Monday, November 05, 2007

Gunpowder. Treason and Plot

One sometimes gets the feeling that, despite his horrific fate, Guido Fawkes actually won. There is so much anti-Protestant bigotry in the media at the moment that it has become a religious affiliation which dare not speak its name. No matter how reasoned, rational or historical the allusion, the very term has become synonymous with bigotry. Speaking of Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Stuart Reid in The Spectator writes:

What happened in the middle of the 16th century was that to satisfy his 'beastly lust' (William Cobbett) Henry VIII imported a foreign religion and nationalised the Church. His bastard daughter Elizabeth continued this work, persecuting the old religion - the religion that had been England's for a thousand years - and turning what until then had been known (by me at any rate) as Mary's Dowry into a land of thieves, pirates and bankers.

What a pity the Armada failed.

Psst: want some more of that Cobbet? Here you go:

"..... the "REFORMATION," as it is called, was engendered in beastly lust, brought forth in hypocrisy and perfidy, and cherished and fed by plunder, devastation, and by rivers of innocent English and Irish blood; and that, as to its more remote consequences, they are, some of them, now before as in that misery, that beggary, that nakedness, that hunger, that everlasting wrangling and spite, which now stare us in the face and stun our ears at every turn, and which the "Reformation" has given us in exchange for the ease and happiness and harmony and Christian charity, enjoyed so abundantly, and for so many ages, by our Catholic forefathers.'

‘What a pity the Armada failed’?! Cranmer accords with the following riposte:

A Spanish England would be as corrupt and authoritarian as Spain itself. In the 16th and 17th and 18th centuries who were the authoritarian states of Europe and who were the free ones? Catholic Spain and France contrasted with Protestant England and Holland. The Inquisition and expulsion of the Jews, compared to the cosmopolitan and (relatively) tolerant streets of London and Amsterdam. No Protestant England, what would have been with America and Canada? Replicas no doubt of tyrannical, despotic Latin America. Surely the Protestant Reformation, the fact that people stood up to authority and said ‘I will decide for myself!’ on how to read the scriptures and how to worship their God, surely that has some connection to the modern Democracy we enjoy today? None of this is to say Protestantism is ‘right’, but surely its establishment on British soil has something to do with making Britain the freest country in Europe. GOD SAVE THE QUEEN! (That includes BOTH Elizabeths),

Quite. If a Protestant were to dare to write in the terms of Mr Reid, there would doubtless be cries of bigotry. Thankfully, The Telegraph has a much more balanced view:

I would just like to say: it’s only a film! It’s not meant to be true to life. It’s meant to be entertaining… Some of the most successful – if not necessarily the best - historical films are packed full of fantastical inventions and anachronisms to make the plot more palatable – Ben Hur, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Gladiator, Bridge On the River Kwai, Anthony and Cleopatra, Brave Heart, Amadeus, Marie Antoinette, Shakespeare in Love… but they all put bums on cinema seats and, for the most part, kept their audience entertained for a couple of hours.

Everybody knows that a good villain, someone who you can boo and hiss at, often makes the movie. And in this case, the Catholics happened to be the most convenient candidates for the role.

But Dan Hannan MEP has the most insightful post on the enduring significance of today’s commemoration:

People were in no doubt that a way of life had been preserved: our monarchy, our representative government, the things that made us different from Continental despotisms. King James told relieved MPs that, had the plot been successful, “it should never have been spoken or written in ages succeeding that I had died ingloriously in an Ale-house, a Stews or such vile place, but that mine end should have been with the most honourable and best company, and in the most honourable and best place, for a king to be, doing the terms most proper to his office”.

The parliamentarians, delighted to find their sovereign and themselves in one piece, didn’t stop to wonder what His Majesty might have been doing in a tavern of a brothel. They cheered him lustily and voted him a generous subsidy.

What would they say, those brave, drunk, patriotic, quarrelsome MPs, if they could see their successor Parliament surrendering its prerogatives, not as the result of a successful terrorist attack nor a bloody insurrection, not following defeat in war or foreign occupation, but by its own votes? How reduced we are as a people.

