Staveley and the gunpowder plot

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IT is a strange tradition that sees Guy Fawkes celebrated as the main character in what is the most famous act of treason in our national history.

Fawkes – the man who is immortalised in the story of the gunpowder plot, and whose effigy is crafted out of hay and cast on to bonfire’s the country over – was actually just one of many conspirators following the lead of a man named Robert Catesby.

The legend could as easily have belonged to Derbyshire’s own Robert Keyes, who like Guy Fawkes was responsible for guarding the gunpowder, and who was also executed for his part in the plot.

Staveley-born Keyes was the sixth man to join the conspiracy, which sought to assassinate King James I by blowing up the House of Lords on November 5, 1605.

The thwarted event, which brought Fawkes four centuries of notoriety, left Robert Keyes with little renown, even in his native county.

Paul Wilson, verger at Our Lady and All Saint’s church, Chesterfield, and former chairman of the Staveley History Society, said: “Guy Fawkes was just the one who has gone down in history. I think Fawkes was used as a scapegoat.

“Robert Keyes is incredibly important to Staveley and alot of people don’t realise he was involved. He is just one of many links that Staveley has to national historical events.”

Robert Keyes was born in Staveley in 1565, the son of Edward Keyes, the town’s protestant rector. By the time he joined the conspiracy in October 1604, aged 40, he had converted to Catholicism, and sought to murder King James I, who was brought up as a member of the Protestant Church of Scotland.

His job, was to take charge of Robert Catesby’s home in Lambeth, south London, where the gunpowder was stored.

When Fawkes was arrested after being found guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder under the Houses of Parliament, Keyes fled for the Midlands, but was caught on November 9, in Warwickshire.

His punishment was to be hanged, drawn and quartered.

Graeme Challands, Staveley Town clerk, said: “Unlike most of the other conspirators, Robert Keyes was not a wealthy man and perhaps looked to get rich in a new Catholic state.”

He added: “There’s plenty of history about Staveley and I think it is important. It lets young people know that they come from somewhere with a long history as we have here.

“We have a long past and a good future as well.”

Staveley Hall will be lit up this Bonfire Night, with a fireworks display after the lighting of the bonfire at 6.30pm.