The Gunpowder Plot was the failed assassination of King James of Scotland and England that was to happen at the House of Lords at the State Opening of Parliament on 5 November 1605, with the aim of taking the life of the king and many other important members of the aristocracy and nobility who were inside.
While it seems chaotic, the reign of King James in England was trusted by many citizens as he ordered all Jesuits and all other Catholic priests to leave the country, and reimposed the collection of fines for recusancy (the state of those who refused to attend Anglican services). These fines collected almost £5,000 a year from the English public (the equivalent to over £10 million in 2008). King James introduced a bill which threatened to outlaw all English followers of the Catholic Church. These penalties were considered extreme when compared to the ruling of Queen Elizabeth I. For many lower and middle class citizens, this was a third of an annual wage.
Individuals who had lived as Catholics for generations believed King James represented instability, fear and oppression. The government also had a monopoly on many trade items, including gunpowder further complicating the power of the monarch and the freedoms of individuals.
The plot sought greater religious tolerance for the nation, but was discovered before it could be completed with the members of the plot hung, drawn and quartered. You can read more about the failed plot here.
Guy Fawkes, whose task was to light the fuse that would blow up Parliament is seen as the face of anti-establishment protests. While it was originally forced as a day of observance to be thankful that the King was not killed, the meaning has since vastly shifting. Today, we remember Bonfire Night, or Guy Fawkes Night by celebrating our right to protest and to reflecting on the importance of historical revolutions. By remembering Fawkes and the Gunpower Plot, we remember that we the people ultimately have the power in society, as sometimes fear and oppression lead us to forget.
Remember, Remember the fifth of November.