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36 of 39 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Truth is indeed stranger than fiction, February 15, 2001
This review is from: Faith and Treason: The Story of the Gunpowder Plot (Paperback)
Few tales better illustrate the old saw, "truth is stranger than fiction," than the story of the Gunpowder Plot. In 1605, Catholic militants disappointed by James I's failure to move towards toleration (allegedly) tried to blow up Parliament by piling gunpowder in a basement. The (purported) plot was discovered in the nick of time. England still celebrates Guy Fawkes' Day to celebrate the failure of the Gunpowder Plot and, among other things, Beefeaters still search the basements of Westminster (in full regalia, no less).
The Gunpowder Plot has long been highly controversial. Catholic apologists have claimed that the whole thing was invented by Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury, King James' chief minister, and master of a vast intelligence network, with the assistance of Sir Edward Coke as Crown Prosecutor. Protestant apologists claim the Plot was real, the danger was real, and only narrowly averted (by God's special favor).
Antonia Fraser is a leading popular historian of the Tudor and Stuart periods of English history, as well as an accomplished novelist. She writes well, tells stories lucidly, and has a demonstrated command of the period. In "Faith and Treason," she strikes a balanced note. Yes, there was a plot. But the danger was not very real--Salisbury discovered the plot early, the gunpowder was defective, and Salisbury left it in the basement to be dramatically discovered so that the discovery would have maximum political effect. She makes a compelling case.
Fraser is sympathetic to the Catholic plotters, recognizing that they had been pushed too far, but she also doesn't hesitate to call them traitors and terrorists. Contrary to what some reviewers have said, she is not an apologist for either side. Instead, this is a fair and balanced account, written with the verve and style of a novel. Highly recommended.
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4.2 out of 5 stars (35 customer reviews)
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