More than 400 years on, we still burn an effigy of Guy Fawkes on our November 5 bonfires as we remember the Catholic plot to blow up King James I and parliament.
The plot nearly succeeded after a tip-off, which led to the discovery of Fawkes himself in parliament’s cellars, did not result in the conspirator’s arrest as he convinced the authorities that he was simply laying in firewood for the winter. It was only on the second search that he was caught making his final preparations.
Had the 36 barrels of gunpowder exploded in such a confined space, there is little doubt that they would have flattened not just parliament, but a significant area around it, with huge loss of life.
Around three years ago the earliest known written account of what happened came up for auction in London with an estimate of £40,000-60,000. Written by Secretary of State Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury, just four days after the plot was uncovered, the letter to Sir Ralph Winwood, the English ambassador at The Hague, includes a full account of the events. From this we can see how shocking and daring it all seemed at the time, and how that ensured a notoriety that would last throughout ensuing history.