4 Major changes to real history in Gunpowder episode 1


Photo credit: Gunpowder/HBO by Robert Viglasky Acquired from HBO PR Medium

Kit Harington’s BBC drama Gunpowder has finally made to HBO but it’s not entirely historically accurate.

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As usual, a historical drama has had elements changed for artistic purposes. Kit Harington’s Gunpowder, has aired its first episode on HBO and there are also some changes to the real history of the 1605 Gunpowder Plot. Some of these changes are relatively minor, but others have affects the actual relationships within the series.

For those who aren’t aware, in 1605 a group of Catholics (including Harington’s real ancestor Robert Catesby) attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament. The aim was to remove the Protestant king, James VI of Scotland/I of England, and place his three-year-old daughter Elizabeth on the throne. Being so young, she would have had a Catholic council to ensure the country returned to the Papist religion.

So, what changes were made in the first episode of the historical three-part drama? Here are the four that stand out the most.

Anne Vaux wasn’t related to Robert Catesby

One of the biggest changes has been the relationship between Liv Tyler’s Anne Vaux and Harington’s Robert Catesby. The two weren’t related at all in real life. Instead, Vaux was related to Francis Tresham and the two were suspected as the ones who sent the anonymous letter to William Parker, 4th Baron Monteagle, who was actually Tresham’s brother-in-law. This was the letter that would end up foiling the whole plot and led to the arrests of a number of men, including the infamous Guy Fawkes.

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Vaux did have a history of protecting Catholics, especially one Jesuit Priest, Henry Garnet (played by Peter Mullan in the show). She was arrested in 1606 under suspicion of involvement in the Gunpowder Plot, but denied everything, excepting allowing some of the conspirators into her home.

Lady Dorothy Dibdale wasn’t a real person

Sian Webber plays Lady Dorothy Dibdale, who was arrested in the opening moments of Gunpowder. However, this is a totally fictitious character, likely created to set up the reasons for the plot.

Does that mean her fate was made up too? Unfortunately not. This was something that happened, but not in 1605. The use of crushing is documented in history, with most people remembering Giles Corey during the 1692 Salem Witch Trials as one case. However, it was used in 1586 in York against a Catholic woman, Margaret Clitherow. She was accused of harbouring Catholic priests, similarly to Lady Dibdale.

Margaret refused to submit to a trial to protect her children from being implicated or losing their inheritance. Without answering to her crimes, she couldn’t be prosecuted. The use of crushing was a torturous way to get someone to say if they were guilty or not. Margaret was only in her 30s at the time and may have been pregnant, but the rest of the tale is the exact same as Lady Dibdale’s excruciating ending.

The aspiring Catholic priest was fictitious to make a point

The actual aspiring priest hung, drawn, and quartered at the start of the episode was fictional, but the actual events were likely real. Catholics were persecuted after 1532 (when Henry VIII founded the Church of England), with a brief turn against the Protestants during Mary I’s reign. While Elizabeth I tried to find peaceful ground, she still persecuted those of the opposite faith.

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Harington shared that the inclusion of the horrific acts at the start of Gunpowder were necessary. He wanted to show just how much Catholics were persecuted. This would help to explain just why Catesby would even consider the horrific act of blowing up the Houses of Parliament.

Catesby and his followers had hoped that James VI/I would be more open-minded and allow the Catholics some freedom. Instead he pushed against them more.

Sir Philip Herbert is possibly fictional

It’s hard to tell whether some more private storylines are fictional or not. One of those is King James’ relationship with Sir Philip Herbert (Hugh Alexander). King James is known for having male “favorites” during his reign. However, most of his well-known favorites were after the attempt on his life in 1605.

The use of Sir Philip Herbert was likely a way to show the theories about King James. Some historians believe that he was bisexual or gay. Either sexuality would have been a death sentence for all involved, but was considered an important element to show. King James may not have had physically sexual relationships with his “favorites,” but certainly possibly something romantic.

These are just the changes from the first episode. There are many more to come in the next two.

Next: 6 things Outlander changed from the real Battle of Prestonpans

Gunpowder continues on Tuesday, Dec. 19 at 10/9c on HBO.

Did you know about the changes to the Gunpowder storyline? Share the changes you noticed throughout the episode below.