Following the Gunpowder plot I suggest that the factor of terror introduced a greater concern for government into the equation with power sharing to be enforced by the power of the purse and effective government. The regional and local concerns of individual nobles was replaced by the wider concerns of national interest.
When power sharing promised by James was not forthcoming, the Catholic would-be warlords realized that they needed to clear the field of both the king and all of the other contenders for regional power in parliament. Elaborate plans were made to capture, so as to dominate the rightful successors to the throne, to get that power flowing toward them once again. Foreign monarchs had rejected their cause. They were forced to re-constitute the power structure internally, to their advantage. They chose, however, a new and untried plan. Never before had the entire power system and value structure been attacked at once. Never had gunpowder been involved. The man in the street, whose mind was still occupied with the contemplation of the sin of regicide via Shakespeare's Macbeth, thought, "What would god think and do to a nation which had almost allowed so many divines to be killed at once? Would the chaos bring down the very roof over his or her head? Would it end the empowerment brought by the state to merchant and to a certain extent to peasant as well? Their actions signaled the beginning of the end of Elizabethan court politics.
Even without an explosion, that feeling was let loose by the Gunpowder plotters for the first time. The consequences of the act became therefore much greater than the values of estates and treasure forfeited, rights lost to future generations and the lives lost to torturous execution. Gone was a trust in the divines and the march was on toward an insistence upon accountability of the ruler and the necessity of the provision of government in exchange for power.
When London awoke in the early hours of November 5 1605, it was to an alarm the likes of which had never been heard. Real devils of the "devilish Pope" had threatened to bring chaos to government and to the world as the English knew it. The conspirators had employed the most destructive technology possible, the atom bomb of its day, gunpowder. What was the world coming to?
The conspirators knew that they risked the ultimate wrath of the people. They risked the cruelest punishment ever devised by man, being dragged head down behind a horse through the streets, hanging until only half dead, disemboweling while still alive, quartering while still twitching and being dipped piece by piece in hot tar. All conducted as a public spectacle.
Execution of Plotters
With the terror was born on the 5th of November 1605 the persona of the Freedom Fighter. While Europe had seen the crusades with men going to war for god and the divine king, the bold liberator was a more novel figure. It did not take a super hero. Ordinary people could place the world upon the brink of chaos. One can not help but admire the plotters for their determination and daring and possibly even bravery. Our ability to touch off that gunpowder today still remains very real. So real that it has become the supporting foundation for our Democratic state and the principal behind the right to bear arms and be ready to confront tyranny with "people power" and violence. The terror born in 1605 is the deterrent which has given the man in the street freedom from tyranny. However, it has also given him a new access to chaos and has demonstrated to us all in recent years that the common man with a bomb is no more perfect than the divine absolute ruler or noble of 1605.
There had been plots before, but this one was different. It did not merely threaten a king, or a group of nobles. It brought terror to everyday lives and to the streets of the capital. It seemed as if demons had been let loose.
Let us explore some of the earlier rebellions. We will see how rebellion had become a fact of life for England and how the Gunpowder plot represents not a new development, but the full blown development of the state as constructed by Elizabeth.
Durst, Paul. Intended Treason, W. H. Allen, London, 1970.
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