Gunpowder Plot

Remember, Remember

fireworks

‘Remember, remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason, why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.’

It’s Bonfire Night, and while we probably all remember the rhyme, how much do we really know about Guy Fawkes and the infamous Gunpowder Plot? Here are a few things you might not know from a post I published on November 5th last year.

  • Although it is the effigy of Guy Fawkes that we burn each year on our bonfires, he wasn’t actually the leader of the plot. Blowing up parliament was only part of a much wider rebellion, led by Robert Catesby. Catesby’s family were prominent recusant Catholics– refusing to take part in Anglican religious activity, recusants were often punished by fines, property confiscation, and imprisonment. In Catesby’s plan, Fawkes would blow up Parliament, killing the Protestant king James I. This would then start a revolt, during which a Catholic monarch would take the throne.
  • Guy Fawkes had a successful military career before becoming involved in the plot. However, his allegiances would not have pleased King James. In 1591, Fawkes sold the estate he had inherited (his father died when Fawkes was eight) and used the funds raised to travel to the continent in order to fight in the Eighty Years War. This war was between Catholic Spain and the new Dutch Republic. Fawkes fought on the side of the Spanish. Although there were not any land battles at that time between England and Spain, technically the two countries were still at war. The Spanish Armada was a relatively recent event, happening in 1588, and Spain was still very much seen as an enemy of England.
  • Although we know a lot about Fawkes’ military life, his involvement in the plot and his horrible end, relatively little is known about his personal life. The documents that relate his imprisonment, torture and death do not mention any family. However, there is one reference (and, it seems, only one) to a marriage.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) has an extensive collection of genealogy records. They do this in order to establish the details of the ancestors of their members. Their International Genealogy Index (IGI) records a marriage between Guy Fawkes and Maria Pulleyn in 1590 in Scotton. There is also a record of the birth of a son, Thomas, on 6 February 1591, the year that Fawkes went to fight for the Spanish.  So why only one record? The general consensus is that this is another Fawkes. However, the two families did have links so a marriage is credible. It may be that Fawkes, as a Catholic, and his bride wanted to marry in the traditions of their church – there are stories of Catholics marrying in secret at the dead of night. Perhaps this is why there are no other records of their marriage.
  • Guy Fawkes managed to avoid the severe penalty that befell most of his co-conspirators, although he certainly did suffer at his death. He was, along with Thomas Wintour, Ambrose Rookwood, and Robert Keyes drawn through the streets of London to his death. They were dragged from the Tower of London where they had been imprisoned, to the Old Palace Yard at Wesmtinster. His fellow conspirators were hung and quartered. Fawkes was the last to meet his doom. Although broken by torture, Fawkes managed to jump from the scaffold, breaking his neck and avoiding the long, painful death suffered by the others.
  • Effigies of Guy Fawkes weren’t always burned on Bonfire Night. Although the tradition of lighting bonfires was begun on the first anniversary of the treason, it wasn’t until later in that century that effigies were burned – usually those of the Pope. Burning the ‘guy’ is a modern tradition, although nowadays we often burn the effigies of unpopular politicians or celebrities.
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The Priest Hides of Harvington Hall

Harvington Hall

My new novel ‘Remember, Remember’ tells the story of the Gunpowder Plot from an unusual point of view. I am currently researching the history of the time and have been learning a lot about ‘priest hides’ or ‘priest holes’. These hides were incorporated into the structure of the houses of Catholic recusant families and were used as a hiding place for priests should a search party turn up – it was high treason to be a priest in England at the end of the sixteenth century. But faith was often the most important part of a person’s life, so many risked their very lives in order to house a priest in their home so that they could attend Mass.  As part of my research I read a lot about Harvington Hall, a moated medieval and Elizabethan manor house near Kidderminster in Worcestershire. The hall is renowned for its wealth of priest hides, many of which are still accessible. So, in the name of research I went along to Harvington Hall just before Christmas to have a look for myself.

I was surprised at my first glance of the Hall. You drive down a tiny country lane flanked by cottages and fields until you turn into an open space. On one side is a church, on another some stables and then, surrounded by a moat, to your right rises the great red brick house that is Harvington Hall. There are no imposing gates or sweeping driveways, you simply park your car, walk across the moat and go in.

You can explore the house by yourself, but we decided to join a guided tour. We were really glad we did and I would highly recommend that if you visit you do so too. Our guide, Arthur, was so informative and entertaining, and I’m sure we learnt so much more form him than we could have done otherwise.

harvington kitchen

We started our tour in the kitchen where we learnt about the plight of the kitchen children who, sometimes aged just three or four, worked naked in the heat of the two great fireplaces, turning the heavy spits all day long. We also learnt the origin of many interesting terms – for example, if a kitchen boy lost his job, he was given a piece of sacking in which to wrap his few belongings. Hence losing your job is now known as ‘getting the sack’. We continued through the kitchen to a store room in which meat was kept cold and animals may have been slaughtered. In a passageway adjacent to this was the first priest hide. It is a tiny space, barely room for a man. It was hard to imagine hiding there, sometimes for days, with no heat or food or fresh air, hardly able to move. Arthur explained that the hide was situated underneath a toilet – a woman would be dispatched to sit on the toilet in the hope that the searchers, for modesty’s sake, would not venture in!

