Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Gunpowder Plot

The Gunpowder Plot: Overview
by David Nash Ford

"Remember, remember the fifth of November.
Gunpowder, Treason and Plot.
I see no reason why Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot."
This poetic little rhyme, still popular among children today, continues to remind us why, on the night of November 5th, bonfires surmounted by cloth manikins or "Guys" are set alight in every town and village in Britain amongst a blaze of celebratory fireworks:

The scene was the early 17th century Lambeth home of one John Wright deep in the suburbs of the City of London. Three British Catholic gentlemen met in secret to discuss their troubles. King James VI of Scotland had only recently taken on the English throne as James I but, despite promises of a relaxation in the anti-catholic laws, it now appeared that the new King would be even more severe in their persecution than his predecessor had been.
Being no stranger to plots and intrigue, Robert Catesby, a notorious Northamptonshire catholic, now felt the time was right to strike a blow for his religion. He had called his cousin, Thomas Wintour, to the house of his friend, Wright, in order to lay before the them both his plan to blow up the King and the House of Lords at the next Opening of Parliament. With the monarch, the Prince of Wales and most of his leading ministers dead, they would seize the young Prince Charles and the Princess Elizabeth and raise a general revolt to return Catholicism to the land.

In May 1604, Thomas Wintour enlisted the help of a Yorkshire mercenary named Guy Fawkes who had distinguished himself on the continent in the Spanish Army. With his vast experience of dangerous situations, Fawkes was to be the man of action in a group which was growing quickly as Catesby persuaded relatives, friends and colleagues to enter the conspiracy and help finance his plans. Robert Wintour, Christopher Wright, Thomas Percy, John Grant, Ambrose Rokewood, Robert Keyes, Sir Everard Digby, Francis Tresham and Catesby's servant, Thomas Bates all joined in the hazardous plot.
Originally the Catesby rented a house near to the Palace of Westminster and the group began to dig a tunnel out under the Houses of Parliament. However progress was slow for these gentlemen who were not used to such hard labour. Eventually, in March 1605, Thomas Percy was able to use his connections at the Royal Court to rent a cellar right under the House of Lords! The tunnel was quickly abandoned and, posing as Percy's servant, one "John Johnson," Fawkes was able to fill the underground storehouse with some thirty-six barrels of gunpowder hidden beneath coal and wooden sticks, a store of fuel for the winter. Everything was set in place: all the conspirators had to do now was wait.
Perhaps they had prepared too early though, for doubts began to creep into the minds of some of the plotters, worried about fellow catholics who would be present in Parliament on the appointed day, the 5th November. Only ten days before the Opening of Parliament, Lord Monteagle, an apparently reformed catholic, was sitting down to dinner in his Hoxton home when an important letter arrived for him. It read:
"My lord, out of the love I bear to some of your friends, I have a care for your preservation. Therefore I would advise you, as you tender your life, to devise some excuse to shift of your attendance of this Parliament, for God and man hath concurred to punish the wickedness of this time. And think not slightly of this advertisement but retire yourself into your country, where you may expect the event in safety, for though there be no appearance of any stir, yet I say they shall receive a terrible blow, the Parliament, and yet they shall not see who hurts them.. This counsel is not to be contemned, because it may do you good and can do you know harm, for the danger is past as soon as you have burnt the latter: and I hope God will give you the grace to make gooduse of it, to whose holy protection I commend you."
The authorship of the letter has never been certainly identified, but Lord Monteagle was Francis Tresham's brother-in-law.
Monteagle immediately showed the letter to Robert Cecil, the Earl of Salisbury and Secretary of State. Though rather slow to act, the Privy Council eventually had the vaults beneath the Lords searched on the 4th November, first by the Earl of Suffolk and late the same evening by Sir Thomas Knyvett. Composed to the end, Fawkes coolly let the officials into Percy's cellar. Of course, the gunpowder was quickly discovered and Guy Fawkes was overpowered.
On hearing that their plans had been foiled, Robert Catesby and Thomas Wintour fled to the Midlands where they met up with the rest of their party in Warwickshire, but failed to rally any support. They managed to travel amongst the houses of friends and sympathisers for three days before finally being captured in a bloody raid on Holbeche House in Staffordshire. Catesby, Percy and the two Wright brothers were killed, while a wounded Thomas Wintour and Ambrose Rokewood were taken away to London. Others were captured a few days later (though Robert Wintour was at large for some two months). All the conspirators, save for Tresham were executed for their crimes.
Francis Tresham died while still a prisoner in the Tower of London and it has often been suggested that his death was arranged to cover up his complicity in the uncovering of the plot. Whether through genuine second thoughts or external pressures, Tresham may have warned his brother-in-law, Lord Monteagle, of the plot some time before the arrival of the now-famous letter and together they agreed upon this means of scuppering the plan, yet still giving the conspirators enough time to escape. There is certainly much more to the famous "Gunpowder Plot" than first meets the eye and its mysteries endure to this day.
How were these known trouble-makers able to so easily penetrate the inner sanctum of English Government? And why did it take so long for the cellars to be searched? Is it possible that the Earl of Salisbury had actually instigated the plot in order to frighten the King into recognising the Catholic threat? A popular theory sees Guy Fawkes as an agent provocateur with other plotters, like Tresham, acting as double agents. It seems more likely, however, that Salisbury's agents merely infiltrated an existing conspiracy. He then left the plot's unveiling until the last minute for added dramatic effect. In fact, the King may never have been in any real danger.

