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Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Monday, 4 November 2019

"The Gunpowder Plot" by Antonia Fraser

A straightforward narrative history of the thwarted attempt by Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators to blow up the King and the House of Lords during the opening of Parliament on 5th November 1605 and subsequently to stage a coup. It starts with the accession of King James I in 1603 and the disappointed expectations of the English Catholics that they would be tolerated. It continues with the plotting of the incredibly charismatic Robert Catesby who managed to persuade a number of his kinsmen and friends to join his terrorist conspiracy. It moves on to the discovery of Guy Fawkes and his gunpowder and the chasing of the Midlands-based conspiracy to the shoot-out at Holbeach House. It concludes with the interrogation of the conspirators, their trial and execution, and the subsequent capture, interrogation, trial and execution of Father Henry Garnet, the Catholic priest who became aware of the plot and failed to prevent it (or report it) and who hit Shakespearian fame as the author of the treatise on Equivocation, as practised by the Porter and the Witches in Macbeth.

An easy read with an authoritative approach but there are a great number of books on this conspiracy and it has scarcely added to our knowledge.


  • Some great moments:
  • English merchants continued to trade merrily with Spain, as merchants of all countries and all periods have defied ideological boundaries in the uplifting cause of commerce.” (1.1)
  • We should always be aware that what now lies in the past, once lay in the future.” (1.1)
  • That perpetual dance to the music of jealousy which occupied sixteenth-century courtiers.” (1.3)
  • A conversion of this sort, a rejection of youthful misdemeanours, a ricochet towards ardent piety, has been the sign of many fanatics in history, not all evil but some sanctified (such as St Augustine).” (1.3)
  • The sweetly corrupt world of the Jacobean court, where bribery was not so much unworthy as a thoroughly worthy way of life.” (2.5)
  • Charm and a special kind of personal radiance are qualities notoriously hard to transmit across the ages, to societies with very different preoccupations and values. And yet such qualities in individuals may play just as important a part in defining the course of history as more visibly enduring talents.” (2.6)
  • Robert Catesby the lead gunpowder plotter was the sixth descendant of Sir William Catesby, the ‘Cat’ who was vilified after serving under Richard III.
  • Thomas Dekker would wax eloquent on the subject of Lucifer's assistant, the Mouldwarp: ‘Vaults are his delight’.” (3.7)
  • Shakespeare was in Oxford in August 1605 when King James was greeted by a speech from Matthew Gwinn praising his descent from Banquo. (3.9)
  • Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII”, was especially devoted to St Winifred of Holywell and “was responsible for the first printed life of St Winifred (by William Caxton)" (3.9)
  • An eclipse of the moon in September 1605 was followed in October by an eclipse of the moon; these, followed by the Gunpowder plot in November, might have been commemorated by Shakesperare in King Lear when Gloucester predicts that the astrological happenings presages “in palaces, treason”. (3.10)
  • "Why and for what purpose did the Monteagle letter come into existence? It is a useful maxim that these two questions should always be asked when examining any primary source.” (3.10)
  • Magna Carta forbade torture.
  • "Scholarly disputes on the dating of Macbeth agree on at least one thing: that the inspiration of the Porter's scene must have followed the trial and execution of Father Garnet." (5.18

November 2019; 295 pages

Also written by Antonia Fraser:

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