Book: Faith and Treason

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Faith and Treason: The Story of the Gunpowder Plot

Author: Antonia Fraser
Publisher: Anchor

In England, November 5 is Guy Fawkes Day, when fireworks displays commemorate the shocking moment in 1605 when government authorities uncovered a secret plan to blow up the House of Parliament—and King James I along with it. A group of English Catholics, seeking to unseat the king and reintroduce Catholicism as the state religion, daringly placed thirty-six barrels of gunpowder in a cellar under the Palace of Westminster. Their aim was to ignite the gunpowder at the opening of the Parliamentary session. Though the charismatic Catholic, Robert Catesby, was the group’s leader, it was the devout Guy Fawkes who emerged as its most famous member, as he was the one who was captured and who revealed under torture the names of his fellow plotters. In the aftermath of their arrests, conditions grew worse for English Catholics, as legal penalties against them were stiffened and public sentiment became rabidly intolerant.

In a narrative that reads like a gripping detective story, Antonia Fraser has untangled the web of religion, politics, and personalities that surrounded that fateful night of November 5. And, in examining the lengths to which individuals will go for their faith, she finds in this long-ago event a reflection of the religion-inspired terrorism that has produced gunpowder plots of our own time.


Our term “guy,” slang for any man, comes from the name of Guy Fawkes, the alleged ringleader of the bungled plot to blow up King James I and the subject of Bonfire Night, the odd English holiday celebrated on November 5 by burning the execrable Guy in effigy. This and other facts tumble from the pages of this fascinating account of the Gunpowder Plot, written by the distinguished novelist and historian Antonia Fraser. Fraser delves into English religious history to show the harsh persecution of Roman Catholics under Jacobean rule and how James I disappointed those Catholics who hoped for a more liberal reign.

Barnes and Noble

On November 5, 1605, the British government discovered a secret plan to blow up the House of Parliament—and King James I along with it. Hatched by a group of zealous English Catholics intent on reinstating Catholicism as the state religion, this deadly plot came to light when authorities captured one of the gang members, a devout man named Guy Fawkes. Under torture, Fawkes revealed the names of his fellow conspirators. In this book, historian Fraser examines the events leading up to that fateful night, untangling an intricate web of religion, politics, and personalities and demonstrating how this long-ago event is a reflection of a religion-inspired terrorism that still haunts our own age. B&W & color illus.

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