More Detail on the Gunpowder Plot

Life in England under Oliver Cromwell

Oliver Cromwell remains one of our most famous characters in history. From 1649 to 1653, Parliament ran England but from Cromwell's point of view, it was not a system that worked effectively and England, as a nation was suffering. As a result, Cromwell, backed by the army, sent home MP’s and he became the effective leader of England from 1653 to 1658.

He was the man who really pushed for the execution of Charles as he believed that Charles would never change his ways and that he would continue to be a source of trouble until he died. Cromwell's signature is one of the easiest to make out on the death warrant of Charles - it is third on the list of signatures. It is said that a shadowy man was seen by guards who were guarding the dead body of Charles. He was heard to mutter "Twas a cruel necessity, twas a cruel necessity." Was this Cromwell? However, there is no proof that this ever happened and it could be that it is just one of those historical stories that has gone down into legend.

Cromwell was a Puritan. He was a highly religious man who believed that everybody should lead their lives according to what was written in the Bible. The word "Puritan" means that followers had a pure soul and lived a good life. Cromwell believed that everybody else in England should follow his example.

One of the main beliefs of the Puritans was that if you worked hard, you would get to Heaven. Pointless enjoyment was frowned upon. Cromwell shut many inns and the theatres were all closed down. Most sports were banned. Boys caught playing football on a Sunday could be whipped as a punishment. Swearing was punished by a fine, though those who kept swearing could be sent to prison.

Sunday became a very special day under he Puritans. Most forms of work were banned. Women caught doing unnecessary work on the Holy Day could be put in the stocks. Simply going for a Sunday walk (unless it was to church) could lead to a hefty fine.

To keep the population’s mind on religion, instead of having feast days to celebrate the saints (as had been common in Medieval England), one day in every month was a fast day - you did not eat all day.

He divided up England into 11 areas; each one was governed by a major-general who was trusted by Cromwell. Most of these generals had been in Cromwell’s New Model Army. The law - essentially Cromwell's law - was enforced by the use of soldiers.

Cromwell believed that women and girls should dress in a proper manner. Make-up was banned. Puritan leaders and soldiers would roam the streets of towns and scrub off any make-up found on unsuspecting women. Too colourful dresses were banned. A Puritan lady wore a long black dress that covered her almost from neck to toes. She wore a white apron and her hair was bunched up behind a white head-dress. Puritan men wore black clothes and short hair.

