For some strange reason I have never considered the possibility that Guy Fawkes was innocent. Quite possibly the reason for this unchecked acceptance of the official version of the story was told me when I child, by a mother who thought everything Brittish was good, and a Father who thought that there would ‘always be an England as long as Scotland’s to defend her and protect her from her enemies in the air.’
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An anonymous letter was delivered to Lord Monteagle, a catholic, on 2nd November 1605. It warned him not to participate in the opening of the Parliament. The letter informed that an attempt on the King’s life and the lives of all those gathered in Parliament would be made. Robert Cecil, a Protestant, sent soldiers to search the Parliament. Just before midnight in the cellars near the House of Lord, they accumulated 20 barrels of gunpowder hidden under piles of coal. The soldiers also found Guy Fawkes.
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The letter warning one of the members of government to stay away from Parliament is believed today to have been fabricated by the King’s officials. On 8th November 1605, after torture, Fawkes put his signature on a confession. This confession did not name all his accomplices. On 9th November Fawkes signed another, more detailed confession with the names of all the others involved in the plot.
There are fundamental problems with the letter
- it is unsigned and is very vague in its content.
- It says nothing about the details of the planned attack, still the King and his men knew exactly where and when to catch the conspirators;
- moreover, the powder they were planning to use was so old as to be useless.
Since Guy Fawkes and his colleagues got caught before trying to ignite the powder. Perhaps we will never know for certain.
There are a few other problems that must leave the matter open to question.
- The gunpowder was never displayed,
- gunpowder could only be bought from the crown,
- and the records of the supposed purchase were apparently inadvertently destroyed.
- The supposed tunnel that was meant to have been dug has never ever been discovered, and may be a complete fabrication.
You just have to wonder why the CSI experts of the day could not have probed harder to get to the truth.
Guy Fawkes as a story has a social and political context, and any attempt to understand the story without taking that into account seems destined to miss the point. The reign of Elizabeth the 1st concluded with her demise in 1603. Under the reign of Elizabeth I the Catholics of the realm seem to have had less than a fair Go. Her Father, Henry the VIII, had declared the Bishop of Rome as having no jurisdiction in the realm. He was succeeded by Edward the VI. Under his reign we saw a more reasonable liturgy in English. Following is death, Jane Seymour was Queen for Nine Days, and the the Catholic Mary I took the throne and restored the Catholic Faith to England. In 1557 Elizabeth Ascended to the Throne, and like her sister died childless. The Elizabethan settlement was designed to provide a period of stability after the religious unrest of the previous 29 years. Nonetheless to mood for reform seem to have some sway, and there was a feeling that Catholics did not get a fair go.
James I was the Scottish King, great great grandson of Henry VII and so was not without lineage and claim. It seemed that Catholic England was hoping for a better ear under the new monarch, and it seems he was less inclined to be manipulated than Elizabeth I.
There is also some suggestion that indeed amongst the more extreme of the more reformed courtiers and high officials that the plot may have been entirely falsified in order to generate and public concern and fear of the Catholic cause in England. The lack of real evidence and the tawdry way in which much of it seems to have been handled makes this a plausible alternative theory of the events.
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Guy Fawkes was born in a Church of England communicating family (they were probably Recusant Catholics). His Father died when he was eight, and his mother remarried to a Catholic some 5 years later. Guy Fawkes clearly believed that Catholics had been treated harshly, and looked for them to be treated better. Catholics had clearly hoped for a new deal with the advent of James I and those with a mind to reform where concerned that some ground might be lost.
The result of the ‘Gunpowder Plot’ was a shoring up of the division, and a failure of any improvement in the Catholic position, but rather in increase in the level of mistrust. The King was forced to believe that the Catholics wanted to ‘blow up the Houses of Parliament and blow him back to Scotland, and to his Catholic Mother’.
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It may be that English can’t conceive that the English could tell porkies, however as an Australian I am prepared to allow the possibility that those in power sometime tell versions of a story that may later need to be retold in a somewhat different way. Some people in power seek to be servants of the truth, and others seek to have truth serve them, and others unfortunately find the need to manufacture truth when they have been unable to find any other truth that would serve them. I will refrain from providing contemporary examples.
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However I think it is time that we had a proper review of all the evidence to establish as far as possible in Guy Fawkes was innocent or Guilty. Until that time I think he should be accorded the presumption of innocence.