November 5: “The Joyful Day of Deliverance”

History is a repository of interesting people and customs.  In Great Britain November 5 marks a historical near event—the Gunpowder Plot.

In 1605 a group of Catholic conspirators plotted to blow up Parliament and assassinate King James I of the King James Bible fame.  36 barrels of gunpowder, a slow match and Guy Fawkes were the right lethal ingredients.

Guy Fawkes

What led to this treasonous plot?  The primary firebrand to this incendiary plan was how Catholics were treated in England. Catholics could not openly practice their religion and if they did not attend a Protestant church on Sunday they faced fines and imprisonment.  Things were bad under Elizabeth I, but under King James I Catholic oppression became more stringent.

A group of Catholics organized to deal with the persecution.  The conspirators were Robert Catesby, Guy Fawkes, Thomas Bates, Thomas Percy, Ambrose Rookwood, Hugh Owen, John Grant, Robert Keyes, Francis Tresham, Eveard Digby, Thomas Wintour, Robert Wintour, John Wright, and Christopher Wright.

Their infamous plan was simple: when King James I opened Parliament Guy Fawkes would light the fuse of the 36 barrels of gunpowder under the House of Lords.  They hoped to install a Catholic on the throne.

The devout Guy Fawkes was captured.  King James I ordered Fawkes interrogated in the Tower of London.  The King allowed torture to be used which was contrary to English Law, but the King and his advisors felt that they needed to root out this cancerous sore by whatever means.

It is not known what was used on Fawkes, but after a period of time he named his fellow conspirators.  They were hunted down and either killed or arrested.

On Friday, January 31, 1606 at Westminster’s Old Palace Yard, Fawkes with Robert Keyes, Thomas Wintour, and Ambrose Rookwood were “hanged, drawn and quartered”.  Fawkes, weakened and sick from torture, had to be helped to the gallows.  He was the last one of the four to be hanged.

Upon on his death the crowd roared and cheered.  The quintessential devil was dead, and the nation was safe from those “evil Jesuits”, the secret arm of the Roman Catholic Church. So the King’s men heralded throughout the land.

There are many who believe this was a plot devised and executed by Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury and chief minister to the King.  Robert Cecil had a passionate hatred for Catholics and was fearful that King James I might relax restrictions on Catholic worship.  Cecil and his cohorts set up Fawkes and the others.

Like all conspiracy theories there might be a strand of truth in the belief about Cecil.  However, history has shown when certain segments of the population are oppressed; there are usually those who will seek to right the wrongs.

In 2011 the world has many oppressed people.  Most of these wretched souls endure hardships and violence beyond what we can imagine.

We have seen people rise up and topple entrenched governments which seemed unshakeable just a year ago.  The oppressed routed the oppressor.

Are there conspiracies in the core of global governments? Reality would suggest this to be the case.

This is why people must always be diligent in a democracy.  One’s individual rights are only guaranteed if one makes sure they are not abrogated by those in power.

“Modern liberty rests upon three pillars. They are representative democracy; economic freedom; and the rule of law. The foundation for all three is the acceptance by the members of our societies of a sense of common obligation.” Margaret Thatcher


G. D. Williams       © 2011



The Gunpowder Plot of 1605

Guy Fawkes: A Biography

Europe: The Obligations of Liberty