Gunpowder, Treason and Plot - The Gunpowder 400 Trail

Shows a graphic logo depicting the profile of Guy Fawkes and bearing the slogan Gunpowder Plot 400.

Gunpowder 400 offers a range of events in a variety of venues across the UK.

To mark the 400th year of the Gunpowder Plot, the 24 Hour Museum has launched in partnership with the Parliamentary Archives. The new site explores this fascinating event together with the collections and archives that tell its story.

But there are also lots of physical Fawkes related events happening to mark the anniversary. You can get on the Gunpowder 400 trail by following this guide to events and exhibitions devised specially by a group of partner institutions to celebrate one of the most notorious attempted acts of terrorism in British history.

shows a contemporary etching of the gunpowder plotters - they are shown huddled together with their early seventeenth century garb and beards.

The Gunpowder Plot Conspirators, 1605 (Thomas Bates; Robert Winter; Christopher Wright; John Wright; Thomas Percy; Guy Fawkes; Robert Catesby; Thomas Winter) Unknown artist circa 1605. © National Portrait Gallery, London

In November 1605 a small group of young men, including Guy Fawkes, attempted to assassinate the King of England and Scotland, and all the nobles, bishops, and members of the House of Commons in one fell swoop.

The plan involved hiding 36 barrels of gunpowder under the House of Lords, to be detonated at the time of the State Opening of Parliament. Four centuries later this event is still commemorated by bonfires and fireworks.

Who were these men and why did they plan such a stupendous act of treason? Why did November 5 become such a significant date in the calendar? What relevance does this event have for our own times?

Shows an old manuscript

The House of Commons journal where the capture of Guy Fawkes is recorded. Photo Parliament and Treason 1605 exhibition.

Perhaps the logical place to begin finding the answers is at the Palace of Westminster – the scene of the attempted explosion and the arrest of Guy Fawkes.

Gunpowder Plot: Parliament and Treason in 1605, which runs until November 18 2005, is a free exhibition in Westminster Hall that provides an essential introduction to the events of 1605 in a location close to the scene of the actual events. Fawkes and several of his co-conspirators were tried at Westminster Hall, which was used for state trials at the time.

Exploring the religious background of the conspiracy in both a European context and in relation to political events in England before the accession of James I and afterwards, the exhibition features the journal of the House of Commons describing how Fawkes was discovered. You can also take a look at Guy Fawkes' lantern.

The relationship between the House of Lords as it was then and the present buildings are described together with the events that led to the discovery of the plot and the eventual execution nearby of Guy Fawkes and some of the other conspirators.

Shows a photo of a man dressed as Guy Fawkes in black cloak and tall hat placing one barrel next to another in a dark stone room

Find out about the Gunpowder Plot at the Tower of London's Gunpowder and Treason exhibition. © Historic Royal Palaces.

Following the arrest of Fawkes, the Tower of London played a key role in the Gunpowder Plot story. The gunpowder explosives planted under the House of Lords were sent to the Tower after the discovery, the leading conspirators were imprisoned there and Guy Fawkes was interrogated and tortured there. Seven conspirators including Fawkes left the Tower gates for execution.

Presented in conjunction with the Royal Armouries, this audio-visual exhibition runs until June 30, 2006 and tells the Tower's story of the arrest, imprisonment, torture and death of Guy Fawkes and the gunpowder plotters.

The continuing historical importance of the Gunpowder Plot with regards to contemporary political events, religious terrorism and conspiracy investigations is also explored in this thoughtful exhibition.

A series of costumed events on the theme of Guy Fawkes augment the exhibition - contact the Tower of London for more details.

Shows a photograph of a painting of King James I.

King James I of England and VI of Scotland after John De Critz the Elder. Oil on panel, early 17th century (circa 1606). As part of Gunpowder Plot 400 the National Portrait Gallery is putting on a display of its paintings and engravings to provide a visual context. There will also be an accompanying series of lectures. © National Portrait Gallery, London.

If you want to put names to faces, the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) is hosting a display of paintings and engravings, which opens on September 17 and runs until December 18, 2005.

The NPG holds the famous image of the plotters dawn by an anonymous artist in 1606 and in Room 4 of the gallery you will find this and further potraits and paintings that provide an essential visual context for the events commemorated on bonfire night.

Focusing on key figures involved in the Gunpowder Plot, Guy Fawkes and his fellow conspirators will be shown alongside those they sought to overthrow. A series of related lectures and room talks accompanies this small but essential exhibition. Contact the gallery for more details.

shows a fragment of parchment in close up with a very faint and weakly written signature on it.

The post-torture signature of Guy Fawkes can be seen in the context of the document it is written upon at an exhibition at the National Archives. © National Archives.

Another famous 'image' of the Gunpowder Pot is the confession signature of Guido Fawkes. There is perhaps no better way of bringing home the brutality of the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot than by gazing on the shattered handwriting of Guy Fawkes on his confession document.

