The Gunpowder Plot story and Guy Fawkes night

PUBLISHED: 20:42 28 October 2017 | UPDATED: 11:31 05 November 2017

Kit Harington as Robert Catesby in Gunpowder. Picture: BBC / Kudos / Robert Viglaski]

Kit Harington as Robert Catesby in Gunpowder. Picture: BBC / Kudos / Robert Viglaski]

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With explosive new BBC One historical drama Gunpowder starring Game of Thrones’ Kit Harington on our TV screens, we look back at the real-life conspiracy the series is based on.

Robert Catesby (Kit Harington), Thomas Wintour (Edward Holcroft), and Guy Fawkes (Tom Cullen) in Gunpowder. [Picture: BBC / Kudos / Robert Viglaski]Robert Catesby (Kit Harington), Thomas Wintour (Edward Holcroft), and Guy Fawkes (Tom Cullen) in Gunpowder. [Picture: BBC / Kudos / Robert Viglaski]

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

In BBC drama Gunpowder, Kit Harington, aka Game of Thrones’ Jon Snow, plays the role of chief conspirator Robert Catesby. Kit is a descendant of his character Catesby.

Sherlock star Mark Gatiss is spymaster Robert Cecil, and Liv Tyler is Ann Vaux, Catesby’s cousin.

Downton Abbey’s Tom Cullen takes on the role of Guy Fawkes.

Mark Gatiss as Robert Cecil in Gunpowder [Picture: BBC / Kudos / Robert Viglaski]Mark Gatiss as Robert Cecil in Gunpowder [Picture: BBC / Kudos / Robert Viglaski]

The second episode of Gunpowder can be seen on BBC One at 9.10pm tonight (Saturday, October 28), with the third part on Saturday, November 4.

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 lives at Hatfield House, is a direct descendant of the man who helped uncover the plot to kill King James I.

Kit Harington as Robert Catesby in Gunpowder [Picture: BBC/Kudos/Robert Viglaski]Kit Harington as Robert Catesby in Gunpowder [Picture: BBC/Kudos/Robert Viglaski]

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.

Cecil was one of the chief architects of Scottish monarch James’ accession to the throne of England in 1603 following the death of Queen Elizabeth I, who had spent much of her childhood in Hatfield at The Old Palace.

After Elizabeth I died, English Catholics who had been persecuted under her rule had hoped that her successor, James I, would be more tolerant.

The Old Palace at Hatfield HouseThe Old Palace at Hatfield House

However, King James 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, a devout Catholic, in 1604.

Agitator Catesby concocted the plot to blow up Parliament and kill the reigning monarch the following year.

The plot was intended as the first step in a rebellion, during which King James I’s nine-year-old daughter, Princess Elizabeth, would be installed as a ‘puppet’ Catholic head of state.

Bonfire Night [Picture: Alan Davies]Bonfire Night [Picture: Alan Davies]

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

The explosives were prepared by Guy ‘Guido’ Fawkes, a man with 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, whose former home Whitehall is in London Road, Royston, received an anonymous letter while at his house in Hoxton, east London.

He delivered it to Secretary of State Robert Cecil, who hatched a plan to catch the assassins in the act and round them all up.

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

Later, on November 5, a search party discovered Fawkes in a cellar beneath Parliament with the 36 barrels of gunpowder.

He was placed under arrest, and his possessions were searched. He was found to be carrying a lantern, pocket watch and matches.

Enough barrels of gunpowder to decimate the building above were hidden beneath a pile of firewood.

Under torture Fawkes confessed that he had not acted alone and the full extent of the attempted coup was unearthed.

The plotters were all executed, apart from Catesby and Percy, who were killed in a last stand while they resisted capture at Holbeche House, in Staffordshire.

Their bodies were exhumed and their heads were impaled on spikes outside the House of Lords.

These days, on the night of November 5, we commemorate the capture of Guy Fawkes with bonfires and fireworks, and by burning an effigy of Guy.

• Hatfield and the Cecils

James I, the son of Mary, Queen of Scots, succeeded Elizabeth I after her death in 1603.

He coveted Theobalds, the palace near Cheshunt, where William Cecil, Lord Burghley, had regularly entertained Queen Elizabeth.

William Cecil was Elizabeth’s chief adviser until his death in 1598.

In 1607, King James proposed an exchange of Elizabeth’s childhood home with Lord Burghley’s son Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, who agreed.

Robert Cecil demolished three-quarters of the palace at Hatfield and built today’s Hatfield House in its place.

The Old Palace, where Queen Elizabeth I had held her first Council of State in the Banqueting Hall in 1558, is all that remains of the original building.

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