The Foiling of Fawkes

Remember, remember! the fifth of November.
    The Gunpowder treason and plot;
    I know of no reason
    Why the Gunpowder treason
    Should ever be forgot!
    Guy Fawkes and his companions
    Did the scheme contrive,
    To blow the King and Parliament
    All up alive.

So begins the poem commemorating Guy Fawkes Day, when the common folk of England celebrate – or used to anyway when history and religion were more to the fore in people’s minds – the foiling of the ‘Gunpowder Plot’ of 1605, when a group of Catholic conspirators planned to blow up the Parliament building with all the lords and legislators inside:

The short poem ends as follows:

    A rope, a rope, to hang the Pope,
    A penn’orth of cheese to choke him,
    A pint of beer to wash it down,
    And a jolly good fire to burn him.
    Holloa, boys! holloa, boys! make the bells ring!
    Holloa, boys! holloa boys! God save the King!
    Hip, hip, hooor-r-r-ray!

The king in question was James I of England (and the VI of Scotland), the staunchly Protestant son of the lovely and Catholic Mary Queen of Scots, taken from his mother as an infant and raised in the ‘Reformed’ religion. Mary, after her travails – many of them caused by her own tragic decisions – had sought refuge with her cousin Queen Elizabeth in England, after her own overthrow, but ‘Good Queen Bess’ had had her beheaded, after a controversial conspiracy was discovered. James did nothing to help his Mum. The injustice Mary’s beheading on trumped-up charges, was still fresh in minds of those who held to the ‘old religion’, and many Britons were still strongly devoted to the one, holy, Roman, Catholic, Apostolic Faith, which was being crushed mercilessly. So, there were those who sympathized with the attempt to blow the whole lot of the usurpers to kingdom come.

Some of the conspirators developed qualms of conscience – since a few of said legislators about to be blown to British bits were, after all, Catholic – and one of them sent a letter of warning. The King’s Men searched under the building, and discovered 36 barrels of gunpowder in an unused, subterranean room, guarded by a certain Guy Fawkes, a staunchly Catholic soldier-at-arms who had helped mastermind the whole fiasco, ready to light the fuse and escape by swimming across the Thames.

All rather daring, and it would make a grand film; but, as much as I love a good adventure story, likely immoral. Guy, a robust man of red hair and commanding mien, but who in all probability looked little like the ‘masks’ seen in such Hollywood swill as ‘V for Vendetta’, was duly tortured, eventually confessed, and, as the story goes, implicated others. He was of course sentenced to death, but, as witnesses account, avoided the horror of being ‘hung and drawn’ by falling (or some say, jumping) off the scaffold and breaking his neck.

Requiescat in pace.

To this day, effigies of ‘Guy Fawkes’ are burned across what used to be the British empire, calling to mind the triumph and glories of Protestant England, and the downfall of obscurantist and seditionist ‘Papism’. Or something like that.

The truth of the whole Guy Fawkes affair, as is usually the case with historical events presented from one side’s perspective, is far more complex. Religion in those days, as in all days really, was tied up so closely with politics, allegiances, culture, wars, with the fate of peoples and whole nations hanging in the balance. The ‘Reformation’ more or less destroyed what we know as mediaeval and merrie Catholic England, by practices often too gruesome to describe, their age was in some ways more brutal, or, I should qualify, more externally brutal, than ours; the stakes were high.

By one of those quirky coincidences of history, November 5th also marks the day in 1688 when the Dutchman William III of Orange stepped ashore on the southern port of Brixham, to usurp the throne of England from the rightful and Catholic king, James II, thus beginning the inaptly-named ‘Glorious Revolution’. William would reign with Mary, James’ daughter who, like James I, had also been raised a staunch Anglican. Alas. Kidnapping and warping the religious sentiments of children really should be against the law.

And as evidence of deep duplicity, fraud and outright totalitarian methods in our own government come to the fore, we too might be questioning our own allegiance to the ‘state’, and how far resistance is required, hopefully passive and peaceful, but much depends on how far they push the populum. We see such in Brazil at the moment, with millions resisting what may have been a fraudulent election of a socialist. There is more and more resistance to the WEF crowd, pushing the hoi polloi back to stone-age slavery, while they jet around in Lears to their secure compounds. All carbon footprints must be equal, but some are more equal than others.

We should also think, and think deeply, as did Saint John Henry Newman, about what religion we adopt, for that which is, as Saint Thomas says, the ‘master of our affections’ will colour and motivate everything else we do, and will determine our ultimate eternal destiny. Newman saw that ‘Protestantism’ leads inevitably to secularism and religious indifference, and finally to strife and chaos.

And, while we’re on our own way there, we should also ponder how religion shapes our society, for it will, for good or ill. As we have seen in the decay of Britain from a once proudly Catholic and Christian nation to the sad secular socialist nightmare it is becoming, only the ‘one, true religion’ can fully instantiate the common good, and lead not only to a fulfilled life, but to a prosperous and cohesive people.