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 The Gunpowder Plot – could it have succeeded? And then what?

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Meles meles
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PostSubject: The Gunpowder Plot – could it have succeeded? And then what?   Sat 02 Dec 2017, 17:11

I haven’t (so far) had any takers for my post about The Gunpowder Plot and the Monteagle letter … but how about this?

If the Gunpowder Plot had not been discovered and so Guy Fawkes had actually lit the fuse, the explosion would have been immense: there would have been total destruction within about a 50m radius leaving just a crater; buildings largely destroyed at 200m distance; windows blown in and debris raining down perhaps as far as a kilometre away. All those attending Parliament would have been killed as well as many others in the vicinity. The destruction and death toll would have been catastrophic, both in terms of the simple body count and in the importance of the persons killed, namely:

... James VI, his wife, together with his 11-year old son and heir, Henry, (the younger son, the 4-year old Charles, later Charles I, would have been absent but was to have been captured and/or killed by the conspirators); all the members of the Privy Council; the majority of the aristocracy, Catholic as well as Protestant; two Archbishops and all the bishops of the Church of England; and all the senior judges of the realm. Also killed would have been about four hundred members of the House of Commons - the sort of men who, as well as being MPs, were city mayors, alderman, burgesses, knights, county Sheriffs, county magistrates, merchants, industrialists, ship owners, military officers - from towns throughout the land. Also killed would be all the other officials that worked in the Palace of Whitehall: moneyers, lawyers, accountants, clerks, servants, soldiers etc., as well as a perhaps several hundred ordinary Londoners who either lived and worked in the adjacent streets or were there to watch the pageantry. The explosion might easily have killed several thousand people, so perhaps something like 1 in every 3,000 of England’s population, and although occurring in Westminster, and so remote from most of the population, the losses would still have been intimately felt through the whole country. As a terrorist atrocity, striking at the heart of a nation, it would undoubtedly have been a massive blow against the establishment and the very functioning of government.

But would the wider plot - a Catholic uprising and the replacement of James on the throne by either prince Charles or the princess Elizabeth, to 'rule' as a puppet, have been likely to succeed?

Even immediately following Fawkes’ arrest and as the remaining conspirators rode north, nearly all the Catholic families that they approached for aid turned them away, even before news of the plot's failure was widely known. The small armed band that they did pull together was rapidly hunted down by Protestant vigilantes led by local officials, and they were all soon killed or captured. It is unlikely that things would have been very different had the explosion occurred, even had the conspirators managed to capture the royal children. In short they didn’t have the grass-roots Catholic support that they believed they had, nor so it seems, were they ever likely to get it.

In fact, not only would the uprising have rapidly failed, I think the scale of the devastation and carnage in London would surely have provoked a backlash throughout the country by the Protestant majority against the Catholic minority, in an English equivalent to the wave of hate and fear that had driven the French Catholics to massacre the Protestants there on St Bartholomew's Day in 1572.

But although the establishment of a Catholic realm seems unlikely, with King James, Prince Henry, the Privy Council and nearly all the peers of the realm dead, what might then have happened?

Thoughts anyone?
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PostSubject: Re: The Gunpowder Plot – could it have succeeded? And then what?   Sat 02 Dec 2017, 21:01

F
@Meles meles wrote:
would the wider plot - a Catholic uprising and the replacement of James on the throne by either prince Charles or the princess Elizabeth, to 'rule' as a puppet, have been likely to succeed?

This seemed to be the most hare-brained aspect of the whole thing. Quite apart from the fact that in actual history Elizabeth went on to become something of a Protestant heroine (choosing to lose her Bohemian throne and go into exile after the Battle of White Mountain rather than submit to the Catholic Holy Roman Emperor) how on earth the alleged plotters hoped to govern through a puppet child queen simply boggles the mind. There just doesn't seem to be any historical precedent for such a violent coup followed by such a feeble plan for what should happen next.
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PostSubject: Re: The Gunpowder Plot – could it have succeeded? And then what?   Sun 03 Dec 2017, 18:01

According to at least a couple of their confessions (albeit under torture), the Gunpowder Plot conspirators intended to use Henry Percy, the Earl of Northumberland, as Princess Elizabeth's Regent/Protector.

Henry Percy was a senior English peer, and though nominally Catholic, had bowed sufficiently to James to have been allowed to retain all his ancient titles and priveliges. He was however already associated with the plot through his second cousin, Thomas Percy. It was Thomas Percy who had approached James in 1601 (before he was King of England) and had, sort-of-only-not-really, got James's agreement to give English Catholics toleration. Thomas Percy went on to become closely involved in the Gunpowder Plot ... but I've never seen any evidence that Henry Percy, the Earl of Northumberland, had even the least suspicion of the plot itself. Accordingly unless he was to be told at the very last minute of the plot, his treason and why he should urgently find an excuse to avoid going to Parliament, then Henry Percy would presumably have been blown sky high with all the other loyal peers of the realm. So in the event of the bomb actually going off, Henry Percy, or at least what fragments were left of him, would not have been very suitable as a Regent, Catholic or otherwise, for the newly-orphaned Princess Elizabeth.

Nevertheless even the dubious confessions of the conspirators were enough to send Henry Percy - whether guity or not - to the Tower, where he remained for many years.
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PostSubject: Re: The Gunpowder Plot – could it have succeeded? And then what?   Sat 16 Dec 2017, 21:40

Then again, if one were to speculate further about the implications for future British history ...

If the Gunpowder Plot bomb had actually gone off, and as things stood at the time, ... then Charles I would have become king at the age of four instead of twenty-four. He would never have had the difficult relationship with his parents that left him determined to abandon most of his father's policies, and he might never have made a friendship with his father's unpopular favourite, Buckingham, so tarnishing the opening of his own (later) reign.

As a godly Protestant prince, with all the serious and devout nature of the real Charles, he would probably have been assured of considerable support in Britain. He would probably have revered the memory of his murdered parents, and almost certainly have acquired an abiding hatred of Catholicism, and tended instead to the evangelical wing of Anglicanism. This would have made him much more popular in both England and Scotland than the Anglo-Catholic policies that the real King Charles adopted instead.
 
His sister would almost certainly have married a Protestant German prince (as she actually did), and when he lost his lands to Catholic powers (as he also really did), the different, zealously Protestant and anti-Catholic, Charles would probably have entered the war wholeheartedly on their side. It is true that the financial system was under serious strain already, and would probably have collapsed under the war effort, but the accord between this new Charles and his subjects would have provided a much better basis for an overhaul of it to strengthen the monarchy.

.... and the rest, as they say, is (alternate) history ...
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