We have seen many political conspiracies in our own time: some real, some entirely imaginary. The Kennedy Assassination conspiracy was and is a total fiction
, although sadly the assassination itself was not, and this being its half-centenary, we will shortly see all manner of nutters crawling out of the woodwork to propagate "theories" old, new and deranged.
The events of 9/11 were probably unique, not simply because of the scale of destruction, but because that terrible day began with a real conspiracy: 19 men with armed boxcutters; was blown up into a fantastic and totally fictitious conspiracy
; and ended with one that was part fantasy and part fact
The Gunpowder Plot, as it is known, was all conspiracy and all fact. In addition to that, it came within a whisker of murdering not only the government of the day but the entire English Parliament. Nothing like it would be seen until 1984 when the bombing of the Grand Hotel
in Brighton by the IRA
nearly wiped out the Cabinet.
The Gunpowder Plot should teach us a lesson which no one appears to have learned. Until the reign of Henry VIII, the Church was a major player in ruling England, something that was not unique to these islands. The alliance of throne and altar saw the Church exercising the power to crown monarchs and dominating education, which of course entailed more than mere literacy and numeracy. The Church was also a major landowner - through the monasteries, for example - and many churchmen were wealthy in their own right.
When part-time songwriter and serial womaniser Henry VIII
was refused permission to divorce his first wife, he severed all ties with the Church of Rome and started his own. Between 1536 and 1541, Henry trashed the monasteries - an act referred to as their dissolution, but on his death, the boot was on the other foot, albeit briefly, and the Catholics began persecuting the Protestants. Henry's daughter Elizabeth succeeded his other daughter, Mary, the Church of England reverted back to the Crown, and by the time James I ascended to the throne, Catholics were, or many felt they were, a persecuted minority again. Which is where Guy Fawkes came in.
As stated, this has been a current theme throughout history, namely persecuted minorities turning the tables on their persecutors or suddenly becoming a majority, and then following the same pattern of persecution. We can see this in Northern Ireland with Catholics and Protestants, and with the warring factions of Islam, who when they aren't wailing about Islamophobia
are bombing, maiming and murdering each other.
The great conspiracy of 1605 is believed to have involved no more than 14 conspirators, the most significant being ringleader Robert Catesby and Guy Fawkes, the man who was caught bang to rights. Catesby was a recusant Catholic about whom a fair amount is known; like most revolutionaries before and since he was not of peasant stock. His father was Sir William Catesby, and Robert himself married into a wealthy Protestant family.
Guy Fawkes was a Yorkshireman born and bred, although later he took the name Guido during one of his jaunts on the Continent.
Fawkes appears to have been a bit of an oddball, perhaps an early version of Lee Harvey Oswald, and like Oswald he was probably not the kind of person who would have found his way into a real conspiracy, except that he did, and but for a letter warning a nobleman to stay away from Parliament on the fateful day, he would probably have pulled off the 9/11 of the 17th Century.
The last man to enter Parliament with honest intentions has his own website, Bonfirenight.Net
, wherein he looks quite happy, but after his arrest he was tortured, and of course executed for his crimes.
Ringleader Catesby was killed in a shoot out; another conspirator, Thomas Percy, died with him; the others, including Fawkes, were hanged. The hanging was the least of their suffering, although Fawkes managed to avoid the worst of it by leaping from the gallows and breaking his neck.
Fawkes was of course a terrorist, albeit an unsuccessful one, so Guy Fawkes Night should not really be a cause for celebration, unless of course you are celebrating the uncovering of the plot, but with most politicians held in somewhat low esteem in England and worldwide, not a few people would consider his real crime to be that of breaking the 11th Commandment: "Thou shalt not get found out".