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.
From Publishers Weekly
Although the "Gunpowder Plot" of 1605 to blow up Parliament as it was being opened by James I was foiled, the holiday it spawned, Guy Fawkes Day, is still marked each November 5. With political-religious terrorism now a hazard of everyday life, Fraser's searching look at the failed conspiracy of Robert Catesby (the actual planner) and Guy Fawkes could not be more timely. The narrative, however, is slowed by analysis as she examines whether the "facts" obtained by torture and show trials were genuine. Despite the graphic picture of anti-Catholic excesses, which the violence was intended to undo, and the agonizing punishment meted out to innocent and guilty alike, the pace is plodding. Biographer Fraser (Mary Queen of Scots) is at her best in limning lives: "Little John" Owen, the steadfast lay brother skilled at constructing hiding places for priests; Father Henry Garnet, a martyred divine of extraordinary intellect and courage; his patroness, the faithful, often-imprisoned Anne Vaux; and especially young Sir Everard Digby, a gallant courtier who, though drawn into the conspiracy at the last moment, was the first to mount the scaffold. Traditionally, the executioner cut out the condemned person's heart before the body ceased twitching, to claim, while eager crowds watched: "Here is the heart of a traitor." However anatomically impossible, Digby's "spirited riposte," supposedly, was "Thou Liest." Coming off far less favorably are the king, who retracted his promises of religious toleration; Sir Edward Coke, the country's leading judge, here a juridical monster; and Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury, the bigoted power behind the throne occupied only a few years earlier by the great Elizabeth. Illustrations not seen by PW. .
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