Fawkes Ignites Gunpowder
by Jeff Provine
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November 5th 1605,
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on this day Guido Fawkes ignited a
Gunpowder Demonstration in London, England.
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
"I have no reason why the gunpowder treason should
ever be forgot" - reader's commentIn 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
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.
says 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. To view guest historian's comments on this post please visit the
Today in Alternate History web site.
Jeff Provine, Guest Historian of
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