Was Guy Fawkes just a victim of an earlier WMD scheme?
November 5, 2005
This article first appeared in the Toronto Globe and Mail
Remember, remember, the
fifth of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot,
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.
--English folk rhyme
Today is the 400th anniversary of “Gunpowder Treason.” Because Nov. 5 is my birthday I’ve always been more aware of Guy Fawkes Day than most. Probably the first rhyme I ever learned is the one above. But for the first 68 years of my life I had entirely the wrong idea about the plot: what happened, who was really behind it, and its impact on history to this day.
On the throne of England in 1605 sits James I Stuart, a Protestant, who ordered the translation of the Christian Bible that bears his name. As midnight approaches on Nov. 4, the eve of the traditional opening of Parliament, armed agents of the King raid a basement room of the Houses of Parliament. They discover 36 barrels of gunpowder and a tunnel leading to the room. They apprehend Guy Fawkes, 36, a known agitator for the rights of English Roman Catholics. In Fawkes' possession are a watch, slow matches and touchpaper. Had he succeeded, so the palace version goes, the next day James and his Queen, and the members of the House of Lords and the House of Commons would be no more. The Palace of Westminster complex, including historic Westminster Abbey, would be smoking rubble.
The English public is stunned. It’s the equivalent of 9/11 in our day. “A cataclysm,” Adam Nicolson describes it in God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible.
Upon his arrest, Fawkes admits his purpose was to destroy King and Parliament. By Nov. 8, on the rack, he names 12 co-conspirators. All of those not killed where they are tracked down (one dies in prison) later are found guilty of treason in a trial lasting less than a day. They and Fawkes are hanged, drawn and quartered.
The following Sunday, Nov. 10, the King James version of the plot begins to be broadcast by the equivalent of television in 1605, the pulpits of the Church of England. William Barlow, Bishop of Rochester, thunders at Paul’s Cross church that “the enemy from below is satanic in its wickedness.” The king, their hoped-for victim, “is an unqualifiedly good man, the archetype of the good man, virtually a Christ-figure,” writes Nicolson. All pulpits echo the palace version. Ten years later “the energy of loathing was undiminished.” The palace version becomes historical truth for humankind. Until 1959, it was against the law in Britain not to celebrate Guy Fawkes Day.
But Nicolson and others now cast serious doubt on that version. Many anomalies concerning the events have surfaced. The Royal Chancellor had an efficient network of spies seeded among Roman Catholic dissidents. The authorship of the letter by which the King learned of the plot is murky. The gunpowder was of an inferior nature, unlikely to have achieved much result, if any. Some of the handwriting on Fawkes’ confession differed from the rest. There was no tunnel.
Ignored until recently is a book by Jesuit historian John Gerard (1564-1606), What Was the Gunpowder plot: The Traditional Story Tested by Original Evidence finally published in 1897. Gerard writes: “When we examine into the details supplied to us as to the progress of the affair, we find that much of what the conspirators are said to have done is well-nigh incredible, while it is utterly impossible that if they really acted in the manner described, the public authorities should not have had full knowledge of their proceedings.”
Overall the evidence points to a false flag operation. U.S. author Webster G. Tarpley writes that James “was considering a policy of accommodation with the Spanish Empire, the leading Catholic power, and some measures of toleration for Catholics in England.” But an influential group in London, known as the war party, wanted to push James into a confrontation with the Spanish Empire, “from which they hoped among other things to extract great personal profit.” The war party considered it politically vital to keep persecuting Roman Catholics. Chief among the war party was the Royal Chancellor, Lord Robert Cecil, who set out, writes Tarpley, “to sway James to adopt his policy, by means of terrorism.” It amounts to this: either Cecil and the war party made it happen, or let it happen. And if they let it happen, they made it happen.
The fallout from the plot is uncontestable. “The English became fixated on homeland security,” Nicolson writes. “An inclusive, irenic idea of mutual benefit (between Spain and England, which had recently signed a peace treaty and between which trade was growing) was replaced by a defensive/aggressive complex in which all Catholics, of all shades, never mind their degree of enthusiasm for the planned attack, were, at least for a time, identified as the enemy… The state had invaded and taken over the English conscience.”
War with Spain ensues. England’s course is set for a century of wars against the Spanish and Portuguese empires, out of which the British Empire emerges. In 1917 the British add Iraq to their Empire after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire. Neocolonial turmoil in Iraq continues to this day. The official story of “gunpowder treason” set much in motion.
Barrie Zwicker is a journalist and activist. He was the Inquiry Director of the Toronto International Citizens' Inquiry into 9-11. This is adapted from his forthcoming book 9/11, The Media, and Our Future.
Return to- Questioning the War Against Terrorism