From October 1 until November 19, the National Archives Museum offers you the chance to see this remarkable document and to compare and contrast it with an early signature – they have the both the pre and post-torture documents. The signed confessions will also be available to view online at

The National Archives is also hosting a talk, Gunpowder 400: The People and the Plot on November 5 2005, at 12 noon. Mark Nicholls, fellow of St John's College Cambridge and author of Investigating the Gunpowder Plot, will give his views on all the characters involved. You will be able to find out who were the conspirators, what brought them together and what did they hope to achieve?

Shows a an engraving of the Gunpowder Plot conspirators which has been coloured.

The plotters are joined by a certain Mr Will Shakespeare (entering stage left - or is that stage right?). © Globe Theatre.

Theatre was thriving in 1606 - Shakespeare and The King's Men first performed Macbeth in that year, showing their loyalty to the Crown in response to the plot to kill King James I.

But, asks a new exhibition at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, what do we really know about Guy Fawkes and the Catholic conspirators? Did the Government conceal its intelligence until the last minute? Did Robert Cecil, Lord Salisbury the Spymaster General, use the Plot for his own ends?

He Who Whispers: Shakespeare and the Gunpowder Plot runs at the Globe Theatre until February 2006 and tackles further weighty questions such as: was Shakespeare's London justifiably paranoid about invasion from the European Catholic superpowers?

The exhibition has been put together in partnership with the Metropolitan Police and The National Archives, and manages to look beyond the traditional story surrounding the events of November 5 1605 to uncover the facts behind the fireworks!

shows a man lit in silhouette against a fiery background

The RSC has an explosive season of Fawkes-inspired theatre currently running at the Swan Theatre in Stratford. © RSC.

Given the importance of theatre in the time of Shakespeare and Fawkes it is perhaps fitting that in this, the 400th Anniversary year of the plot, the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) is presenting an explosive season of political drama entitled Gunpowder.

Shakespeare and his contemporaries were dramatists to England's most conflicted times and 400 years on the RSC's season of plays from both then and now explores this eventful period.

The season in the Swan Theatre at the RSC HQ in Stratford Upon Avon culminates with a specially commissioned new play by Frank McGuinness, which opens on September 21 - with a final performance on Saturday November 5.

Between October and November 5 the RSC will also be holding a short festival of talks, debates and workshops led by the creative teams and company members involved with the Gunpowder Season. For more information on these and other RSC events visit the RSC website (This links launches in a new window).

Shows a photo of a man dressed as Guy Fawkes in black cloak and tall hat holding a barrel on his shoulder with part of the Tower of London in the background

Tower of London re-enactments will be joined by further dramtics on Tower Hill this November. © Historic Royal Palaces.

There are further theatrical goings on at Tower Hill on November 5 when the Sub Rosa Theatre Company and the City of Westminster Archives Centre join forces to premiere a new play based on the story of Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.

Remember, Remember: An Exhibition About Westminster And The Gunpowder Plot will also be held at the City of Westminster Archives Centre from September to December 2005. This free exhibition will use original items in the collection to look at Westminster and the Gunpowder Plot.

shows a cartoon drawing of Guy Fawkes in hat and cape holding a lamp.

The Museum of London is holding a Guy Fawkes study day on November 5, whilst over at the Museum in Docklands, Toy Theatre retells the story of Fawkes - but with a different ending. © London Museums.

The is hosting an understanding Guy Fawkes Study Day on November 5 followed by family events on November 6 2005.

The study day will feature a speaker who will be talking about the destruction of the Catholic fabric of London in post-Reformation times, the function of the Elizabethan and Jacobean secret police and what the Jesuits now think of how they were held responsible for the Plot (and why are the conspirators not saints?).

The day will also seek to draw parallels with modern movements or groups which use bombs with the intention of bringing about regime change.

shows a cartoon of an explosion inside a building with men and material flying in all directions.

Fawkes manages to blow the whole Palace of Westminster sky-high in this Victorian toy-theatre playbill. © London Museums.

By contrast the family fun day at the museum is a workshop for families to create a sparkling collage of fireworks on Sunday November 6 at 12.30 and 2.30pm. For more information about both events - for booking details contact the museum.

Over at the Museum in Docklands and as an addendum to its popular Toy Theatre exhibition, the museum will be hosting a play called Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Pplot. Fawkes was a popular subject in Victorian toy theatre and in this version of the story he manages to blow the Palace of Westminster sky-high and make good his escape!

The 20-minute performances take place on Saturday November 12 at 12.30pm, 1.15pm and 2.30pm and are deemed suitable for those aged six and upwards.

Shows a photo of a man dressed as Guy Fawkes in black cloak and tall hat inside a low vaulted castle room cowering on the floor next to some barrels with a man brandishing a sword at him

Gunpowder re-enactments (the one pictured is from the Tower of London) include a re-enactment at Gunpowsder Mills of Catesby's last stand. © Historic Royal Palaces.

