A mysterious man in a big hat and cloak discovered beneath Parliament. A cellar packed full of barrels of gunpowder.
We commemorate the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 annually on 5 November with fireworks, bonfires and, inexplicably, toffee apples.
But what remains of the Catholic conspirators that attempted to assassinate King James I?
An obscure collection of images in the Historic England Archive shed light on the people and places that contributed to the plot. They were taken in 1912 by an unknown photographer who must have been similarly intrigued by this (almost) explosive part of our history.
1. The ‘romance’ of the Gunpowder Plot
This map shows the location of several places in the Midlands associated with the Gunpowder Plot.
The network of houses served as meeting places for the conspirators, who plotted for 3 years from 1601-1603.
2. Bushwood Hall, Warwickshire
Robert Catesby, the chief originator of the Gunpowder Plot, was born in this house in 1573.
His parents had suffered from the financial penalties imposed on Catholics during the reign of protestant monarch Elizabeth I.
Catesby was imprisoned and fined for his part in the Essex Rebellion of 1601, a failed uprising against the Queen.
3. Coughton Court, Coughton, Warwickshire
Coughton Court was owned by Robert Catesby’s uncle, Thomas Throckmorton.
With its commanding views of the surrounding countryside, Coughton is thought to be one of the houses that the famed craftsman Nicholas Owen skilfully created with hiding places for priests pursued by the authorities.
At the time of the Gunpowder Plot, the house was rented by Everard Digby, the thirteenth and last of the conspirators to be recruited.
Digby was placed here to organise a ‘gentleman’s hunt’, in fact, a gathering of armed men who were to lead a planned uprising in the Midlands.
4. The Market Cross at Dunchurch, Warwickshire
The Warwickshire village of Dunchurch was an important Midlands staging post and was chosen as a convenient rendezvous point for the conspirators and their sympathisers.
From here, members of Digby’s ‘hunt’ were to travel to nearby Coombe Abbey to kidnap King James I’s nine-year-old daughter, Princess Elizabeth.
Once they had successfully killed her father and brothers, Elizabeth was to be proclaimed queen and raised a Catholic.
5. An unidentified house in Dunchurch, Warwickshire
On 4 November 1605, conspirator Sir Everard Digby and his entourage installed themselves at the Red Lion Inn in Dunchurch.
Here, Robert Catesby brought news from London that Guy Fawkes had been discovered beneath Parliament and the plot revealed.
However, a delusional Catesby claimed that the King was dead and their cause was still worth fighting for.
While some fled, Catesby, Digby and others left to collect weapons from Norbrook House and rally other Catholics to rebellion.
6. Holbeche House, Dudley
Catesby and his dwindling band of rebels rode for two days between the houses of local Catholic families, gathering arms, gunpowder and money.
On 7 November 1605, they arrived at Holbeche House, the home of Stephen Littlejohn, one of Catesby’s sympathetic followers. Several were injured by an explosion as they attempted to dry gunpowder.
The following morning the High Sheriff of Worcester, who had been in pursuit, surrounded Holbeche with two hundred armed men. A short battle ensued, and Catesby and Thomas Percy were among the conspirators killed.
Others, including Thomas Wintour and John Grant, were wounded and captured. The rebellion had come to a bloody end.
7. Grafton Manor, Worcestershire
At the time of the Gunpowder Plot, Grafton Manor was the home of John Talbot, father-in-law of one of the leading conspirators, Robert Wintour.
On 3 November 1605, Robert and other conspirators spent the day at Grafton. Following the failure of the Gunpowder Plot, Grafton was searched for evidence.
8. Norbrook House, Warwickshire
The Norbrook House that was present on this site in 1605 was supposedly demolished soon after the conspiracy ended.
Norbrook was the home of John Grant, brother-in-law to co-conspirators Thomas and Robert Wintour. In the past, Norbrook had been used to shelter Catholic priests and store weapons and gunpowder.
The Historic England Archive
You never know what you might find in the Historic England Archive. Search over 12 million records online and uncover your history.