And he concludes that today we should be burning the Treaty of Rome rather than its Bishop.

Cranmer is inclined to agree. He just wishes the Church of England would reconsider its via media fixation on this issue, and rediscover the significance of its own history.


Blogger El Draque said...

El Draque of course agrees with Cranmer's sentiments . . .

5 November 2007 at 09:04  
Blogger Homophobic said...

If Tony Blair was the closest we ever had to a Catholic Prime Minister then I'm all for burning Guido Fawkes. And I will dance screeching around the bonfire like a shadow devil.

5 November 2007 at 09:21  
Anonymous The recusant said...

You Grace looks to the glorious past of the reformation in England,

Well, Ireland--invaded, ethnically cleansed, murdered and persecuted mostly because it was Catholic-- might not join you in giving thanks. Neither would the English Catholic martyrs hung (and worse) at Tyburn.

Also English monarchs from Henry VIII onwards were no slouches in the corruption stakes, were they? Henry was a vicious tyrant and we have documents from his daughter anxiously asking if current methods of torture (against Catholics) were sufficient. That was Elizabeth or “Gloriana” (some glory,eh?). And they were both sanctified as heads of the Church of England.

I know English history is after all written from the vantage point of the Protestant establishment but, when writing the history of Catholics in England, English historians will highlight the 273 Protestant martyrs as well as iniquities of Spanish Inquisition, whilst omitting executions and mass murder at Glastonbury, Clerkenwell Green and Drogheda respectively. That the Spanish Inquisition took place in Spain, while the other three were much nearer to home doesn’t seem to figure much. Well, history is written by the winners, isn’t it?

From William Cobbett's book "A History of the Protestant Reformation in England and Ireland".

Cobbett says" the same Protestant historian {Strype} tells us that "she (Elizabeth} executed more than five hundred criminals in a year and was so little satisfied with that number that she threatened to send private persons to see her penal laws executed 'for profit and gain's sake'".
Cobbett further adds:-
"It may not be amiss, before I take my leave of this "good" creature, to observe that her "glories" consisted in having broken innumerable solemn having had a navy of having bartered the important town of Calais... and that as to her maiden virtues, Whittaker ( a Protestant clergyman, mind,) says that "her life was stained with gross licentiousness, and she had many gallants, while she called herself a maiden queen....but all mankind must agree that this was the worst woman that ever existed in England, or in the whole world. Jezebel herself not excepted"

In balance note that the navy such as it was that defeated the Armada was manned almost exclusively by Catholic seamen and came under the command of a Catholic, Lord Howard of Effingham (later Earl of Nottingham). This was the same Navy that Elizabeth deliberately kept at sea so she didn't have to pay them off and over 50% died of decease before being allowed back into port. On the other hand the Protestant John Hawkins of Plymouth is widely acknowledged to be the pioneer of the English slave trade along with those other Elizabethan favourites Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh, who funnily enough was also executed for a plot on same Kings life that Fawks was executed for, James 1. So the question is why don't we have a Walter Raleigh bonfire night?

God save Queen Elizabeth II.

5 November 2007 at 10:46  
Anonymous Michael Canaris said...

In the massacre stakes, both England and Spain got off rather lightly compared with France and the Holy Roman Empire, where the wars of religion lay many areas to ruin and saw quite a few Huguenots expelled.

Moreover, those Romanists who have a soft spot for Mr Fawkes ought reflect that, were his fiendish plot "successful", the backlash against their innocent co-religionists in its aftermath would probably have been far worse than occurred in our timeline.

5 November 2007 at 11:17  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank God for the Reformation.
Carried out by flawed men and women certainly, a mixture of base politics and religious devotion certainly, but it broke England away from the Romish superstition.
God Save The Queen.

5 November 2007 at 11:46  
Blogger Little Black Sambo said...

If you don't die of decease, what else might you die of?

