Remember, remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason, why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.
Book: Faith and Treason by Antonia Fraser
Publisher: First Anchor Books
Publication date: 1996
Summary: On the fifth of November, 1605, a plot was dramatically foiled by the discovery of barrels of gunpowder under the House of Parliament, poised to blow up parliament members and the royal family during the opening session. Guy Fawkes, whose name is synonymous with the plot was, in fact, not the mastermind, but merely the fellow who was closest to the gunpowder at the moment of discovery.
Faith and Treason, like all good stories featuring a king, begins with the death of the previous ruler. In this case, that was Queen Elizabeth. Her death brought to an end the era of Tudor rule in England. Her successor, although not the only candidate, was King James VI of Scotland who became King James I of England. Queen Elizabeth had not treated Catholics well, especially at the end of her reign. There was much hope that King James, while Protestant, would prove to be more tolerant of the Catholics in his realm.
Catholics believed that promises had been made and were sorely disappointed when the expected acceptance didn’t materialize. The plotters, led by charismatic Robert Gatesby, conceived of a violent end to the rule of King James and the hated Parliamentarians who passed ever more oppressive laws.
Thoughts: I knew very little about Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot. If I ever knew that this was one of the Catholic versus Protestant confrontations of Reformation Europe, I’d forgotten it.
I didn’t know, before reading this book, that there was a parallel kidnapping plot. Nine-year-old Princess Elizabeth was to be kidnapped at her country home after the death of the rest of the royal family in London. Under the control of the Catholic plotters, she would be placed on the throne as a figurehead.
I also didn’t know that the Gunpowder Plot and its investigation was used as an excuse to round up other men, particularly Jesuit priests, who were innocent of the crime but falsely implicated because that suited the purposes of the government.
This is a history book, obviously, and one in a time period that I’ve rarely studied. Although, for literature lovers, it’s helpful to know that Shakespeare was alive and writing at this time and used the Gunpowder Plot as inspiration for parts of Macbeth.
Faith and Treason is also a true crime book. As I mentioned last year in my review of Death in the City of Light by David King, I don’t seem to have the brain for true crime — losing track of the details carefully introduced in the early part of the book before they become significant later in the story. It helped my understanding, a little, that after my recent trip to England, I’m familiar with the geography. In London, in particular, knowing the relative positions of The Tower of London, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and Westminster helped orient me.
Appeal: Faith and Treason by Antonia Fraser fit naturally into my reading of books about England this year — more scholarly than many of my other selections, but that made the challenge of understanding it all the more rewarding.
I will also link this to British Isles Friday this week.
What do you know about the events of 1605?