James Travers Gunpowder The Players Behind the Plot
Augusta Frazier The Gunpowder Plot: Terror and Faith in 1605,
|James Travers Gunpowder The Players Behind the Plot
Our opinion is that this is a very finely produced quality publication with great images especially of primairy documents. The work is a survey of primary information and is a good introduction. Its problem is that it does not present complete documents for example The King's Book and Papal Bulls. It is refreshingly free from debate of controversial points leaving that up to the mind of the reader. A good survey.
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The accession of James I to the English throne in 1603 raised the hopes of several of the various religious factions within the realm. On one hand, English Puritans hoped that James would be the Moses ready to deliver them to a godly paradise. On the other, English Catholics also saw reason for hope. James was the son of the Catholic martyr, Mary, Queen of Scots, and had expressed support for religious toleration.
James, however, dashed the hopes of both groups by proclaiming his steadfast allegiance toward moderation and the compromise embodied in the Thirty-Nine Articles. No serious reform in either direction would take place. Catholics, with perhaps the highest expectations, were the most disappointed. Moreover, the conclusion of a peace treaty with Spain in 1604 removed the possibility that they could be rescued from the throes of heresy by foreign intervention.
Believing that they were in desperate straits, a small band of disappointed Catholics resolved to deliver a master stroke by which their faith could be restored. Like modern Mafiosos who knew that if they eliminated one of their enemies, they must eliminate them all, they concocted a plan to blow up the king and members of both Houses of Parliament at the opening of the session in 1605. As the session neared, however, the plotters began to have reservations, among them the realization that the explosion would also kill Catholic peers. They decided to warn them ahead of time, but, to their dismay, the peers informed the government instead. The plotters were easily rounded up and in most cases died horribly for their indiscretion.
James Travers' book is not a conventional history of the plot, although one can learn most of what is known about it from reading it. Rather, Travers book is an interesting and nicely executed narrative experiment, where he treats the event as a high drama with a prologue and three acts, and pays particular attention to the roles and personalities of the leading figures. Another attractive feature of the book is that Travers' incorporates analysis of original documents and art work into his text. While the result will not reveal much that is not already known, the book is well-conceived, smoothly written, handsomely produced, and of particular interest to persons who are not specialists in the period.
Here is the entire text of a review of Antonia Fraser's new book The Gunpowder Plot: Terror and
Faith in 1605, found in the Daily Mail, Sunday, August 24, 1996, pg 32-33, entitled, "Traitor's plot that went up in smoke."
It's a peculiar thing, but the one date in British history we all remember is not that of a victory, such as the Armada, Trafalgar or Waterloo. It is the Fifth of November, the date of the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot and Treason.
Other countries send up fireworks to commemorate revolution or independence; we do it in honour of something that did not happen - the biggest planned act of terrorism in our history.
Guy Fawkes and his 36 barrels of gunpowder may sound small-scale by the standards of the Manchester Arndale Center and Canary Wharf explosions, but they would have been enough to send King James I, the Queen, the heir to the throne, Lords and Commons sky high and cause total breakdown in public order.
The plotter, of whom Guy Fawkes was by no means the leader, had vague intentions of putting the nine-year old Princess Elizabeth on the throne. With some Catholic nobleman as Regent, they would reinstate the Roman Catholic rite as the official religion of the land.
In spite of nearly four centuries of notoriety, many details of the 'Powder Treason', as it was then called, and how and why it was discovered, remain obscure. In Antonia Fraser's judicious and detailed new study, students of the plot will find every theory explored with case and common sence.
So was the King to blame? The newly arrived James I was, as he pointed out, the son of a Catholic, Mary Queen of Scots, and had married Anne of Denmark, who was a Catholic in private. Had he falsely encouraged Catholic hopes of future toleration and then betrayed them?
Several Jesuit fathers were hidden in the houses of the plotters' families and friends and acted as confessors. Some knew of the plot in advance. Did they actively encourage treason and, if not, why could they not prevent these devout Catholics from going ahead? Could the plot have been set up to cathc those Catholics and Jesuits hostile to James's succession?
It is impossible to answer such questions with certainty because the evidence is either missing or suspect. Some of the conspirators, including the hot-headed leader Robert Catesby, were killed before they could be interrogated. The remaining eight confessed under torture, though some of them later retracted.
There is an advantage in having the tale told from the Catholic point of view. Lady Antonia's view is steeped in the Catholic families of the time and the hardships they suffered under the laws that suppressed Roman Catholic practice.
Nevertheless, most of the Catholic gentry managed to construct a modus vivendi - saying Mass in private and conforming in public, enough to allow social acceptance. All that was to end with the discovery of the plot, which dealt a huge blow to the reputation- and to toleration- of Catholics for 200 years.
So, was it worth it? Could the plot possibly have succeeded? There is only one answer: it never stood a ghost of a chance.
The entire mad scheme was based on wildly wishful thinking. There was no Catholic party prepared to rise up at the signal. When the plotters came out of hiding in the Midlands, no one joined them.
Lady Antonia calls the conspirators 'brave, but misguided'. She might well have added 'reckless and wrong'. As terrorists who were prepared tto slaughter the innocent, they deserved to die - and most of them admitted it.
Buty she is at pains to show this was not true of the Jesuit, Father Henry Garnet, who maintained to the end that he had done his best to dissuade them.
Unlike the rest of the plotters, he died before he was cut down, drawn and quartered, thanks to the intervention of the crowd, which diverted the hangman while pulling on Garnet's legs.
When the 'traitor's heart' was cut out and help up, no one cheered. Unpopular as Jesuits were, here was one who died a holy death.
Such details speak to us across the centuries. For instance, when Fawkes's gunpowder was recovered, it was found to have seperated into its constituents. So even if he had survived to light the fuse, it probably wouldn't have exploded. Such are the ironies of history.
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