Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Fifth of November on the Son Rise Morning Show!

I'll be on the Son Rise Morning Show this morning to discuss the Gunpowder Plot and the Fifth of November: you can listen on-line here or on your local EWTN station a little after 7:45 a.m. Eastern (6:45 a.m. Central).

November 5th marks the anniversary of the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot. I think this is one of the saddest episodes of Catholic reaction to the recusancy and penal laws imposed upon them by the English government. It was so desperate and impossible, not to mention absolutely murderous and immoral. Robert Catesby, Guy Fawkes, and the other conspirators thought that they could blow up Parliament and the Royal Family, except for Elizabeth, the oldest daughter whom they would kidnap and force to rule under their control--and the people of England would rise up against their rulers and put them in charge!

Instead they either died on the scaffold as traitors or in fights with local constabularies, implicating priests accused of hearing their confessions and not betraying the sanctity of the Sacrament by reporting them to the government. Priests like St. Thomas Garnet, Blessed Edward Oldcorne and Henry Garnett, SJ suffered torture and death--while the government tortured St. Nicholas Owen relentlessly to discover the location of the priest hiding holes he'd constructed in Catholic safe houses. The Gunpowder Plot certainly contributed to the prevailing view that Catholics weren't to be trusted, that all Catholics were somehow treasonous, even if they seemed to be loyally living in England while privately practicing their Catholic faith. The Gunpowder Plot also contributed to the passage of even stricter Recusancy and Penal Laws, restricting Catholics from travel, entering London, and owning weapons or horses!

Remember remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder, treason
Should ever be forgot...

For a couple of centuries, the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot was marked by special sermons and prayers of thanks for deliverance from Catholic plotting. John Donne, Dean of the Cathedral of St. Paul delivered such a sermon on November 5, 1622. Bonfire Night and the burning of Guy Fawkes and sometimes the current Pope in effigy also continued for two centuries--and there are still bonfires throughout England and former colonial areas today, but some of the historical and religious implications have faded. One interesting historical note is that General George Washington banned bonfires and effigy burning on November 5 in 1775: it wouldn't do to insult the French Catholic allies of the American Revolution!

Now there is great concern for pets, who might be frightened by the bonfires and fireworks, as this story demonstrates.

November 5 also recalls the invasion of Prince William III of Orange, landing at Brixham, Torbay in 1688. And this, also, to me is one of the saddest responses of the Anglican elite to the possibility of religious tolerance in England--invite an invasion and depose a legitimately ruling king!

William the new conqueror brought a force of around 21,000--mostly foreign mercenaries--including cavalry and artillery. The fact that 1688 was the 100th anniversary of the defeat of the Spanish Armada also seemed providential to the Whigs and Tories who rejected James II and his young son and heir. Unlike the Spanish attempt 100 years ago, this invasion would succeed!


  1. Lets not forget that James I betrayed the Catholics. He soon realized that recusancy taxes were lucrative. So a bunch of young bucks in the North got scared of seeing their patrimony dwindle away before they inherited it. ( and Fraser claims the possibility of Cecil setting up an entrapment/sting operation, some obviouly missing/destroyed records )
    a little off-subject - I've a question for moral theologians: An elderly priest is sent to the gibbet to be hanged, drawn, and quartered.
    The sympathetic crowd around the scaffold breaks through the guard and pulls down on the hanging priest to kill him and spare him being disembowelled alive.

  2. Oh, yes, tubbs, I know that James I had betrayed Catholics--he pretended that he would ameliorate conditions for Catholics so he could head south and take the throne. And I agree about the possible entrapment. It's just that it seems such a wild scheme! Of course, none dare call it treason if it succeeds. Slightly off the subject of your moral question--there are reports that Guy Fawkes managed to throw himself off the scaffold, dying by broken neck when hung and thereby avoiding the subsequent agonies.

  3. Stephanie, Thanks for the note over at my page. Love reading your posts on this pivotal time in history, as well as hearing you on the Son Rise Morning Show. God Bless

  4. Really enjoyed hearing you on the Sonrise Morning Show, which in turn led me to your blog! DH and I recently returned from a trip to England/Scotland for a family wedding, and the visit raised tremendous curiosity in us regarding the English martyrs and destruction of the Church. Before the trip we looked on line to see if someone had put together a sort of impromtu "Catholic's guide to the city of London and surrounding areas" so that we could get an idea of where to go to pay homage to the martyrs. FYI, there is a Catholic church in London called St. Etheldreda's dedicated to the martyrs. They have constructed a map that has the sites of martyrdom of several of the martyrs honored in that church so we were able to walk London and locate where some had died.

    In reference to James II, whom you mention here briefly, we came across at least part of his story while visiting Culloden battlefield in Scotland. He is as you probably know, the impetus for the support and invasion of Bonnie Prince Charlie (by Protestants and Catholics alike!). I could not understand why James II was deposed, I know it has to do with the rejection by him of the Anglicans but is there more? I wonder if you could point me in the direction of more information or possibly a blog post on the subject? I found the information on this period interesting because I had always thought the support for Prince Charles was exclusively Catholic, but as it turns out, there were quite a few Protestant sympathizers who wanted to restore the person whom they believed was the rightful heir to the throne, and saw William and Mary as usurpers.

    1. Thank you for your comment--if you search my blog, you'll find several posts on the so-called Glorious Revolution and the Jacobites, which I also cover in my book.
      As to Catholic sites in London, there are indeed several--in fact, I'd planned a Catholic Martyrs Pilgrimage with Corporate Travel Services and the itinerary included St. Etheldreda's plus the Tyburn Convent; Westminster Cathedral, the Tower of London, Westminster Hall, etc