Everything you need to know before you watch Gunpowder tonight on HBO


The BBC One miniseries is coming to HBO tonight. Facts, anecdotes, historical context; here’s everything you “ought” to know before watching it.

Gunpowder is a three-part thriller set in the early 17th Century and tracing the events that led to the surprisingly little-known Guy Fawkes Night, also known as “The Fifth of November” or “Bonfire Night” across the pond. The series is co-produced by and stars Game of Thrones‘ Kit Harington as Robert Catesby, the man behind the King’s assassination attempt (yeah, spoiler alert: they fail). Sherlock and Game of Thrones‘ Mark Gatiss, as well as American actress Liv Tyler play alongside him as the King’s spymaster Robert Cecil, and Robert’s cousin Lady Anne Vaux.

Historical context

1604. England. Shakespeare has just about finished writing King Lear. A new post-Elizabethan era is starting. Catholics are relentlessly persecuted by Protestant James I, King of Scots, who has been ruling over England since 1603 after the death of Queen Elizabeth who had been relatively tolerant towards Catholics during her reign. The new King is trying to sell the concept of Great Britain to his people by avoiding the division of his Kingdom at any cost, whilst also minimizing frictions with Catholic Spain which England couldn’t afford to get in a war with.

Robert Catesby, a committed Catholic who refuses to abandon his religion, elaborates a conspiracy to assassinate King James and blow up the Houses of Parliament. This is how the Gunpowder Plot is born.

Catesby recruits as many men as he can — officially 13 conspirators—, one of which is Guy  Fawkes, also known as Guido, a devout Catholic and veteran who traveled to Spain to help them fight the Dutch.

Fun Facts 

More from Show Snob

  1. People often overlook Catesby as the mastermind behind the grand scheme. Until this day, Fawkes is mistakenly seen as the main conspirator from gaining notoriety after the plot was foiled as he was the one who was caught storing the 36 barrels of gunpowder beneath the House of Lords.
  2. Kit Harington is a direct descendant of Robert Catesby, which is also the British actor’s given name. Christopher Catesby Harington.
  3. The conspiracy influenced Shakespeare’s writing (said to have been quite traumatized by the Plot) and most notably King Lear and Macbeth. These lines for instance taken from Act III, scene 2 in King Lear are believed to be a reference to the Gunpowder Plot.

"You sulphurous and thought-executing fires, Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts, Singe my white head! […]"

To watch or not to watch, this is the question…we have already figured out. And speaking of tragedy, Gunpowder certainly is one to see.

Next: ‘Gunpowder’ from Game of Thrones star Kit Harington coming to HBO

The first part of the miniseries debuts tonight on HBO.