Gunpowder Plot Discovered

Diana Severance, Ph.D. edited by Dan Graves, MSL

Gunpowder Plot Discovered

Have you ever heard anyone say, "He's just an ordinary guy?" Curiously, the word guy has its roots in a l7th century plot to blow up the British Parliament.

Religion and politics were inseparable in early England. When Pope Pius V excommunicated Queen Elizabeth in l570, English Catholics did not like obeying a queen that their pope had banned from their Church. Some even plotted to assassinate her. During Elizabeth's reign, her "secret service" uncovered three Catholic plots to remove her from the throne.

After her death in 1603, small groups of Catholics believed the disease of Protestantism in England called for a violent remedy. They made plans to blow up the English House of Lords on the day Parliament was to meet. Many of the country's leaders would be killed--King James I, his royal family, the House of Lords, and many from the House of Commons. With all these leaders dead, the plotters hoped to see England returned to Catholicism. It would be like the discovery of a plot in America to blow up Congress at the time the President was giving his annual "State of the Union" address with all the key government officials in attendance.

Working for more than a year, the conspirators in the British plot rented a vault under the House of Lords. They planted 36 barrels of gunpowder which they hid under some firewood, and then waited to light the match when Parliament opened. But wishing to spare certain Parliamentary friends, the conspirators dropped warnings. Learning of the plot, the king's men captured Guy Fawkes skulking near the gunpowder either near midnight on November 4 or in the early hours of this morning, November 5, 1605.

Tortured in the Tower of London, Fawkes soon revealed the whole plot and named his accomplices. Many others also revealed information. After lighting the fuse, he was to escape in a boat over the Thames. There was to have been a rising of Catholics in the Midlands and kidnapping of the King's children. Meanwhile, most of the main band of conspirators were killed in a shoot out. Afterwards, as is usual in such cases, Parliament passed even stricter laws against Catholics.

Popular consensus held that the discovery of Guy Fawkes and his plot was God's Providence protecting England. The British still ceremoniously search the cellars before opening each session of parliament, and on Guy Fawkes Day, a national holiday, a dummy of Guy Fawkes is hanged in effigy. Thus, the English word "guy", has come to mean a stuffed dummy. In America the word simply refers to an ordinary fellow.


  1. Adapted from an earlier Christian History Institute story.
  2. Fraser, Antonia. Faith and Treason; the story of the gunpowder plot. New York: Doubleday, 1996.

Last updated July, 2007

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