“Most Barbarous and Damnable Treason”: The Gunpowder Plot and how it is viewed in the Past and Present
B.A. Thesis, University of Wisconsin, (2008)
This paper will discuss the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 when a group of men plotted to blow up the English House of Parliament. The intended target of the event was King James VI of Scotland and I of England but also present at the time would have been the Queen, their children, members of Parliament, judges, officials and members of the clergy. The plot was discovered the night before it was to be implemented and the conspirators were either caught on site or found elsewhere within a few days. This paper will focus on how the event was viewed at the time by the citizens of England and what language they used to describe the event. This paper will also examine how people in modern times see the event as terrorism and how our views and the words we use to describe the event can be different or the same. This paper will examine primary sources including letters, trial records and sermons which will provide insight into how the event was viewed and what we can learn from this information about the plot. Secondary sources will also be used to provide background information and outline the plot.
Introduction: The gunpowder plot of 1605 is an event in England’s history that many people may not even be aware of. The plot was conceived by a group of Catholics who wanted to blow up King James I of England and VI of Scotland because of his Protestant faith and also his Scottish ancestry. They tried to accomplish this by putting barrels of gunpowder under Parliament with the intent to blow the powder when Parliament was in session and take the lives of all those inside the building that day. Even though it did not succeed it is an important event that could have shaken England to its very core had it been executed successfully. One author stated that if the plot had succeeded it would have “decapitated a nation by wiping out MP’s, lords and the king.” Even in its failure it proved to be important because we can use the plot to analyze how people of the time viewed and described the event. The plot is viewed in modern terms as terrorism and we can examine the connections and differences between how the plot was viewed in the past and how it is viewed today.