Monday, 5 November 2012

Was Guy Fawkes set up?

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Please to remember
Fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.

Tonight is Bonfire Night or Guy Fawkes Night in England. It is the day when English fathers try their best to set off fireworks in back gardens, to celebrate the foiling of the Catholic plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament during the State Opening in 1605, a story which my generation knows from the admirable Ladybird Adventures from History series. Bonfires are lit and 'guys' (from Guy Fawkes, the leader of the plot) are burnt.

Actually, this is not quite true - more and more, because of omnipresent health and safety concerns, private fireworks are discouraged by the anxious British state. Its anti-Catholic meaning also sits uncomfortably with the syncretic and relativist spirit of our age. Hallowe'en, its religious meaning forgotten, is much more congenial to opinion formers, but even children going knocking on neighbours' doors has its dangers. One sometimes feels that the British government would really like its subjects to stay at home in the evenings and watch propaganda on television.


I once met Fr. Francis Edwards, a lovely old Jesuit, who wrote a book suggesting, on circumstantial evidence, that the Gunpowder Plot was laid by Cecil, not by the Catholics, and that half of the 'plotters' were employed by Cecil and promised that they would be set free unharmed. Instead, they were all hanged, drawn and quartered. 
Fr. Edwards' ideas are summarised here.

File:Gunpowder Plot conspirators.jpg

This part is chilling:

Cecil promised the conspirators they would be allowed to escape or pardoned and then broke his promise. How could he convince Catesby and co they would not be executed? There was the precedent of the “Main Plot” three years previously. The conspirators in that had reached the scaffold and were kneeling in the straw and about to put their heads on the block when a royal messenger with the king’s pardon dramatically revealed himself. Cecil could have assured the gunpowder conspirators that the same thing would happen to them.

....The other conspirators were lodged in the Tower in exceptionally comfortable conditions, which was odd, because they were supposed to be murderers and traitors of the worst kind. They had plentiful food and drink and were allowed an unlimited supply of tobacco, which was then a luxury. At their trial in Westminster Hall they looked nonchalant and unconcerned. They attempted neither to justify their conspiracy nor to beg for mercy. Such conduct is compatible with the notion that they regarded the trial as just a formality and thought they were secure from execution. Their high living must have increased their sense of security. One can imagine them going to the scaffold with the same unconcern. Until almost the last, they would have assumed they were all right.


The Church of England hierarchy in those times were men of a different stamp from the bishops of our own day, who read The Guardian in the Athenaeum and talk about global warming:


A special committee, including Anglican bishops, was set up to try to devise an especially horrible and painful form of execution to fit the nature of the crime. But the members are unable to think up anything suitable and settle for the conventional hanging, drawing and quartering.

As Evelyn Waugh said, talking about the horrible martyrdom of St. Edmund Campion, the Church of England still had some way to go before it became the institution described in the novels of Anthony Trollope. 



21 comments:

  1. To late for an appeal!

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  2. Hung, drawn and quartered. Perhaps the same could be offered to those convicted of treason today with the addition of television or would this be PPV? A fitting end for their perfidity. Not so. The convicted traitor Omar Khadr is allowed to sue the Canadian government for ten million dollars because his 'civil rights' were violated while in American custody! Indeed, the world is unside down!

    I look forward to more about the Gunpowder Plot!

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  3. Guy wasn't framed in spite of this interesting and well-wriiten blog. IMO he was an agent of the Vatican sent to wipe out Protestantism in England and in its place impose an unwanted religion - in other words carry out what that hairshirted fanatic Philip II and his mighty Armada woefully failed to achieve

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    1. And if you believe that, you can also argue that Joe Stalin was framed.

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    2. There are people who think that way on Stalin. Eg. North Koreans.

      But there are still Russians who think the opposition was a real danger to Russia under stalin.

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  4. Weren't the conspirators finally captured in a house near the coast, from which they were trying to escape to France?
    I didn't know about Fawkes jumping off the scaffold. Good for him. Somewhere in this interest group someone said that his York school doesn't celebrate bonfire night because "we don't burn old boys." An indication of the somewhat ambivalent feelings that have always been in the north from what I hear.

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  5. according to John Scarisbrick he was. But thn JS is a Catholic so perhaps not completely impartial in these matters.

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  6. I wouldn't at all be surprised if he was. This was just the conspiracy that King James and Robert Cecil needed.

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  7. He was guilty as scarlet. Apparently, he was considered to be a bit whacky for local Recusants who tried to stay away from him.

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  8. Cecil was indeed a monster, and the thing about the Plot that has always bothered me was its apparent lack of an end narrative. So you have blown up the king of Scotland, Parliament, the chief judges, the Anglican bishops and a good part of London. What do you do then? Are you waiting for an army from Spanish Flanders? For a recusant nationwide insurrection? An Irish revolt? I can't see how the plotters, if they were such, ever intended to RULE the country they were supposed to be plotting for.

