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Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Two Sides to Every Story: The Gunpowder Plot

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Today I have the opportunity to welcome Tony Morgan, author of Remember, Remember the 6th of November to The Maiden's Court with a timely contribution to the Two Sides to Every Story series.  Today we are treated to a piece about the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.  I hope you will enjoy it - I certainly did!

Guy Fawkes – Terrorist or Freedom Fighter?

On November 5th in 1605 a major terrorist atrocity was prevented in England. If this had not happened, King James I would have been killed, his government devastated and the English Parliament destroyed. The modern world we live in would now be a different place.

In the UK, we celebrate the failure of this Gunpowder Plot every November 5th with fireworks. We call it Bonfire Night or Guy Fawkes Night but what was it about?

In 2015, I asked myself this question. The more I read, the more fascinated I became. The parallels with our own time were acute. For example, economic instability, religious persecution and government surveillance. I felt compelled to write. The outcome was the novel, REMEMBER, REMEMBER, THE 6TH OF NOVEMBER, a blend of historical novel, alternate history and contemporary thriller.

The most intriguing thing for me about 1605 was the men and women involved. My story focuses on these, including Robert Cecil and his lover Katherine of Suffolk, King James and Queen Anne of Denmark, Guy Fawkes, Isabella Fawkes and Robert Catesby. I asked myself could things have turned out differently?

This blog looks at one aspect of the story. Were Guy Fawkes, Robert Catesby and the other Gunpowder Plotters freedom fighters or terrorists? There is a strong argument for both points of view.

Guy Fawkes Blue Plaque
Photo credit: sgwarnog2010 via VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-SA

In 1605, the Scots Protestant King, James Stuart led a renewed clampdown on England’s Catholics, despite earlier promises to the contrary. At James’s side stood the man who’d engineered his route to the throne, Robert Cecil, the Earl of Salisbury, Secretary of State and Spymaster General. Cecil had led previous persecutions against the Catholics, on behalf of the last Tudor monarch, Queen Elizabeth I.

Elizabeth had reigned for 45 years. England was now a Protestant country. The minority Catholic population were fined, barred from holding high office and sometimes imprisoned or even executed. James came to the throne in 1603. Catholics believed he would adopt a more tolerant approach. Perhaps he would have but two failed Catholic led plots against him changed his mind. By 1605, his views had hardened.

The Catholic population were worried but most favoured peaceful sufferance over any action, fearing savage retribution. Most but not all. Charismatic Robert Catesby believed the only way forward was regime change. King James would have to die. Catesby developed a plan to assassinate James (and most likely his two sons), blow up the Opening of Parliament, kidnap the nine-year-old Princess Elizabeth, convert her to Catholicism and place her on the throne.

Over a number of months, Catesby developed a cell of a dozen or more conspirators, each committed to the cause. These included Yorkshireman Guy Fawkes, selected both for his military expertise and anonymity in London.

The plotters bought gunpowder, rented a house next to Parliament and an under-croft cellar beneath it. Secretly, they shipped thirty-six barrels filled with explosives across the Thames. Fawkes was chosen as the man to light the fuse and make his escape. When Parliament opened on 5th November, he would be ready, armed with a slow fuse.

But a week previously, Lord Monteagle, a man with Catholic sympathies and connected to several of the plotters, received an anonymous letter warning him not to attend. He’d handed this to Robert Cecil, who used the information. Or had Cecil, through his spies, known of the plot all along and written the letter? Security around Parliament was tightened. Fawkes and the gunpowder were discovered and he was tortured. Catesby and the others were killed or brought back to London for show trial and later hung, drawn and quartered. A number of priests who were not involved were also executed. Attitudes to, and actions against, the Catholic population hardened, as many had feared.

Were Guy Fawkes, Robert Catesby and the others brave freedom fighters, with no choice but to combat a system which persecuted them? They’d seen their families and friends fined, goods confiscated from them and worse. They’d been betrayed by a King who’d promised tolerance to smooth his route to the crown but practiced persecution when it was on his head. Equally, their Spanish allies had let them down, dropping overt support for their cause in favour of a trade deal with England. With no hope for change coming from internal or external forces and worse to come, what else could they do?

Or were they simply terrorists, men who refused to listen to the advice of senior Catholic priests who urged restraint and patience? They could have made a case for change, endured and waited or simply, as most had the means, left the country like many other Catholics to live in Spain, France, the Low Countries or Italy, or even in the new world of the Americas. They had choices but made the decision to kill.

It is possible to see both points of view. Perhaps the most damning thing against them is their method. By planning to destroy Parliament, they would have not only have killed the King and the key leaders of Catholic persecution but also many others. Catesby had looked into this and determined the death of innocents was acceptable, when the cause was just in the eyes of God and there were no practical alternative approaches. The priest who’d given him this information had been talking in the context of war though rather than a civic ceremony, packed with non-combatants.

In my book I tried to see the point of view from both sides and asked the question of whether there was a third way, one in which Robert Cecil, a Protestant man, and Katherine of Suffolk, a Catholic woman, both would have major parts to play. I hope you enjoy the results – Remember, Remember the 6th of November.

Tony and wall

Tony Morgan is a Welshman living in Yorkshire in the UK. He has taken a gap year off work to write and publish his debut novel, and write the first draft of a sequel.

The book is available as an e-book on Amazon, with all profits in 2016 being shared equally between Save the Children and a small local flood support charity.

Buy the Book: Amazon | Amazon UK

Cover Picture

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Book Blurb:

England in 1605 is a country concerned about Europe, terrorism and government surveillance – this may sound familiar.

King James is looking to drive a renewed clampdown on England's Catholics. In response, a small group of conspirators, led by charismatic Robert Catesby and Guy Fawkes, plan regime change. Their plans include blowing up Parliament, assassinating the King and kidnapping nine year old Princess Elizabeth.

Spymaster Robert Cecil and Katherine of Suffolk disagree with the King and the plotters. When Cecil receives an anonymous letter warning of an attack on Parliament, a race begins, featuring treachery, intrigue and torture, to find the author and prevent the country from lurching into all-out civil war.

The story is based upon the real life events of the Gunpowder Plot, mixed in with a number of twists along the way. Based upon reader requests, the book includes a handy What Really Happened appendix to allow readers to filter the fact from fiction after reading.


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