The Gun Powder Plot. S.M.Towne

S.M. Toyne draws upon Guy Fawkes’ background in an effort to better understand his single-minded motivation.

Despite its failure, the Gunpowder Plot has caught the popular imagination more firmly than any other plot in history; while Guy Fawkes, though not its prime instigator, has gained a notoriety out of all proportion to his achievements.

For many years the State kept alive the memory of “The Powder Plot” by a special “State Service” of Thanksgiving, attached to the book of Common Prayer. The “Gunpowder Treason Service” was ordered to be read by an Act of Parliament (3 Jac. 1 c 1) and additions were made to it in 1690, to include the landing of William III on November 5th 1689 in England as the second gracious deliverance by the Almighty from the Papists.

Described as verbose, below the liturgical standard of the Prayer Book, full of political opinions, and extravagant in the expressions of loyalty, this service was removed from the State Services in 1859 by Royal Proclamation in answer to a petition from Convocation and Parliament. Curiously enough, however, the number of bonfires, especially in the north of England, tended to increase and became the expression of a vague thankfulness for deliverance from some unspecified disaster.

At the very outset, indeed, only the barest details of the plot were known either to the Government or to the general public. Official knowledge went little beyond the fact that Guy Fawkes had undertaken to blow up the King and his Lords when Parliament assembled on November 5th 1605, and next year the Government published “a true and perfect relation” of the conspiracy, which was translated into Latin for Continental consumption. A clever piece of propaganda, it set out to demonstrate that the nation owed much to the care and vigilance of Sir Robert Cecil (created Earl of Salisbury in 1605), asserted that Spain, with whom England had made a political and commercial treaty in 1604, had nothing to do with the plot, and cleared Rome of complicity; but the main instigators were erroneously declared to be the Jesuits and a party of desperate traitors, thwarted by the divine inspiration of King James I.

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