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

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

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

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.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account