Sunday, August 25, 2013

Faith and Treason

I first heard of Guy Fawkes when Paddington Bear used his grumpy neighbor's suit to make a dummy for Bonfire Night.  It seemed like a cute, quaint custom when I was 8, and I didn't learn until years later about the political implications.  Antonia Fraser focuses on the religious and political background to the Gunpowder Plot because it's more interesting, and, well, the plot wasn't well planned or executed, and Guy Fawkes was actually a minor participant, more notable for being discovered than for his actual role.

More interesting than the actual plot was the analysis of the highborn secret Catholics in Elizabethan and Jacobean England.  Elizabeth considered religion a private matter; Catholics weren't allowed to publicly practice their faith, but she didn't pursue private practices.  Still, it led to separate public and private lives, and houses with "priest holes" where the family's spiritual guide could hide if the authorities searched.  Elizabeth's death left a bit of a succession crisis (she hadn't named a successor, although James was the logical choice), and the Catholic underground hoped he might legitimize - or even follow - their practices.  They were wrong, forgetting that James's upbringing was more strictly Protestant than the compromise theology of Anglicanism.  More importantly, religion and politics were so closely entwined in the early 17th Century that one decided the other - it wasn't just that Anglicanism was the state religion, but Catholicism implied (often accurately) an affinity for England's enemy, Spain.  While Frasier couldn't have completely skipped the Gunpowder plot, I understand why she concentrated on the three year lead-up.

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