Bonfire Night is synonymous with the name Guy Fawkes and the failed plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament. Fawkes was one of the five main conspirators, but not the leader. This was Robert Catesby, and another eight men were recruited later. Another of the main conspirators was Thomas Percy, second cousin once removed from the 9th Earl of Northumberland, Henry Percy.
Thomas Percy was a tall and “wild” man whose conversion to Catholicism calmed him. It was said by Gerard that he was a bigamist having one wife in London and another in the provinces.
He was employed by his relative, Earl of Northumberland to collect rents, and later became Constable of the Castle in 1596.
Percy despised King James for the continued persecution to Catholics, despite verbal reassurances to the contrary. In 1604 he became the fifth member to join Catesby in the Gunpowder plot. His role was to rent a property in Westminster and obtain a lease underneath the first floor of the Houses of Parliament. Guy Fawkes was “appointed” as a “servant” to the property.
When the gunpowder and Guy Fawkes were discovered, it was Thomas Percy’s name given on the first arrest warrant, as Fawkes declared he was Thomas’s servant.
When the plot was discovered most of the conspirators escaped from London, however Thomas Percy and Robert Catesby were killed at Holbeche House, Staffordshire. Their bodies were later exhumed, and their heads displayed outside Parliament House.
Henry Percy became Earl of Northumberland after his father’s suicide in the Tower of London in 1585. Although a protestant, the Earl was a Catholic sympathizer and sent his cousin Thomas on missions to glean any information from the King about being more tolerant to the Catholics.
After the failed Gunpowder Plot, Henry Percy was arrested as it was thought he knew about it, as he had met with Thomas on 4th November. As it couldn’t be proven either way as Thomas was killed on 7th November, Henry was charged with lesser offences and imprisoned in the Tower of London and fined £30,000 where he remained for 16 years.
The legacy of this event is the annual celebration through the lighting of fires and fireworks which takes place on 5th November.