Faith and Treason: The Gunpowder Plot by Antonia Fraser


Audiobook.  After spending a several weeks in Reformation England with Hilary Mantel (Wolf Hall), I decided to move ahead to 1605 and acquaint myself with Guy Fawkes to learn why the British have bonfires with effigies of him on November 5.  It remains something of a mystery that it is Guy Fawkes, who came late to the conspiracy to blow up Parliament, kill the king and his family, and rise up against the anti-Catholic government whose name was given to this event.  Someone I never heard of, Robert Catesby, was, according to Antonia Fraser, the driving force behind this ill-conceived terrorist plot. 

The Catholics had reason to hope that the new king, who was preceded by the anti-Catholic Elizabeth, would be more tolerant.  In fact, as James VI in Scotland, he made noises in that direction.  When he became James I in England, he did suspend fees required of recusants for a year.  Recusants, by the way, are those who refuse to attend Anglican services.  For this and other reasons, Catholics became more open, and to James and others in power, appeared to grow in number which resulted in James' less tolerant approach. 

It's hard to imagine a more clumsy plot that would be less likely to succeed.  And the government made the most of this opportunity to attribute the plot to the Jesuits.  The Jesuit priests whose knowledge of the plot was gained through confession were thus bound not to reveal the little they did know.  They took every opportunity to oppose such a sinful (and foolish) undertaking for which ultimately they paid such a dear price.  

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