top of page

Who is Kit Harington’s Robert Catesby in BBC drama Gunpowder?

BBC One drama Gunpowder about the plot to kill King James I features the Game Of Thrones star as Guy Fawkes' co-conspirator Robert Catesby. But who was he in real life?

Saturday nights are about to explode on BBC One ... until, of course, they don't. Coinciding with the night on which we remember gunpowder, treason and plot, Gunpowder sees Kit Harington play his actual ancestor Robert Catesby, alongside Tom Cullen (Guy Fawkes) and Liv Tyler (Anne Vaux, Catesby's cousin). Yes, that's right... Kit Harington has a distant relative who plotted the world-renowned attack on the crown in 1605. Produced by Harrington, written by Ronan Bennett (best known for crime-drama series Top Boy) and directed by J Blakeson (The Disappearance Of Alice Creed), it's gritty, gruesome and – spoiler alert – they don't eventually succeed. But just who was the lesser-known plotter Robert Catesby? Let us explain.

1) The Gunpowder Plot wasn't exactly Robert Catesby's first plot

After his wife died in 1599, Catesby became radicalised - teaming up with Earl of Essex Robert Devereux to seize the court, tower and city. They led over 200 people and they hoped more would join once news spread that Queen Elizabeth I planned to have Devereux killed and sell England out to Spain. Needless to say it didn't go well. Devereux was called a traitor and beheaded before the end of the month. Catesby was wounded, imprisoned and fined 4,000 marks (in modern money, £6 million).

2) In fact, he was quite familiar with treacherous plots before 1605

It's widely suggested that Catesby (under the alias of Anthony Dutton) got in touch with the King of Spain, Philip III, to help the English Catholics fight back against the tyrannous rule of the crown. Unfortunately Philip said no.

3) Third time's a charm!

And so the Gunpowder Plot was born. Despite what you've heard, Catesby - not Guy Fawkes - was the mastermind behind the plot. In fact, Guy Fawkes was one of the last to know, because Catesby initially entrusted the information with his cousin and his friend.

It had all been building to a head because Catholics had been persecuted ever since the Protestant Church of England was formed by Henry VIII in 1533. When Queen Elizabeth died and James I took the throne (in 1603) everyone expected it to change, and when it didn't they started to scheme.

4) As all good plans do - it began in a pub

On Sunday 20 May 1604, at The Duck & Drake Inn, Catesby sat down with Thomas Wintour, John Wright, Thomas Percy and Guy Fawkes. Later he recruited Robert Keyes, and then his servant Thomas Bates, and then he got carried away and invited Thomas Wintour's brother Robert, John Grant and John Wright's brother Christopher to join the revolution.

5) Kit Harrington's middle name is Catesby

It really is true. Kit Harington tells this story about his family connection: "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 is quoted as saying, 'He's an ugly fellow, isn't he?'." He also mentions that his mother's maiden name is Catesby and and it's his middle name. Kit Catesby Harington certainly has a ring to it.

6) Catesby escaped Guy Fawkes' gruesome fate

Like I said, it doesn't end well. Following his capture, Guy Fawkes was tortured to such an extent that he is said to have gained the respect of King James I. He couldn't face being hung, drawn and quartered though, and so he jumped to his death - breaking his neck on impact. Catesby, on the otherhand, went down in a hail of bullets and flames in a showdown against all the King's horses and all the King's men. He was beheaded post-mortem and - as they loved to do back then - they paraded his head through the streets of London.

Gunpowder starts this Saturday on BBC One at 9.10pm

This article was first published on British GQ

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page