Background

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On November 5th 1605 a major terrorist atrocity was prevented in England. If this had not happened, King James I would have been killed, his government devastated and Parliament destroyed. The modern world would now be a very different place.

 Each year in the UK we celebrate the events of the Gunpowder Plot on November 5th with fireworks. We call it Bonfire Night or Guy Fawkes Night but what was it really about?

A little while back I asked myself this very question and began to look into it. The more I read, the more fascinated I became. The parallels between England in 1605 and today were as alarming as they were interesting. It was a time of religious persecution, concerns over Europe and terrorism, not forgetting the issue of government surveillance. This was not carried out through computer hacking and cyber-security but by an army of government sanctioned watchers, informers and spies, all reporting into sinister Robert Cecil, a man who was Secretary of State, Spymaster General and Big Brother rolled into one.

In fact, it was the people which intrigued me the most. Cecil was one. It is rumoured he was having a torrid affair with Katherine of Suffolk, wife of the King’s Lord Chamberlain. Cecil was also the right hand man of Scots Protestant King, James Stuart, a man who in turn was married to the beautiful Anne of Denmark, a woman who’d been pregnant almost for a decade and was in a constant struggle with her husband to gain custody of her children.

In 1605, the King led a renewed clampdown on England’s Catholics, despite earlier promises to the contrary, heightening tensions in the country and at home, for Anne was a Catholic. Her resentment was further fuelled by being refused the service of her best friend, Beatrix Ruthven, the brothers of whom had been brutally slain in Edinburgh on King James’s orders.

Then, of course we come to the plotters, incensed by this further persecution of their religion. We’ve all heard of brave and strong Guy Fawkes, with his Yorkshire background but, important as he was, he wasn’t the leader of the plotters. This was Robert Catesby, a complex but charismatic character, who over a series of months put together a cell made up of a dozen or more conspirators, some of them related, many from leading Catholic families and all committed to the cause of regime change in England.

Wow, I thought, what a story but then my mind began to play tricks on me. How would the world be altered if the Gunpowder Plot had had a different outcome? Would we put the King on top of the bonfire and not the Guy? Would the country have swung from Protestant extremism to the Protestant-burning ways of Catholic Queen Mary? Or would there have been a massive and bloody civil war, which nobody would have won, with the possible exception of an invading army from France or Spain?

Or could there have been a third way, one which may have led to a more tolerant society? It would seem unlikely but what if, what if, what if?

I posed these questions to Robert Cecil and Katherine of Suffolk and gave them free rein to do what they wanted. I hope you enjoy the results…

Tony Morgan

Remember, Remember, the 6th of November,

Gunpowder, celebration, the lot.

I see no reason, there are no reasons,

This day should be forgot.

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