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Gunpowder Plot Activities & Games

Instructor: Matthew Hamel

Matt has degrees in Journalism and Business and has taught a variety of courses at high schools and universities around the world.

Learning about history can be fascinating, especially if the learning involves hands-on activities. This lesson includes Gunpowder Plot activities and games teachers can use in class.

The Plot Thickens

Throughout history there have been many attempts to overthrow or assassinate monarchs. The Gunpowder Plot was perhaps one of the most audacious, and it remains a significant part of British history more than 400 years after it was foiled. The 1605 plot was an attempt to kill King James I by blowing up England's House of Lords while the king was attending the opening of Parliament. The schemers behind the plot were Catholics, and they were hoping to end Catholic persecution in England by replacing King James I with a monarch who would be more tolerant of Catholic beliefs and practices.

Ideally, your students will already know the above information before you use the activities and games in this lesson. However, even if you've just completed a lesson or unit about the Gunpowder Plot, a brief class discussion and review can help to put your students into the right mind frame for the activities. To accomplish this simply write Gunpowder Plot on the blackboard and solicit as much information from the students as possible. You may want to prompt students to ensure they mention the following information.

  • How the plot began
  • The goal of the plot
  • The names of the plotters
    • Robert Catesby, John Wright, Thomas Wintour, Thomas Percy, Guy Fawkes, Robert Keyes, Thomas Bates, Robert Wintour, Christopher Wright, John Grant, Ambrose Rookwood, Sir Everard Digby, Francis Tresham
  • Reasons the plot failed
  • What happened to the plotters

Encourage your students to take notes during this class conversation, as the notes may be helpful during the activities and also as an overall review of the Gunpowder Plot.

A New Holiday

Although it was a failure, the Gunpowder Plot inspired an annual holiday of sorts. Bonfire Night (also called Guy Fawkes Night) is celebrated every November 5th with the ringing of church bells, bonfires, and fireworks. In this activity, teams of students will work together to create a new annual tradition inspired by the Gunpowder Plot.

  • Divide the class into small teams.
  • Tell each team to brainstorm and come up with a new annual tradition or practice that incorporates some aspect of the Gunpowder Plot.
    • For example, the Gunpowder Plot was discovered when an anonymous letter was sent to William Parker on October 26. A tradition could be established of people sending anonymous letters to each other every year on October 26th.
  • Have each team present their new tradition to the class. As part of the presentation, teams should explain the specific aspect of the Gunpowder Plot that the new tradition or practice is based on.
  • If possible, have the class participate in the new traditions. You can also have a class vote for the best new tradition or practice and award a prize to the winning team.

A List of Demands

Tell students to imagine this scenario: The plotters have been captured, but instead of executing them immediately, the King decides to listen to their demands first. If the demands are reasonable, the lives of the plotters will be spared. However, if the demands are unreasonable, the plotters will be executed.

  1. Randomly divide the class into teams of three or four students.
  2. Tell the teams to imagine they are the Catholic plotters and that they must come up with three demands to give to the King.
  3. Give the teams some time to research the aims of the real plotters and create three demands in the form of a list.
  4. A representative from each team should read the demands aloud.
  5. After the demands are read, the class can collectively act as the king and vote whether or not to accept the demands.
  6. If the demands are accepted, the lives of the plotters are spared. If the demands are rejected, the plotters will meet a much less appealing fate.

To conclude the game, lead a class discussion about why certain demands would have seemed reasonable in 1605 and why other demands would have been considered unrealistic in the eyes of the monarchy and government at the time.

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