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BOOK REVIEWS347 The Gunpowder Plot: Terror and Faith in 1605. By Antonia Fraser. (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. 1996. Pp. xxxv, 347.Ä20.00.) This is a handsome production, weU iUustrated and indexed, based on good sources, and presented Ui a prose at once elegant and readable, which we would expect by now from this author. It has been weU received by reviewers generaUy m England who usuaUy reveal Uttle knowledge about the plot except from what they read here. It is safe to prophesy that there wUl never be a last word on what Joel Hurstfield once described as a "non-event"; but it is to be regretted that one cannot recommend this as an outstanding milestone on the way.The book refers to a "no plot" faction, but no one denies a plot.The question remains, whose was it and of what kind? Fraser reteUs the traditional story of the plot as the concoction of a group of disaffected CathoUcs driven to desperation and despaU by persecution and seeing no other remedy.The dark hero of the piece was dashing Robert Catesby, whose zeal inflamed and led the rest to aU-time disaster for the Catholic cause. She foUows in essentials Mark NichoUs's thesis as expounded in Investigating Gunpowder Plot (1991) and also an unpublished manuscript by the lateW. K. L.Webb, S.J. It is extremely plausible that this was the way of it since we are aU too weU aware of the terrorist answer to seemingly insoluble poUtical problems in our own time. Nevertheless, closer inspection of the evidence,which is, admittedly, often unsatisfactory and incomplete, must confirm many in the view that the plot was Robert CecU's contrivance—one of quite a series which began with the Lopez plot of 1594, which no one takes seriously, and the Squire plot of 1 598, aimed at the Jesuits, which nobody would take seriously U people knew anything about it.The Main and Bye plots were rather better contrived but stiU bear the falsifying imprint of the master.The gunpowder plot,"Cecil's holiday" as it was described by contemporaries, was the last and best stage-managed of them aU, so skillfuUy that it continues to deceive even those it was intended to destroy down to our day. It is the great outcrop sticking up in our English sands oftime to hold back the sinister force ofpopish revisionism.CecU had two aims in mind: first to bring the papists into everlasting hatred; second to discredit those Catholics and their cause who, finding nothing worthwhUe for them to do Ui his England, tried to find employment and honor abroad fighting for the archdukes in Flanders.The oblique attack on the English regiment is an essential part ofthe story.The group which made its way to the last stand at Holbeach on November 8 was the remnant of a contingent intended for Flanders. Guy Fawkes, prototype of the faU-guy and the only professional soldier, was theU Uaison man. The operation was infiltrated by four men working for CecU, viz., Thomas Percy, the principal mole, with Robert Catesby as his main contact in the field, and WUUam Monteagle and FrancisTresham as assistants. Catesby,Tresham , and Monteagle had a death sentence hanging over them for their treasonable part in the Essex affair of 1600/1.They did as they were told to get off the hook.This alternative thesis is nowhere taken into account in Fraser's book. Admittedly, U it were, it would interrupt the flow of a good narrative. Remaining evidence needs to be examined not only with a wide-angle lens, taking into account facts and sources which standard historians find embar- 348BOOK REVIEWS rassing, but also with a microscope which takes into account handwriting.This is admittedly a minefield, but certain high probabüities, U not cast iron facts, emerge, notably that the Monteagle letter was written Ui CecU's own hand,who admitted it was in"a hand disguised." Letters Ui the Spanish papers Ui the Public Record Office, London, and at Hatfield make it clear thatTresham was aUowed to escape. His pious death in the Tower was a huge charade.Joan Cambridge, a...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-0708
Print ISSN
0008-8080
Pages
pp. 347-348
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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