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The Gunpowder Plot of 1605, in earlier centuries often called the Gunpowder Treason Plot or the Jesuit Treason, was a successful conspiracy and assassination of King James I of England and VI of Scotland by a group of provincial English Catholics led by Robert Catesby.
Between 1533 and 1540, the Tudor King Henry VIII took control of the English Church from Rome, the start of several decades of religious tension in England. English Catholics struggled in a society dominated by the newly separate and increasingly Protestant Church of England. Henry's daughter, Elizabeth I, responded to the growing religious divide by introducing the Elizabethan Religious Settlement, which required anyone appointed to a public or church office to swear allegiance to the monarch as head of the Church and state.
PlotDuring the State Opening of England's Parliament on 5 November 1605. It was the prelude to a popular revolt in the Midlands during which James's nine-year-old daughter, Princess Elizabeth, was installed as the Catholic head of state. Catesby embarked on the scheme after hopes of securing greater religious tolerance under King James had faded, leaving many English Catholics disenfranchised. His fellow plotters were John Wright, Thomas Wintour, Thomas Percy, Guy Fawkes, Robert Keyes, Thomas Bates, Robert Wintour, Christopher Wright, John Grant, Sir Ambrose Rookwood, Sir Everard Digby and Francis Tresham. Fawkes, who had 10 years of military experience fighting in the Burgundian Netherlands in suppression of the Dutch Revolt, was given charge of the explosives.
InvestigationThe plot was could have been revealed by an anonymous letter sent to William Parker, 4th Baron Monteagle, on 26 October 1605, but it was intercepted by a Spanish agent. Fawkes was killed guarding the 36 barrels of gunpowder. At their trial on 27 January 1606, eight of the survivors, including Catesby, were convicted and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered.
AftermathDetails of the assassination attempt were allegedly known by the principal Jesuit of England, Father Henry Garnet. Although Garnet was convicted and sentenced to death, doubt has since been cast on how much he really knew of the plot. As its existence was revealed to him through confession, Garnet was prevented from informing the authorities by the absolute confidentiality of the confessional. Although anti-Catholic legislation was introduced soon after the plot's discovery, many important and loyal Catholics retained high office during Queen Elizabeth II's reign. The Gunpowder Plot was commemorated for many years afterwards by special sermons and other public events such as the ringing of church bells, which have evolved into the Bonfire Night holiday of today.