With all this talk of explosives and Gunpowder it is perhaps fitting that the Royal Gunpowder Mills has got in on the act with a series of events for Gunpowder 400.

Established in the 17th century and acquired by the Crown in 1787, the Royal Gunpowder Mills has a very important place in both the history of gunpowder production and of its hometown of Waltham Abbey. For Gunpowder 400 they are investigating the explosive end of one of the gunpowder plotters.

On September 10 and 11, Catesby’s Last Stand will be dramatised by re-enactors recreating the last moments of the fleeing plotters after Guy Fawkes' arrest and torture. Remember, Remember – an illustrated talk that takes a close look at the background of the Gunpowder Plot will precede the re-enactment on each day.

The Mills is also host to the Guy Fawkes Experience on September 24 & 25 2005, which features a range of family events with children's activities including a chance to discover the story of gunpowder, treason and plot using lights and lamps. Stuart foods, Stuart dances and games are included whilst secret messages will allow children to meet the Ghost of Guy Fawkes.

shows a photograph of a large country house built in an Elizabethan or Jacobean style.

Catesby and another conspirator had links with Coughton Court. © Coughton Estate.

Amidst the UK's stately homes that shed some light on the turbulent times 400 years ago Coughton Court remains as one of the great Tudor Houses and the ancestral home of the Throckmorton Family, of which four of the plotters were members.

Robert Catesby and his fellow conspirator Francis Tresham were the sons of sisters Anne and Muriel Throckmorton. The current owner, Mrs Throckmorton, is marking the 40Oth anniversary with a series of events during 2005.

A Gunpowder Plot Exhibition is augmented by the Gunpowder Plot Fayre featuring walks and talks in September. The York Waits Gunpowder Plot entertainers will also be entertaining visitors with traditional Tudor music form the life of Guy Fawkes on 22 October.

Gunpowder 400 events will culminate at the house on November 5 with a performance of Five Eleven, a new play that aims to put the subject of terrorism in a 17th century context. Contact the house via their website for more information at

shows a photograph of a large country house set against a blue sky with a large green lawn in front.

Syon House. © Syon House Estate.

Although his title was from the north of England, Henry Percy, the 9th Duke of Northumberland had estates in the south at Petworth House and at Syon House, a magnificent Jacobean mansion a few miles north of Richmond-upon-Thames.

There is a series special events at Syon House to commemorate the links between Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland, his tearaway cousin Thomas Percy and the Gunpowder Plot.

Until October 30 2005, an exhibition entitled The Percys and the Plot investigates the links between this Catholic family and the plotters. It was a link that was to see Henry Percy, the ninth Earl of Northumberland imprisoned in the Tower for 17 years - thanks to links to his nephew, the plotter Thomas Percy.

Augmenting the exhibition is a re-enactment event on October 30 2005 called Malicious Mayhem and Mania that sees re-enactors explore the events leading up to 5 November 1605.

On the November 4 an evening lecture also looks at the fateful day that saw Henry and Thomas Percy dine together at Syon on the evening of the plot discovery 400 years ago.

Shows a photograph of three men shaking hands in Westminster Hall, London.

The Marquess of Salisbury (left), Peter Knyvett (centre) and the Duke of Northumberland, descendants of men associated with the plot, met for a ceremonial reconciliation in Westminster Hall. © 24 Hour Museum.

Another house belonging to the Percys can be explored at Petworth in West Sussex. Petworth House was in the hands of the Percy family from the 11th century onwards, although the current mansion dates to the 17th century.

An exhibition about the 9th Duke of Northumberland, called Politician, Prisoner and Patron - The Intriguing Life of the 9th Earl of Northumberland (1564-1632) runs until October 30 2005.

a photograph of stately home taken from across a lake

Alnwick is the idyllic setting for an informative exhibition about the plotter Thomas Percy. © Alnwick Estate.

Alnwick House was the 9th Duke of Northumberland’s northern residence and it still is for the current Duke. In 1605 it was supervised by his nephew – the plotter Thomas Percy in his role as constable.

An exhibition entitled The Many Faces of Thomas Percy opens on Friday August 26 and explores the relationship between Alnwick and it’s former constable.

Through letters, documents and artefacts from 1550 to 1622, the exhibition takes a look at the ten years that Thomas Percy spent at Alnwick as an officer of the 9th Earl of Northumberland to see whether he is deserving of some more positive assessment than that of a mere notorious plotter.

The story is illustrated by Northumberland artist David Hall, who has studied Percy’s diaries and other documents to produce cartons of some of the key figures in the plot story.

There are of course other country houses that became embroiled in these turbulent times - as landed families either continued their support of the Catholic faith or rallied in support of the Protestant king James I. Visit the National Trust website for more information on where to find them.

As we approach November 5 and the 400th anniversary more events are being planned across the UK. To keep up to date with all the developments and to find out about new events as they are confirmed, visit the Gunpowder Plot 400 Page of the Parliamentray Archives website.

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