Channel 5 documentary explores the Catholic politics of the Gunpowder Plot

As every school pupil knows, Guy Fawkes was a member of a group of provincial English Catholics involved in the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605.

He was born in Stonegate, York, was educated at St Peter’s School and his father died when he was eight years old. After leaving school, he entered the service of Anthony Browne, 1st Viscount Montagu and later Anthony-Maria Browne, 2nd Viscount Montagu.

He sold the estate in Clifton he inherited from his father in October 1591, he then travelled to the continent to fight in the Eighty Years War for Catholic Spain against the new Dutch Republic and, from 1595 until the Peace of Vervins in 1598, France.

Following a decade of working as a soldier, he became involved with a small group of English Catholics in 1604, led by Robert Catesby who planned to assassinate the Protestant King James and replace him with his daughter, third in line of succession, Princess Elizabeth.

In a new series on Channel 5, Xand Van Tulleken and historian Tracy Borman uncover the truth behind the Gunpowder Plot, one of the most infamous episodes in British history.

The series, which airs its first episode – The Countdown to Treason – on Channel 5 tomorrow night (4th November) at 6.40pm, will start off 18 months before Guy Fawkes planned his attack on Parliament. A band of Catholic rebels met in a London pub to plot the assassination of King James I by blowing up the House of Lords when the King would be present for the State Opening of Parliament.

The series will look into how decades of persecution led Catholic mastermind Robert Catesby to devise the plot, which would see the complete destruction of Parliament and the murder of hundreds of people.

The hour by hour account follows the plotters as they assemble their gang and carry out the attack. It will reveal just how dangerous it was to smuggle two and a half tonnes of gunpowder beneath the House of Lords, and show how the assassination of so many people in Parliament was only the beginning of an audacious coup to take over the country.

Xand witnesses the frightening explosive power of gunpowder, and examines the anonymous letter which tipped off the authorities and saved Parliament. He will visit the Tower of London to uncover the role it played in torturing Guy Fawkes to exact a confession, and follows the desperate attempts of the King’s top spymaster, Sir Robert Cecil, to track down the plotters before they could raise a rebellion.

Meanwhile, Tracy manages to get hold of 400-year-old weaponry like those used by Catesby’s gang and finds out how Guy Fawkes might have planned to ignite his explosives. At Harvington Hall in Worcestershire, she has a taste of what life was like for Catholic priests on the run, when she squeezes into an ingenious hiding place, known as a priest hole.

This is the inside story of the Gunpowder Plot, the men who planned it, and how close they came to changing Britain forever.