When Gunpowder premieres on HBO Dec. 18, viewers will be expecting action-packed drama. But, this drama comes with a side of very real history, and Robert Catesby from Gunpowder is a real person. In fact, Catesby is an ancestor of the actor who will portray him… none other than Kit Harington. Because Gunpowder is based on true events, there are spoilers ahead in talking specifics about the plot and the conspirators — but it's also ancient history so you probably know of it anyway.
Before getting into how Harington and Catesby are related, it may be best to go over the specifics of what exactly The Gunpowder Plot is, for those who may be foggy or unaware. According to the History Channel's website, the plot was an attempted assassination of King James I by bombing the Parliamentary building, Nov. 5, 1605. Before the ignition of 36 kegs of gunpowder, though, authorities were able to discover the plot through a tip, foiling the assassination coup. The plot, although carried out by a number of people, was initially spearheaded by Kit Harington’s ancestor: Robert Catesby.
Harington is related to Catesby through his maternal line. In an interview with The Independent he explained that growing up it was always interesting, knowing he was related to the leader of the plot. Of course, the relation was not the only reason he wanted to be involved with the production of some kind of television adaption. “My mother's maiden name is Catesby and my middle name is Catesby,” he said. “Yes, there was a family connection but more it was the idea that this seemed like an idea ripe for the making ... I couldn't really work out why it hadn't been dramatized. It's such a significant piece of typically English folklore.” While he was proud of the connection before doing the series, afterward Harington’s thoughts had changed. “Before I got into this, I guess in some ways I might have been proud of him,” he said. “The major change was that I felt desperately sorry for him after doing this. As you'll see he's a deeply sad man, who botched his one big thing.”
In a different interview with The Telegraph, Harington said that the idea for this series was something he’d had in mind for a while. Three years back, he was talking with a friend from acting school at a pub when they first discussed the idea. However, one of the main reasons he was so keen to play the character now, was because of how truly different Catesby is to his iconic character: Jon Snow from Game of Thrones. “I love my character in Game of Thrones ... but he’s a pretty solid person and I wanted to do something a bit different from that," Harington told the outlet. "Catesby is someone who is doing something really, really bad, but he thinks it’s right and there’s a fanaticism to that, which I enjoy.”
Oddly enough, Harington actually has ancestors on the other side of the plot though too. According to The Sun, Harington said that while he’s related to Catesby on his mother’s side, on his paternal side, his other ancestor was a man who was in Parliament while Catesby’s head was paraded past. Harington continued by saying, "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?' Isn't that brilliant?"
Fans of Harington have gone quite a while without seeing the actor in period-esque now that Game of Thrones is on hiatus, but they better savor Gunpowder while it lasts. According to that previously mentioned Independent article Harington said that he's moving on from period pieces. “I'm personally done now with the 1600s," he said. Although, it’s unclear what he could be doing next, he confirmed that it will be something more modern, “Moving forward, now — to London in the 1960s perhaps. Or at least something with guns," he teased. So, while the next season of Game of Thrones may be much further out than any of us care to admit to ourselves, hopefully seeing Harington in this historical role can hold fans over, for a bit — and it sounds like other new, exciting things are on the horizon.