942: Faith and Treason by Antonia Fraser

by Gerard


942.061: Fraser, Antonia. Faith and Treason: The Story of the Gunpowder Plot. New York: Anchor, 1997. 295 pp. ISBN 0-385-47190-4.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 900: History and Geography
  • 940: History of Europe
  • 942: History of England and Wales
  • +061: Reign of James I, 1603-1625

On November 5, 1605, a search party headed by Thomas Knyvet, working off information obtained from an anonymous letter sent to Baron Monteagle, checked out the area under the Parliament building in London. What they found there defined British politics and nationalism ever since. A fellow named Guy Fawkes, at first presumed to a servant man, was found guarding a pile of firewood. Under the firewood, however, was 36 barrels of gunpowder: enough to obliterate Parliament and foment a revolution. Antonia Fraser’s Faith and Treason relays the whole conspiracy of what would eventually be called the Gunpowder Plot with her usual flair and scholarship.

Fraser traces the roots of the Gunpowder Plot back to Henry VIII and his efforts to separate the Church of England from the Catholic Church. This decree left English Catholics isolated and persecuted for 65 years. Two generations of English citizens had to hide their faith. The tipping point was James I’s refusal to return the country to a Catholic state or at least adequately lay out tolerance acts for all to worship. This led to a growing movement to remove James from the throne and install a more religious monarch. The plan was to destroy Parliament and install James’s daughter Elizabeth as queen.

Sadly, the ending is already painfully clear as soon as it starts. Since England’s just now its second Elizabeth, we already know that the Plot will fail. But, the failed plot is precisely the point. Since the conspiracy was exposed just before its execution, England saved itself from a unnecessary struggle for the throne (although, they would go without a monarch from 1649 to 1660). One wonders, however, what would have become of Great Britain if the plot had succeeded. That, though, is a matter for the historical fiction writers.

The book is really well-written, it has the consistency of a thriller and the feel of a work of scholarship. This is third book of Fraser’s that I have and she never disappoints. This is an incredibly thorough investigation of the Gunpowder Plot and if this is your area of expertise, her bibliography will be invaluable to your research. A great book.