the Gunpowder Plot

PUBLISHED: 13:16 05 November 2015 | UPDATED: 13:23 05 November 2015

Bonfire Night takes place on November 5th

Bonfire Night takes place on November 5th


It’s Bonfire Night tonight Thursday, November 5 – and an ancestor of the current Marquess of Salisbury at Hatfield House helped capture mercenary Guy Fawkes and foil the Gunpowder Plot.

Guy FawkesGuy Fawkes

Everyone remembers the fifth of November for Gunpowder Treason and Plot, but one part of the history that may have been ‘forgot’ is Hatfield’s role in the story.

The current Marquess of Salisbury, who resides at Hatfield House, is a direct descendant of the man who uncovered the plot to kill King James I.

He is the great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great (11 times) grandson of the gnarled monarch’s Machiavellian Secretary of State, Robert Cecil.

And Lord Salisbury’s ancestral seat at Hatfield House was also swapped for the original Cecil home at Theobalds, in Waltham Cross.

Robert CecilRobert Cecil

Cecil was one of the chief architects of Scottish monarch James’ accession to the throne of England in 1603.

James had angered Catholics after failing to offer them the toleration they craved.

Instead, he persecuted some in a series of grisly public executions for political advantage. Anti-James sentiment reached boiling point for Gunpowder Plot mastermind Robert Catesby in 1604.

He concocted the plot to blow up Parliament and kill James the following year. The plot was intended as the first step in a rebellion, during which James’ nine-year-old daughter could be installed as a Catholic head of state.

A plaque on the former home of Lord Monteagle in London Road, Royston. He alerted King James I to the gunpowder plot in 1605A plaque on the former home of Lord Monteagle in London Road, Royston. He alerted King James I to the gunpowder plot in 1605

Catesby’s co-conspirators included Thomas Winter, Robert Winter, John Wright, Christopher Wright, Robert Keyes, Thomas Percy, John Grant, Ambrose Rokewood, Sir Everard Digby, Francis Tresham and Thomas Bates (Catesby’s servant).

The explosives were prepared by Guy ‘Guido’ Fawkes, a man with 10 years of military experience gained by fighting with the Spanish against the Dutch in the Spanish Netherlands.

The assassination attempt ultimately failed when conspirators baulked at the prospect of blowing up fellow Catholics in Parliament. They resolved to warn a number of their co-religionists – a move that sealed their fate.

William Parker, the 4th Baron Monteagle, received an anonymous letter while at his house in Hoxton, east London.

Lord and Lady Salisbury watch a firework display at Hatfield HouseLord and Lady Salisbury watch a firework display at Hatfield House

He had it read out loud, possibly to warn the plotters that their secret was out, and handed it over to Cecil, who hatched a plan to catch the assassins in the act and round them all up.

The conspirators learned of the letter the following day, but went ahead with their plan, especially after Fawkes inspected the undercroft beneath Parliament and found that nothing had been touched.

Later, on November 5, a search party discovered Fawkes, who was placed under arrest, and his possessions were searched.

He was found to be carrying a pocket watch, matches and torchwood.

Enough barrels of gunpowder to decimate the building above were hidden beneath the pile of firewood. Under torture, on November 7, 1605, Fawkes confessed that he had not acted alone and the full extent of the plot was unearthed.

The plotters were all executed, apart from Catesby and Percy, who had already been killed in a last stand while they resisted capture. Their bodies were exhumed and their heads were impaled on spikes outside the House of Lords.

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