Cromwell banned Christmas as people would have known it then. By the C17th, Christmas had become a holiday of celebration and enjoyment - especially after the problems caused by the civil war. Cromwell wanted it returned to a religious celebration where people thought about the birth of Jesus rather than ate and drank too much. In London, soldiers were ordered to go round the streets and take, by force if necessary, food being cooked for a Christmas celebration. The smell of a goose being cooked could bring trouble. Traditional Christmas decorations like holly were banned.

Despite all these rules, Cromwell himself was not strict. He enjoyed music, hunting and playing bowls. He even allowed full-scale entertainment at his daughter’s wedding.

Despite being a highly religious man, Cromwell had a hatred for the Irish Catholics. He believed that they were all potential traitors willing to help any Catholic nation that wanted to attack England (he clearly did not know too much about the 1588 Spanish Armada).

During his time as head of government, he made it his task to ‘tame’ the Irish. He sent an army there and despite promising to treat well those who surrendered to him, he slaughtered the people of Wexford and Drogheda who did surrender to his forces. He used terror to ‘tame’ the Irish. He ordered that all Irish children should be sent to the West Indies to work as slave labourers in the sugar plantations. He knew many would die out there - but dead children could not grow into adults and have more children. Cromwell left a dark stain on the history of Ireland.

By the end of his life, both Cromwell and the 11 major-generals who helped to run the country, had become hated people. The population was tired of having strict rules forced onto them. Cromwell died in September 1658. His coffin was escorted by over 30,000 soldiers as it was taken to Westminster Abbey where he was buried. Why so many soldiers? Were they there as a mark of respect for the man who had formed the elite New Model Army? Or was there concern that the people of London, who had grown to hate Cromwell, would try to get to the body and damage it in some way ?

Cromwell was buried in Westminster Abbey. This is where kings and queens were buried. His son, Richard, took over leadership of the country. However, Richard was clearly not up to the task and in 1660 he left the job. In that year, 1660, Charles II was asked to return to become king of England. One of Charles’ first orders was that Cromwell’s body should be dug up and put on 'trial' as a traitor and regicide (someone who is responsible for the execution/murder of a king or queen). His body was put on trial, found guilty and symbolically hanged from a gallows at Tyburn (near Hyde Park, London). What was left of his body remains a mystery. Some say the body was thrown on to a rubbish tip while others say it was buried beneath the gallows at Tyburn. His head was put on display in London for many years to come.


The Stuart period is particularly rich in the variety of dress among the wealtheir classes, ranging from the complex, sometimes 'metaphysical' clothing of the Jacobean elite and the romance of Arcadia at the court of Charles I to the influence of Puritan moral and religious discourses, the extravagance of Restoration fashion and new concepts of gentility and modernity in the early eighteenth century.

Relatively few garments survive from before the eighteenth century, and the history of costume in the preceding centuries therefore has to rely to a great extent on literary and visual evidence. This book, the first of its kind, examines Stuart England through the mirror of dress.

It argues that both artistic and literary sources can be read and decoded for information on dress and on the way it was perceived in a period of immense political, social and cultural change.

Focusing on the rich visual culture of the age, including portraits, engravings, fashion plates and sculpture, and on the many and varied literary sources - poetry, drama, essays, sermons - the distinguished historian of dress, Aileen Ribeiro, creates a fascinating account of Stuart dress and reveals the ways in it reflects and influences society. Supported by a wealth of telling images, she outlines the main narrative of clothing, as well as exploring such themes as court costumes, the masque, fanciful and 'romantic' concepts, the ways in which political and religious ideologies could be expressed in dress, and the importance of London as a fashion centre. This beautiful book will be indispensable to historians of the art and dress of the period as an authoritative and up-to-date account of what people wore and how it related to the country's cultural climate.