Antonia Fraser, Faith and Treason: The Story of the Gunpowder Plot (Doubleday, 1996)

The treason of Guy Fawkes in attempting to blow up The House of Parliament has become for the English a popular holiday celebrated with fireworks and the ritualistic burning of straw figures representing Guy Fawkes himself. (See Jack Santino's The Hallowed Eve: Dimensions of a Culture in a Calendar Festival in Northern Ireland for an interesting look at what happened to the story of Guy Fawkes in that culture.) In Faith and Treason: The Story of the Gunpowder Plot Antonia Fraser whose bestselling books include Mary Queen of Scots and The Six Wives of Henry VIII again demonstrates her ability to bring history to life. Antonia clearly doesn't believe what James Goldman said in his introduction to his play The Lion in Winter: "Historians and storytellers don't have much in common, but they do share this: the past, once it gets hold of you, does actually come alive. For scholars, this is troublesome. For writers, it's the good stuff." Antonia believes that history truly does come to life if told properly.

November 5th is Guy Fawkes Day, when the English celebrate the uncovering of Guy's plot in 1605 to blow up the House of Parliament . Guy, a member of a Catholic group upset with the Protestant king and his government, sought via this action to forcefully remove the government and seize power in order to reintroduce Catholicism as the state religion. They (though it was never really made clear who the conspirators were -or even if they truly existed) placed thirty-six barrels of gunpowder in a cellar under the Palace of Westminister. It failed miserably and Guy Fawkes was captured -and he in turn was tortured forcing him to reveal the names of his fellow traitors. It's worth noting that some historians believe that the government of James I invented the Gunpowder Plot as a way to justify his desire to stifle Catholic unrest. It's correct to say that both the English government and the Protestant English people viewed what Guy Fawkes and his alleged fellow conspirators did as proof that Catholics were not to be trusted. One can turn very pale after hearing what happened to Catholics in the aftermath of the Gunpowder Treason.

Antonia Fraser unravels the long and complex story of the Gunpowder Plot (sometimes known as the Gunpowder Treason) as the mystery it was (and to a certain extent still is). She skillfully treats the tale as one would any good puzzle: with care and careful attention to making sure the story is told correctly. The tangled web of politics, religion, and personalities that enmeshed far too many on that fateful night of the Fifth of November is a story worth knowing so read Faith and Treason on a cold winter's night when you can give it the full attention it deserves.

[Jack Merry]