8 November 1605

The ringleader of the Gunpowder Plotters, Robert Catesby, is killed.

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The Gunpowder Plot of 1605, in earlier centuries often called the Gunpowder Treason Plot or the Jesuit Treason, was a failed assassination attempt against King James I of England and VI of Scotland by a group of provincial English Catholics led by Robert Catesby.

The plan was to blow up the House of Lords during the State Opening of England’s Parliament on 5 November 1605, as the prelude to a popular revolt in the Midlands during which James’s nine-year-old daughter, Princess Elizabeth, was to be installed as the Catholic head of state. Catesby may have embarked on the scheme after hopes of securing greater religious tolerance under King James had faded, leaving many English Catholics disappointed. His fellow plotters were John Wright, Thomas Wintour, Thomas Percy, Guy Fawkes, Robert Keyes, Thomas Bates, Robert Wintour, Christopher Wright, John Grant, Ambrose Rookwood, Sir Everard Digby and Francis Tresham. Fawkes, who had 10 years of military experience fighting in the Spanish Netherlands in suppression of the Dutch Revolt, was given charge of the explosives.

The plot was revealed to the authorities in an anonymous letter sent to William Parker, 4th Baron Monteagle, on 26 October 1605. During a search of the House of Lords at about midnight on 4 November 1605, Fawkes was discovered guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder—enough to reduce the House of Lords to rubble—and arrested. Most of the conspirators fled from London as they learned of the plot’s discovery, trying to enlist support along the way. Several made a stand against the pursuing Sheriff of Worcester and his men at Holbeche House; in the ensuing battle, Catesby was one of those shot and killed. At their trial on 27 January 1606, eight of the survivors, including Fawkes, were convicted and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered.

8 November 1965

The death penalty is formally abolished in the United Kingdom.

The abolition of capital punishment was a major priority of the incoming Labour government of Harold Wilson when it came to office on the 15th of October 1964 and its first Home Secretary, Sir Frank Soskice. On the 28th of October 1965, a Private Member’s Bill to suspend the death penalty, sponsored by the left wing MP, Mr. Sydney Silverman, received Royal Assent. It was supported by the government and the Home Secretary. Thus on the 9th of November 1965, Abolition of Death Penalty Act suspended the death penalty for murder in the United Kingdom for a period of five years.

The last executions were two carried out simultaneously at 8.00 a.m. on the 13th of August 1964 in Walton and Strangeways prisons when Peter Anthony Allen and Gwynne Owen Evans were hanged for the murder of John West, a laundry man, in the course of robbing him.

On the 16th of December 1969, the House of Commons reaffirmed its decision that capital punishment for murder should be permanently abolished. On a free vote, the House voted by 343 to 185, a majority of 158, that the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act 1965, should not expire. Thus, the death penalty for murder was formally abolished.