Gunpowder plot, 1605. Soon after becoming king of England in 1603, James I discreetly relaxed the penal laws which subjected catholics to fines, imprisonment, and even death. However, the ensuing uproar in Parliament persuaded him to backtrack, leaving the catholics feeling betrayed and hopeless, particularly since the conclusion of peace with Spain in 1604 had deprived them of help from that quarter. A band of young catholic hotheads decided to seize the initiative by destroying the entire English government. They smuggled barrels of gunpowder into the cellars of Parliament, and Guy Fawkes stood ready to ignite these on 5 November 1605, when the king, Lords, and Commons were assembled for the opening of the new session. The plot was betrayed, however, and the conspirators captured, tried, and executed. The plot etched itself upon the collective English memory, and bonfires and ‘burning the guy’ have remained traditional features of Bonfire Night celebrations.
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