Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Gunpowder, Treason and Plot

Apart from Guy Fawkes, do you know the names of the eight Gun Powder Plotters? Not many people do, but its Fawkes who is synonymous with the events of 1605. Fawkes was a mercenary, a hit man, brought in to do a job and if wasn't for a letter, no one know's who sent it, we would never have heard of him. Instead Fawkes has come to represent anarchy and is the byword for the overthrowment of government. Today, as a nation, we celebrate the discovery of the plot with fireworks and a bonfire and in days gone by with a effigy of a 'Guy' on top. This ritual has passed into history as unpleasant entertainment which was representative of the barbaric practices of our ancestors.

On the 26th October 1605 William Parker, Lord Monteagle received a letter from an anonymous source warning him not to attend parliament when it resumed in the next few days. The letter, with reference to the government stated

       My lord, out of the love I bear to some of your friends, I have a care of your preservation, therefore 
I would advise you as you tender your life to devise some excuse to shift your attendance at this 
parliament, for God and man have concurred to punish the wickedness of this time, and think not 
slightly of this advertisement, but retire yourself into your country, where you may expect the event 
in safety, for though there be no appearance of any stir, yet I say they shall receive a terrible blow 
this parliament and yet they shall not see who hurts them, this counsel is not to be condemned 
because it may do you good and can do you no harm, for the danger is past as soon as you have 
burnt the letter and I hope God will give you the grace to make good use of it, to whose holy 
protection I commend you

Transcript of Letter to Lord Monteagle
26 October 1605

 Monteagle left his home and passed this letter to the secretary of state Robert Cecil, who in searching the cellars under the Palace of Westminster found evidence to the truth of the letter in the form of thirty six barrels of gunpowder, and hiding among the barrels was one Guy Fawkes.

By the end of the sixteenth century many followers of the Catholic faith had faced persecution but had looked forward to a brighter future when King James I took the throne of England. James had promised that there would be a greater tolerance and true to his word, after his coronation in 1603, he kept his promise and restrictions on Catholicism were lifted. Almost immediately after the changes took place the king had pressure placed on him by many of the Protestant faith and he soon performed a U-turn.

Angered by this, a group of men, headed by Robert Catesby, a descendant of Sir William Catesby, royal councillor and loyal friend of Richard III, plotted to blow up parliament and the king. These eight men rented a cellar below the Palace of Westminster and filled it with gunpowder, ready for the state opening of parliament on the fifth. They had previously approached Guy Fawkes who was "a man highly skilled in matters of war" and therefore an 'expert' with explosives. The plotters plan ran smoothly, but they knew nothing of what has come to be known as the Monteagle Letter, it was this small note that was their undoing. Fawkes was arrested and through torture gave the names of his fellow conspirators  These men whereabouts were discovered, two of the men had fled, one gave himself up but the rest, including Catesby stood their ground against the kings forces at Holbeche House in Staffordshire. The trial of eight of the plotters began on 27 January 1606. Four days later , Fawkes, Thomas Wintour, Ambrose Rookwood and Robert Keyes  were drawn from the Tower to the Old Palace Yard at Westminster where Fawkes watched as his fellow plotters were then hung and quartered. Despite what is usually thought Guy Fawkes did not receive the same fate, before they were able to tie the noose around his neck, Fawkes managed to jump from the gallows and broke his neck in the fall. His body was quartered and distributed to 'the four corners of the kingdom' to be placed on display.

What would have happened if this plan had come to fruition? Would there have been, as we have seen in times past, an under aged king on the throne and a protector appointed or would there have been a civil war with the followers of the Protestant and Catholic religions fighting it out on the battle field.

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