“Gunpowder”: A Quick Historical Guide

By Boo A-C

If you are looking forward to tuning in to watch the 3-part miniseries, Gunpowder on HBO, you may enjoy some background information. In the UK, Gunpowder was broadcast late Fall so it could be shown on the 5th of November. If your knowledge of the gunpowder plot is just the rhyme “Remember Remember” and that scene from V for Vendetta, don’t you worry we’ve got your back! For ease I’ve separated it into four questions.

***some spoilery history ahead***

Did Guy Fawkes lead the Gunpowder Plot of 1605?

No. Gunpowder doesn’t introduce Guy Fawkes for quite a while in the first episode for a very good reason. Fawkes may be the name you associate with the Gunpowder Plot and November 5th but actually it was someone completely different who cooked it up. This man was Robert Catesby and in the show he is played by one of his own distant relatives, Kit Harrington. Catesby has, by this point, amassed a team of people from all over who supported the idea of Catholic rebellion.

Catesby was Catholic and was persecuted under English laws in place at the time to control Catholics and push Protestantism as the religion of England. Catholics like Catesby were brought to trial and fined for not attending Protestant church. This was called Recusancy.

So what did Guy Fawkes do?

He was the first to be caught and his capture was the discovery of the plot. He was caught under the Houses of Parliament with enough gunpowder to decimate much of London and a match ready to light it.

Guy Fawkes, also known as Guido Fawkes, was a soldier and possibly unhinged. Fawkes travelled while the plan was being worked on to gain support but was found discovered by Robert Cecil. Cecil has spies everywhere and was monitoring Catholics, gaining plenty of information on the attack.

Fawkes’s execution is very well known. As he climbed up the ladder about to be hung he jumped thus snapping his own neck and saving him the horrors that would have awaited him.

Was the explosion the whole plan?

No it wasn’t. If anything the explosion of the House of Parliament was just the start. They planned to take over England as a Catholic country and have a full-scale uprising. Young Princess Elizabeth Stewart would have been installed as Queen Elizabeth the second who would have been protected by one of the plotter’s (Thomas Percy) brother Henry. However there was also a weak young prince called Charles who would have had to be kidnapped for this to take place. It is thought that this would have brought on a massive and highly damaging civil war for England.

What would have happened if they won?

Everything would be different!

Firstly, The Centre for Explosion Studies in Wales estimates buildings would have been decimated in London with a large blast crater of around 40 meters around the Houses of Parliament leading to mass devastation. London would have been in a terrible state. England may never have gotten to America, leading to the country possibly being taken by the French or Spanish. English may never have become such a well-known language.

So here is a very brief breakdown of the historical significance of the gunpowder plot so that this holiday you don’t need to spend time googling and can just enjoy the show. As you can see there is a reason us UK people still do Guy Fawkes night and light bonfires every year.


 Gunpowder premieres on HBO tonight, December 18! 

Sources and More Information




Boo A-C is a blogger/ freelance film critic from the UK. She likes to write about strange bits of film history and has written for numerous sites and the occasional online journal. She spends most of her time watching cheesy vampire movies and going on adventures. You can read her blog Tonight We Are Dinosaurs here.