VERY Bonfire Night for the past 400 years we have been burning effigies of the wrong man.
Nobleman Robert Catesby was the real brains of the Gunpowder Plot to blow up Parliament — Fawkes was just the fall Guy.
The three-parter will show how Catesby led the Catholic conspiracy to assassinate England’s protestant King James I on November 5, 1605.
Kit, best known to GoT fans as Jon Snow, hopes it will explode the myth that his ancestor and his fellow plotters were just madmen.
The 30-year-old said: “It’s maybe one of the first instances of ideological terrorism in Western Europe by a group of young men disenfranchised and pushed to the margins.
“They were stamped on because they were Catholic.”
Gunpowder is set amid the violent persecution of Catholics in the early 1600s and is perhaps not one to watch with dinner.
Scenes of disembowelments, torture, hangings and mutilation are expected to bring a taste of Game Of Thrones to the BBC.
The similarities to Sky Atlantic’s hit fantasy series do not stop there either, with the grit offset by a sexy cast, including Hollywood beauty Liv Tyler as Catesby’s cousin Lady Anne Vaux and Downton Abbey’s Tom Cullen as Fawkes.
But the man most people mistake as the architect of the doomed plot plays a relatively small role.
Kit said: “Guy Fawkes was the tip of the iceberg. Many people know he was working with plotters but don’t know much about who they were or what their motives were.
“So little is known about the lead-up to the night of November 5, and what happened after it.
“In Gunpowder, we show the whole story. We’re trying to tell the story from the plotters’ perspective.”
The drama was a deeply personal project for Kit, whose production company created it in conjunction with the BBC.
His mum Deborah’s maiden name is Catesby, and another of his ancestors, Sir John Harington — who invented the flushing toilet — was in Parliament when the plot was foiled.
Kit said: “When Catesby’s head was marched past the Houses of Parliament on a pike, John Harington, on my father’s side, who was in the Houses of Parliament at the time, looked at him and was quoted as saying, ‘He’s an ugly fellow, isn’t he?’”
But to those who knew him best, Catesby was just as much of a pin-up as Kit.
A priest, Father Oswald Tesimond, once wrote: “Physically, Catesby was more than ordinarily well-proportioned, some six feet tall, of good carriage and handsome countenance.
“He was grave in manner but attractively so. He was considered one of the most dashing and courageous horsemen in the country.
“Generous and affable, he was for that reason much loved by everyone.”
Born in Lapworth, Warks, around 1572, he was a wealthy member of the gentry and had a sizeable estate in Oxfordshire. Though he came from a Catholic family, he married and had two children with a wealthy protestant, Catherine Leigh.
But after his wife died in 1598, he became a more radicalised Catholic who railed against the persecution dished out by Queen Elizabeth I.
He hoped the next monarch, King James I, would be more sympathetic when he ascended the throne in 1603.
His mother, Mary Queen of Scots, was a devout Catholic who was executed for treason on the orders of Queen Elizabeth in 1587.
Instead, the persecution intensified, with Catesby, his friends and relatives all targets for abuse, arrest and even execution.
The trailer for Gunpowder features Kit as Catesby describing the intolerable position which forced him to hatch the Gunpowder Plot.
Catesby says: “My name is disgraced, my friends and family are hunted down like dogs. They will be revenged. I have plotted the murder of the King.
“We must strike at the root. Fawkes will light the fuse, and I, Robert Catesby, will blow the King and all his men to hell.”
The resulting plot is believed to have started more than 18 months earlier, in February 1604, at Catesby’s home in Lambeth, South London. It was there that he revealed his plans to his cousin, Thomas Wintour, played by Wolf Hall and Kingsman actor Edward Holcroft.
The aim was to kill the King, spark a Catholic revolt and place his young daughter, Elizabeth, on the throne.
It was only after this meeting that they recruited experienced soldier Fawkes, and he was quickly joined by Catesby’s friend, Thomas Percy.
PLAN UP IN SMOKE
THE idea was to blow up the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament on November 5, 1605.
Ultimately, it was Robert Catesby’s plan which was to crash and burn.
He led a group of 12 Catholic conspirators who wanted to reduce the place to rubble, with King James I inside.
But on the eve of the planned explosion, guards searched the House of Lords and discovered Guy Fawkes with 36 barrels of gunpowder in a cellar beneath the building.
The government had been alerted to the plot after one of Catesby’s gang attempted to warn a friend, who was an MP, to stay away from the State Opening.
The plan was foiled, Fawkes was arrested and the rest of the conspirators fled from London.
Despite several making a last stand against the Sheriff of Worcester in Staffordshire, Catesby was among those shot and killed.
Eight survivors were sentenced to death in 1606.
By the time they had placed 36 barrels of gunpowder under the House of Lords, the band of conspirators had swelled to a dozen men.
Fawkes became the lightning rod for the saga because he was the one charged with setting up and guarding the explosives.
He was the first to be arrested on November 5, beneath Parliament, after the plan was rumbled by Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, played in Gunpowder by The League Of Gentlemen’s Mark Gatiss.
The King’s suspicious spymaster sensed some great act of treason was imminent but only uncovered the plot after a Catholic peer, William Parker, showed him an anonymous letter warning him to stay away from the State Opening.
After Fawkes’ arrest, most of the conspirators fled. Catesby, accompanied by two other members of the gang, had already left London on November 4 to oversee the expected Catholic uprising in the Midlands.
Fawkes confessed details of the plot after two days of torture, and Catesby was tracked down to Holbeche House, near Dudley.
There, alongside five other conspirators, they made a stand as 200 of the King’s men laid siege to the mansion on November 8.
Catesby was shot dead and initially buried nearby. But it was ordered that his body be exhumed, decapitated and the head displayed on a spike outside Parliament, alongside the remains of Percy.
Over the next year, most of the other conspirators, including Fawkes, were tried, then hanged, drawn and quartered.
An Act of Parliament made November 5 a national day of thanksgiving for “the joyful day of deliverance”. It was this which eventually grew into the annual extravaganza of bonfires and fireworks we know as Bonfire Night. But one aspect of Gunpowder is unlikely be celebrated by Kit.
Though his dad, Sir David Harington, is the 15th Harington Baronet, the actor has always shrugged off any suggestion that he is posh.
It does not help that he recently became engaged to former Game Of Thrones co-star Rose Leslie, 30, who comes from a long line of aristocrats in Aberdeenshire.
Her family has a grand ancestral home, Lickeyhead Castle.
The family trees of Kit and Rose can also be traced back to King Charles II.
Kit said: “It’s infuriating, because that is part of my history, but I’m not a posh boy.”
- Gunpowder is on BBC1 from October 21