Sunday, November 5, 2017

A "What If" for November the Fifth

Dr John Cooper, senior lecturer in early modern history at the University of York, writes about what could have happened if Guy Fawkes had set off all that gunpowder under the House of Lords for the BBC History Magazine:

Two totally different scenarios could then have played out. Everything pivoted on the person of Prince Charles, Duke of York. At just four years old, Charles was the next heir to Prince Henry. The gunpowder plotters were unsure how to factor Charles into their plans, probably because they couldn’t be certain whether he would have been present at the opening of parliament. Charles was not a robust child (he had only just learned to walk), and might not have been capable of attending a long and tiring day of royal ceremony. If he escaped the explosion at Westminster, then Charles would be king by inheritance. Thomas Percy was deputed to kidnap him from his household in London.

With the Prince of Wales dead and both Charles and Elizabeth in the hands of the rebels, loyalists to the monarchy would have had no figurehead around whom to rally. But if Charles had been moved to safety, to Scotland or to his mother’s native Denmark, then the Protestant establishment might have been able to regroup. Faced with the demand to proclaim Elizabeth as queen, many towns would probably have played for time until their corporations could establish which side was likely to win, just as they had done in 1553 during the attempted Protestant coup to put Lady Jane Grey on the English throne.

What next? A religious civil war, like those which had crippled France during the later 16th century? The break-up of the union of the crowns of England and Scotland, barely two years old and wholly dependent on the person of James VI and I? Instead of the Flight of the Earls from Ulster [when a large proportion of Ulster’s Gaelic aristocracy fled Ireland for the continent], a resurgence of Catholic forces in Ireland and the overwhelming of the Protestant plantations? All of this is speculation; but sometimes taking a counterfactual perspective can reveal the deep forces underlying the accidents of history.

Please read the rest there.

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