When Elizabeth I died in 1603 without children, Mary's son, was next in line to the throne. As James was a Protestant, Parliament was also in favour of him becoming king. The Roman Catholics in England were upset that there was going to be another Protestant monarch. They also became very angry when James passed a law that imposed heavy fines on people who did not attend Protestant church services.
In May 1604, Robert Catesby devised the Gunpowder Plot, a scheme to kill James and as many Members of Parliament as possible. At a meeting at the Duck and Drake Inn Catesby explained his plan to Guy Fawkes, Thomas Percy, John Wright and Thomas Wintour. All the men agreed under oath to join the conspiracy. Over the next few months Francis Tresham, Everard Digby, Robert Wintour, Thomas Bates and Christopher Wright also agreed to take part in the overthrow of the king.
After the death of James in the explosion, Robert Catesby planned to make the king's young daughter, Elizabeth, queen. In time, Catesby hoped to arrange Elizabeth's marriage to a Catholic nobleman. It was Everard Digby's task to kidnap Princess Elizabeth from Coombe Abbey.
Catesby's plan involved blowing up the Houses of Parliament on 5 November. This date was chosen because the king was due to open Parliament on that day. At first the group tried to tunnel under Parliament. This plan changed when Thomas Percy was able to hire a cellar under the House of Lords. The plotters then filled the cellar with barrels of gunpowder. Guy Fawkes, because of his munitions experience in the Netherlands, was given the task of creating the explosion.
Francis Tresham was worried that the explosion would kill his friend and brother-in-law, Lord Monteagle. On 26th October, Tresham sent Lord Monteagle a letter warning him not to attend Parliament on 5th November.
Lord Monteagle became suspicious and passed the letter to Robert Cecil, the king's chief minister. Cecil quickly organised a thorough search of the Houses of Parliament. While searching the cellars below the House of Lords they found the gunpowder and Guy Fawkes, one of the men involved in the plot. He was tortured and he eventually gave the names of his fellow conspirators.
The conspirators left London and agreed to meet at Holbeche House in Staffordshire. News of their hiding place reached the Sheriff of Worcester and on 8th November the house was surrounded by troops. The men refused to surrender and gunfire broke out. Over the next few minutes, Robert Catesby, Thomas Percy, Christopher Wright and John Wright were killed.
Everard Digby was the only one of the conspirators to plead guilty. He gave several reasons for his involvement in the Gunpowder Plot. This included his Roman Catholic beliefs, his friendship with Robert Catesby and the king's broken promises in regard to religious toleration.
Francis Tresham was arrested on 12th November. In the Tower of London he wrote a full confession about his involvement in the Gunpowder Plot. However, many people believed he was working as a double agent for Robert Cecil.
Everard Digby, Robert Wintour and Thomas Bates, were executed on 30th January, 1606. Digby was hanged for only a short period and was still alive when he was disembowelled. The following day Guy Fawkes and Thomas Wintour were hanged, drawn and quartered.
In recent years some historians have begun to question the traditional story of the Gunpowder Plot. Some have argued that the conspiracy was really devised by Robert Cecil and Lord Monteagle. This version claims that Cecil blackmailed Robert Catesby into organising the plot. It is argued that Cecil's aim was to make people in England hate Catholics. For example, people were so angry after they found out about the plot, that they agreed to Cecil's plans to pass a series of laws persecuting Catholics.
It has also been pointed out that James I gave Lord Monteagle an annuity of £500 for life, plus lands worth a further £200 per year. Rumours soon began circulating that Monteagle had arranged for Francis Tresham to be poisoned while being held captive in the Tower of London.