5 November 2007 at 12:51  
Anonymous the recusant said...

MMr Michael Canaris -

Its Americanised but if you want the story of the Gunpowder Plot go
Robert Cecil(the younger)/Vicomte Cranborn/Lord Salisbury is your man.

5 November 2007 at 13:28  
Anonymous the recusant said...


5 November 2007 at 13:30  
Anonymous the recusant said...

Bugger, Bugger,

I'll be glad when this days over.

5 November 2007 at 13:33  
Anonymous Michael Canaris said...

Mr Recusant, apropos your final link:

---...we are joined by one of the great experts in history and one of the top historians world wide, the author of 9/11 Synthetic Terror and the Unauthorized Biography of George Bush... --- (Emphasis mine)

With all due respect, something seems a tad alarmist there.

5 November 2007 at 14:27  
Anonymous the recusant said...

Mr Michael Canaris,

More haste less speed, sorry for the muddle earlier I was short on time, 2/10 for effort. To your response, yes I know about the Bush nonsense that’s why I previously said it’s a bit Americanised but the point I wanted to make was the involvement of the Cecils in the enforcement of the new Tudor protestant ascendancy and this article (however stylised for its market) gets the key points.

First it identifies the interests and relationships of the plotters, it draws together their dependence on Celil for their survival, not that it did them any good. Secondly it shows a history of similar plots previously hatched by Cecil and rightly in my view draws parallel to a Tudor police state. Thirdly it show just how incompetent the plotters were and I ask myself is it possible that they got so far without the state knowing their intentions, possibly but unlikely especially as they were paranoid about Catholic plots, real and imagined. Finally the point about the Daily Telegraph and gun power that was to all intent useless, gunpowder was stricktly controlled in Tudor times, it was only made in the UK in York and London and was very closely guarded so how were they so easily able to get 36 barrels of the stuff. Fawkes was clearly a scapegoat, the players were Catesby, Winter and Percy who fled to Holbeach House in Staffordshire and can you believe it, they blew themselves up drying gunpowder in front of a fire that had got wet during escape. From this and other pieces I have read in the past I maintain the Gunpowder plot was a set up, it was real but there was never any danger to the King or his Lords and it served it purpose so well Cecil became lord Salisbury.

5 November 2007 at 18:43  
Blogger sarónico said...

Blog de Pio Moa:


En Años de hierro se me planteó la cuestión de la trascendencia internacional de la neutralidad española. Churchill reconoció en varias ocasiones el gran valor que había tenido para su país la permanencia de España al margen del conflicto mundial, tema tratado a menudo por los historiadores, aunque rara vez a fondo. Pero hay otro aspecto clave nunca mencionado, que yo sepa: la ventaja de la estabilidad española, al terminar el conflicto europeo, para el plan anglosajón de asentar democracias en la Europa occidental.

Suelen olvidarse, en efecto, las arduas condiciones de aquel proyecto: multitudes hambrientas, estancamiento económico, extraordinario prestigio popular de la Unión Soviética y de Stalin, milicias comunistas armadas… En Italia y en Francia la guerra mundial se había desdoblado en sendas guerras civiles, cuyas brasas podían dar lugar a nuevas llamaradas, como ocurría ya en Grecia, donde recomenzaba una guerra intestina larga y costosa. Allí tuvo que intervenir Inglaterra, y poco después Usa, ante el agotramiento económico inglés.

Una situación pareja a la griega en España habría echado por tierra la estabilización democrática de Europa occidental. De Gaulle lo vio con claridad: “Una guerra civil en España es la guerra civil en Francia”. Por entonces no existían en nuestro país fuerzas democráticas, ni en el franquismo ni en la oposición, y la estabilidad interna de la nación, y con ella de Francia e Italia, solo podía ser garantizada por el franquismo, como efectivamente ocurrió. Pese a lo cual tanto el gobierno useño como el inglés se dedicaron durante años a hostigar a dicho régimen y a promover aventuras que habrían terminado desastrosamente para ambos.

