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History in the Making
The Gunpowder Plot

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The Gunpowder Plot

The fifth of November was the day on which King James, his queen, peers and Parliament should have died. A group of English Catholic gentlemen, dissatisfied with the state’s treatment of Catholics, plotted to explode barrels of gunpowder under the Parliament House in Westminster, during the opening ceremony of Parliament. Betrayed by a panicked colleague the conspirators were either killed trying to escape or executed later. James proclaimed the fifth of November a public holiday—a “red letter day”—effectively inscribing this event (or non-event) into Britain’s calendar.

Samuel Ward. The Papists Powder-Treason. 1689

The near escapes from the Armada and the Gunpowder Plot allowed historians to see Britain—and especially Protestant Britain—as somehow divinely favored. A typical pamphlet on the Gunpowder Plot lauded Great Britaines great deliverance from the great danger of Popish powder, and in time writers drew up lists of nefarious plots against the sovereign and the country, all of which were foiled, and thus proved that Britain’s survival was guided by Providence.


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