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  9. He definitely soured Viscount Montagu (a notable Recusant who was working to return England to Rome.) That Fawkes was a patsy seems to be understood by most, though just whose patsy is debatable (it depends on whom Hugh Owen was really working 'for', or even if Fawkes was the weapon targeting Hugh Owen as well...)

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  10. Dear Paul, until reading your blog I have reached the age I am with NO IDEA that Guy Fawkes was a catholic. Remembering, remembering the 5th of November has NOTHING WHATEVER TO DO WITH RELIGION but simply marks a failed attempt to wipe out the government - in modern day parlance - an act or terrorism. And 5th November is still marked here in the traditional way, with bonfires and badly baked potatoes in the back garden, although not quite so many people blowing off their thumbs as Neil's friend did! Love n hugs, Geraldine

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  11. Feast of All Holy Relics in my book....

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  12. I am Irish and Protestant and the one place you would expect Guy Fawkes' Night with its religious overtones to be celebrated would be Northern Ireland but no we went for Halloween, maybe because of the Celtic links or maybe because we have enough bonfires at other times of the year.

    Halloween has become a marketing exercise to 'fill in' the gap between the end of Summer and Christmas. Likewise Valentine's Day between Christmas and Easter. We visited France a couple of year's ago in October and were amazed how the shops were all decked out out in orange and black. The same is true now in Britain with flowers, cakes and sweets sold in those colours at this time of year.

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  13. I am from the U.S. and those of us who did pay attention in history class learned about Guy Fawkes. Naturally, we do not celebrate Guy Fawkes night because it is not a part of our national history.

    Please pardon and indulge me, as I move slightly off topic. Now, Halloween may have become commercialized, but so has Christmas and Easter. In the U.S. one can even find orange and black Halloween trees that are decorated like Christmas trees! All traditions do not die. Most change over time because they are part of culture and it is a natural progression brought about by change in society. The indigenous groups such as the Maya of 14th century did not engage in exactly the same customs and traditions of their ancestors who lived in the 9th century. The same could be said for most cultures around the world.

    There are early photos of simple, handmade costumes in the U.S. and believe me, some of those costumes are creepier than any seen today! They certainly served their purpose.When my parents were children, there was Beggar's night, which is a tradition that can be traced to many ancient cultures.

    I was raised a Protestant and we had Halloween parties at our church. Our pastor would tell us that Halloween was the night that the demons emerged from hell, but that was okay because the gates of hell slammed shut at midnight on account of All Saints Day.

    Yet, Halloween continues to mutate, spread and change in meaning and practice. For example, some parts of Mexico have adopted the custom and added it to los dias de los muertos (days of the dead) festivities. It is actually rather fitting when you consider Halloween was once thought of as a night when the veil between the living and dead was at its thinnest. Some not only left food out to appease the evil demons, but they also left food out as an offering to their deceased loved ones, much the same as is done on los dias de los muertos.

    The early Church was very adept at syncretism, where the holy festivals and observances were meshed with local folk traditions. This is what made the Roman Catholic church so successful.

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    1. Americans at one time celebrated Guy Fawkes. Protestantism after all is the core of the American identity and it would have been odd had they not. I found this: http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/washington-condemns-guy-fawkes-festivities

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  14. I was always under the impression that a type of Guy Fawkes celebration also happened before the gunpowder plot, and they had hijacked that ceremony that might have dated back to a "Wicker man" like ritual. Thomas Hardy alludes to this in his book the Return of the Native:
    "It was as if these men and boys had suddenly dived into past ages, and fetched therefrom an hour and deed which had before been familiar with this spot. The ashes of the original British pyre which blazed from that summit lay fresh and undisturbed in the barrow beneath their tread. The flames from funeral piles long ago kindled there had shone down upon the lowlands as these were shining now. Festival fires to Thor and Woden had followed on the same ground and duly had their day. Indeed, it is pretty well known that such blazes as this the heathmen were now enjoying are rather the lineal descendants from jumbled Druidical rites and Saxon ceremonies than the invention of popular feeling about Gunpowder Plot."

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  15. If Guy Fawkes had succeeded in blowing King James to bits. James would not have lived to institute the Plantation of Ulster. Without a Unionist population thus in place, Ireland could have been spared a good deal of bloodshed.

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    1. Wishful thinking! Someone would have had to transplant the troublesome lowland Scots and Border Reivers into the most troublesome province of Ulster! The 'British' perspective, whether Protestant or Catholic, would not have changed. The plantations in Offaly and Laois were founded by the Catholic Queen Mary and had been preceded by similar attempts in Munster. The English/British were intent on subjugating the native Irish irrespective of religion.

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  16. And how about those protestors wearing "Guy Fawkes" masks? Just how much of a radical socialist was Guy Fawkes? Did the concept of socialism even exist in Fawkes's time? It was a bit early even for the Diggers and Levellers.

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