5 November 2007 at 19:53  
Blogger Cranmer said...


5 November 2007 at 20:01  
Anonymous John Fisher said...


I was spluttering somewhat after watching the latest 'Elizabeth', murmuring to myself imprecations about gross anti-Catholicism - but then it was just Hollywood tosh after all ...

I think your claims about anti-Protestantism are just as hasty. In their ignorance today's media types like to use caricatures of the Church (and the other ecclesial communities) to illustrate their sloppy analyses of all sorts of issues. Its trite to say so but I think its actually 'anti-Christianism' that's more prevalent.

Anyway, some of your communicants may be interested in this link as an indication of what might have been - Mr Recusant may become positively wistfuul ...

5 November 2007 at 20:10  
Anonymous Stephen Gash said...

It's a pity Elizabeth allowed the Scotch Stuarts access to the English thrown. As Guy Fawkes said, his intention was to "blow all the Scottish beggars here present back to your mountains". That was his real aim. The Catholic dimension is an early example of media "spin" - a four-letter word meaning deceit (where the four-letter word "lies" makes a better job of it).

5 November 2007 at 23:55  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From David Lonsdale.

Rome was not beaten in Britain or Northern Europe by war and persecutiuon waged by Protestants. Roman heresies were defeated by the spread of the word of God through its translation into the vernacular by heroic men like Tyndale. Once the truth was out, Rome could not get it back into the bottle.
I am married into a Catholic family. When I go to the in-laws I take my Bible, on the off chance that a topic of conversation may arise requiring a Bible verse for enlightenment. I have noticed that my wife's father has become increasingly interested in what the Bible says, as opposed to what the Pope says. My mother-in-law is still immersed in the worship of Mary and Padre Pio, but it is interesting to note that when Catholics open their eyes to the scriptures, the scales start to fall from their eyes.

6 November 2007 at 07:08  
Anonymous penlan said...

Well said,Mr Lonsdale.My best friend is devout Catholic and attends Mass twice weekly.I attend very rarely but my Welsh Chapel and Sunday School upbringing of forty years ago means my knowledge of the Bible remains tenfold his,to our joint embarrassment/amusement.

8 November 2007 at 19:54  
Anonymous Moomintroll said...

Your Grace, I have done a translation of sarinico's entry. As I am not a Spanish speaker I used, hence the rather strange appearance. I completely fail to see its relevance. Incidently, speaking for myself I am a wholehearted supporter of the Elizabethan settlement, and so thank God for the defeat of the Armada.

In Years of iron the question of the international importance of the Spanish neutrality considered to me. Churchill recognised in several occasions the great value that had had for its country the permanence from Spain to the margin of the world-wide conflict, subject treated often by the historians, although rarely thoroughly. But there is another key aspect never mentioned, that I know: the advantage of the Spanish stability, when finishing the European conflict, for the Anglo-Saxon plan to seat democracies in western Europe. Usually they forget, indeed, the arduous conditions of that one project: hungry multitudes, economic stagnation, extraordinary popular prestige of the Soviet Union and Stalin, armed communist militias… In Italy and France the world war had unfolded in individual civil wars, whose live coals could give rise to new blazes, as it happened already in Greece, where it recommenced a long and expensive internal war. There it had to take part England, and shortly after the USA, before the English economic agotramiento.An even situation to the Greek in Spain would have ruined the democratic stabilisation of western Europe. It saw it to De Gaulle with clarity: “A civil war in Spain is the civil war in France”. At that time democratic forces existed in our country, neither in the Francoism nor in the opposition, and the internal stability of the nation, and with her of France and Italy, it only could be guaranteed by the Francoism, as indeed it happened. In spite of which as much the government useño as the English was dedicated during years to harass to this regime and to promote adventures that would have finished disastrously for both.

11 November 2007 at 00:55  
Blogger Cranmer said...

Bless you for your pains.

11 November 2007 at 11:42  

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