Thomas Wintour: Biography & Gunpowder Plot

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

The Gunpowder Plot is one of the most famous conspiracies in English history, but few people know the real story behind it. In this lesson, we'll look at Thomas Wintour's role in the Gunpowder Plot and see how he impacted this moment in English history.

The Gunpowder Plot

In 1605, agents of James I discovered a plot to kill the king and the rest of the government by blowing up the parliament building. Known as the Gunpowder Plot, this conspiracy quickly became one of the most famous assassinations attempts in English history, as did the main assassin Guy Fawkes. However, Fawkes was only one player, and not even the most significant one. He was an explosives expert, there to oversee the actual demolition of the Palace of Westminster. The plot itself was the work of other men. One of those men was Thomas Wintour.

Thomas Wintour
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Early Life of Thomas Wintour

Thomas Wintour (sometimes spelled Winter) was born sometime around 1571 in Worcestershire. He had an older brother, Robert, and the entire family was Catholic. That was a big deal. After numerous Catholic plots to overthrow the government, the Protestant Queen Elizabeth was cracking down hard on Catholicism. In fact, Wintour's uncle, a Catholic priest, was executed in 1586.

Finally, James I ascended to the throne in 1603. Catholics expected him to be much more sympathetic to their cause, but he ended up taking a strong anti-Catholic position as king in order to appease Puritans in the government. Catholics were crushed. Most Catholics accepted that this was the way things were. Some, however, had had enough. One such person was Robert Catesby who, with Thomas Wintour and others, would conspire against the king.

James I was the intended target of the Gunpowder plot
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The Plot Develops

Robert Catesby was a Catholic whose father had been arrested for hiding a priest, and who was fed up with the anti-Catholic government. He was also charismatic and bold and drew people to him. He started toying with the idea of overthrowing the government and quickly found willing accomplices in a friend named John Wright, and his own cousin Thomas Wintour.

The three conspirators started planning ways to kill the king and replace him with a Catholic monarch. Wintour's suggestion was to go to Philip III, King of Spain, and ask for Spanish help in toppling the English monarchy. He went to Flanders to propose the idea, but the Spanish refused the offer. However, while in Flanders Wintour met with a miner and explosives expert who had been fighting in Spain's wars. Thus, Thomas Wintour recruited Guy Fawkes to their cause.

The plotters
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With Fawkes in tow, Wintour also recruited his older brother Robert and the list of plotters grew. They developed a plan to load up barrels of gunpowder in a cellar next to Parliament, which would be enough to destroy the entire building. Fawkes was the natural choice to oversee the detonation, but he was never the mastermind of the plot. Together, Catesby, Wright, and Wintour planned out the details and prepared to rally England's Catholics together once the king had been killed.

The Plot Discovered

Not long before the Gunpowder Plot was set to occur, someone warned one of the Catholic lords of Parliament to stay away from the building on November 5. That lord took the letter to King James' minister, who waited until the last minute to flood the cellar with guards and arrest Guy Fawkes.

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