Remember what I wrote about Gunpowder before?

It is nearly the end of November. The last fireworks have fizzled out, at least for a while. There is plenty to remind us that Christmas will soon be here. It seems a long time since I wrote about the BBC series Gunpowder. I did promise to say more when I had seen the whole series.

My overall opinion is that I liked it. It was a good drama and it told us  a lot more about Guy Fawkes and the others than most of us knew. There were some fascinating details, such as the incident where a barrel of damp gunpowder exploded just before the conspirators’ final encounter with the King’s forces. The series also showed that Guy Fawkes was just one member of the team, not its leader.

What did you think of the horrors in Gunpowder?

If you have watched Gunpowder, you will have seen not only the horrors of the British Government’s cruelty towards Roman Catholics but also the violence of the Spanish Inquisition in support of the Catholic Church. How does that affect your view of Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators? Of King James I and his government?

Is this monk writing messages to the gunpowder plotters?
In what way was Gunpowder not fair?

My biggest negative criticism is that the series lacked context.  Of course, you can’t expect the whole of British history in a three-part drama. However, I will point out a few facts that might help explain certain things.

  • England was still at war with Spain since the Armada. It is unlikely that the Spanish would mount another invasion, but they could have backed a coup. The government had reason to be worried.
  • The last Catholic monarch of England was Mary Tudor. She had tried to impose that religion on the country. To her, Protestants were heretics. The authorities burned over 300 at the stake, including the Archbishop of Canterbury and two other bishops.
  • The Pope had declared Queen Elizabeth illegitimate and had announced that if any Catholic was to ‘remove her from the World’ he would gain ‘merit’.
  • During Elizabeth’s reign, Catholics made several plots to assassinate her and put her Catholic cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, on the throne.
  • Many people living in the days of James I would have had personal memories of those times. Others would have heard about them from their parents and others. The anti-Catholic feeling did not exist only at the Court.
The saltire: Scotland ejected Mary but her supporters tried to make her Queen of England.
What happened after the Gunpowder Plot?

Despite the oppressive measures taken by the government at that time, Britain moved towards democracy and human rights faster than it would have done had the plotters or anyone succeeded in restoring Catholicism  at that time. In an article on the Reformation, I pointed out that the Roman Catholic Church benefited from the Reformation as it gave impetus to overdue reform within. I must stress that, because that reform did come eventually, anti-Catholic attitudes today are outdated and unjustified. That Church is no longer the enemy of democracy.