Friday, November 5, 2010

November 5, 1605 – Fawkes Ignites Gunpowder Demonstration

With the end of Elizabeth's reign as the Virgin Queen without an heir, James VI of Scotland was given the throne of England. Along with the change of ruler, the policies of the nation would change, specifically Elizabeth's noted religious toleration. James I, as he would be known in England, was staunchly Protestant and planned to establish renewed restrictions on Catholics. Sir Robert Catesby, a prominent recusant Catholic who had taken part in the botched Essex Rebellion of 1601, decided on violent revolt once more to overthrow James.

Among Catesby's cohorts was a soldier named Guy Fawkes who had served nearly a decade fighting in Europe. “Guido,” as was the Italian version of his name that he sometimes took, was a staunch Catholic after converting to follow his step-father. He fought in the Eighty Years' War as a mercenary for Spain against the Dutch and French. In 1603, after several honors for bravery and fighting skill, Fawkes was recommended as a captain. With his new rank, he headed to Spain to call for support from Philip III for a Catholic rebellion in England to overthrow the new Scot king. Philip refused, and Fawkes went to England unsupported for his own revolution.

In England, Fawkes fell in with Catesby's crew. As early as May of 1604, they planned to blow up Parliament with gunpowder, cutting the head from the snake and allowing the Catholic leaders of the nation, such as Catesby, to assume command. Fawkes, being the most knowledgeable in the ways of war, was to man the explosives. The conspirators made an attempt at digging a tunnel, but serendipity ended the action when they learned an undercroft beneath the House of Lords was being cleared out. Securing the lease, the men stored the gunpowder and waited for the opening of Parliament, delayed by plague until November 5.

During July, Fawkes chanced to meet an old school friend that had now become a Jesuit priest, Oswald Tesimond. The priest noted that Fawkes had maintained his cheerful manner, but that he now seemed too eager to turn to quarrels and strife. The wars in Europe had changed him, though not his loyalties. Fawkes took Tesimond into his confidence and confessed his plot to kill so many. Normally Tesimond would have followed typical recognition of man's will, but he became agitated and disgusted with Fawkes' new being. He asked Fawkes what good such wars had done in the Netherlands, where the soldier had seen so much innocent blood shed without abolition of the revolt. The brutal days of trading between Henry VIII's Anglican church and Mary's Catholicism were still fresh. Tesimond asked him to imagine Fawkes' native Yorkshire under the same brutality that had reigned on the Continent.

The image frightened Fawkes, and the confession changed him. Tesimond pronounced forgiveness even to the point he would not mention the affair to his superior, Father Henry Garnet, until that autumn. When Fawkes returned to Catesby, he began to demand a new strategy for the conspiracy. Instead of killing, he said that the power of the Catholics simply needed to be recognized. After accusations of cowardice and resulting fist-thrown duels to prove he was not, Fawkes took charge with a new scheme.

On November 5, 1605, a barge in the Thames erupted with a massive explosion of gunpowder. Following the blast, fireworks sprung out of the smoke into the sky over London. Parliament was interrupted while going through its ceremony of opening by James, and attention turned toward a solemn, peaceful, though armed, parade of Catholics approached led by Tesimond and Garnet. They waited outside of Parliament until invited to speak, and Catesby read a speech from a written letter signed, “Catholics of Englande.”

Impressed by the bravado of the demonstration as well as the obvious power the demonstrators held, James recognized the significance of Catholics to his new kingdom. He would broker a political balance, focusing on unifying forces rather than rooting out potential dissidents. In his 1611 translation of the Bible to clarify troubling translations by Puritans, James would include several Catholic priests.

Since the enforced religious harmony of the early 1600s, uprisings would be primarily political, as in the Roundhead Revolution to establish a constitution for both monarch and Parliament to follow, penned in part by reformist Sir Oliver Cromwell.

In reality, Fawkes was a champion for the military overthrow of the Protestant King James. The Gunpowder Treason Plot would be discovered on October 26 in an anonymous letter and a search conducted. In the wee hours of November 5, just before Parliament was to be opened, Guy Fawkes would be discovered with 36 barrels of gunpowder, more than enough explosives to destroy the whole area. Fawkes was caught and interrogated through torture, and he endured much before breaking. The rest of the plotters, including the arguably inactive members of Fathers Garnet and Tesimond, were captured, tried, and executed for treason. In the wake of relief and renewed loyalty for the King and Parliament, harsh new restrictions were placed upon English Catholics.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Site Meter