We continued on to see the four main priest holes, all of which are located near the central staircase and are believed to have been created by Nicholas Owen. Owen constructed many priest-hides in Catholic homes from around 1588. After the Gunpowder Plot he was arrested and tortured. Our guide explained, in gory detail, how this poor man withstood the torture to the extent that, by the time he died (having never revealed any of the locations of his priest hides) he was practically split in half.

The priest hides we saw in Harvington Hall are a testament to the man’s genius. This one below has been made to so resemble a fireplace that even the back has been coloured black in order to give the impression that fires have been lit. If you stick your head in and look up you can see where the priest would have climbed and the space above where he would have hidden.

fireplace hide

This hide, in the library, was so cleverly concealed that it was not discovered for 300 years after its construction.

library preist hide

And this one is actually under the staircase itself – two steps are hinged so they can be lifted.

stair priest hide

Wandering through the hall it was easy to imagine the former inhabitants going about their daily lives, and to envisage the panic that must have been felt at the approach of searchers looking for the priest. And with the twists and turns of staircases and corridors it is easy to believe that there may be many more secret hides still not discovered. It was a thoroughly interesting visit – the hall was brought to life by our wonderful guide and it really helped me to gain an insight into the turmoil of the times and the constraints placed on those just trying to practice their religion in peace.

Find out more about Harvington Hall here

http://www.harvingtonhall.com/

Remember, remember, some facts about November (the fifth)!

Guy (or Guido) Fawkes - the most famous of the Gunpowder Plotters.

Guy (or Guido) Fawkes – the most famous of the Gunpowder Plotters.

‘Remember, remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason, why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.’

So the rhyme we remember from school (those of us of a certain age anyway) beseeches us to never forget the dreadful plot of Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators. But has the story of the Gunpowder Plot been forgotten after all these hundreds of years? When we’re ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ at the bangers and the Catherine wheels and writing names with our sparklers (I still love doing that) do we truly remember the religious persecution that drove the plotters to such drastic measures? Or the heinous plot that we would today see as terrorism and was indeed regarded as such at the time? My next novel ‘Remember, Remember’ retells the story of the 5th of November, and my research so far has thrown up some interesting facts. I’d thought I’d share some of them today as we prepare to throw poor old Guy onto the flames once more – an end he might have preferred to the one he actually got!

  • Although it is the effigy of Guy Fawkes that we burn each year on our bonfires, he wasn’t actually the leader of the plot. Blowing up parliament was only part of a much wider rebellion, led by Robert Catesby. Catesby’s family were prominent recusant Catholics– refusing to take part in Anglican religious activity, recusants were often punished by fines, property confiscation, and imprisonment. In Catesby’s plan, Fawkes would blow up Parliament, killing the Protestant king James I. This would then start a revolt, during which a Catholic monarch would take the throne.
  • Guy Fawkes had a successful military career before becoming involved in the plot. However, his allegiances would not have pleased King James. In 1591, Fawkes sold the estate he had inherited (his father died when Fawkes was eight) and used the funds raised to travel to the continent in order to fight in the Eighty Years War. This war was between Catholic Spain and the new Dutch Republic. Fawkes fought on the side of the Spanish. Although there were not any land battles at that time between England and Spain, technically the two countries were still at war. The Spanish Armada was a relatively recent event, happening in 1588, and Spain was still very much seen as an enemy of England.
  • Although we know a lot about Fawkes’ military life, his involvement in the plot and his horrible end, relatively little is known about his personal life. The documents that relate his imprisonment, torture and death do not mention any family. However, there is one reference (and, it seems, only one) to a marriage.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) has an extensive collection of genealogy records. They do this in order to establish the details of the ancestors of their members. Their International Genealogy Index (IGI) records a marriage between Guy Fawkes and Maria Pulleyn in 1590 in Scotton. There is also a record of the birth of a son, Thomas, on 6 February 1591, the year that Fawkes went to fight for the Spanish.  So why only one record? The general consensus is that this is another Fawkes. However, the two families did have links so a marriage is credible. It may be that Fawkes, as a Catholic, and his bride wanted to marry in the traditions of their church – there are stories of Catholics marrying in secret at the dead of night. Perhaps this is why there are no other records of their marriage.
  • Guy Fawkes managed to avoid the severe penalty that befell most of his co-conspirators, although he certainly did suffer at his death. He was, along with Thomas Wintour, Ambrose Rookwood, and Robert Keyes drawn through the streets of London to his death. They were dragged from the Tower of London where they had been imprisoned, to the Old Palace Yard at Wesmtinster. His fellow conspirators were hung and quartered. Fawkes was the last to meet his doom. Although broken by torture, Fawkes managed to jump from the scaffold, breaking his neck and avoiding the long, painful death suffered by the others.
  • Effigies of Guy Fawkes weren’t always burned on Bonfire Night. Although the tradition of lighting bonfires was begun on the first anniversary of the treason, it wasn’t until later in that century that effigies were burned – usually those of the Pope. Burning the ‘guy’ is a modern tradition, although nowadays we often burn the effigies of unpopular politicians or celebrities.

So tonight, when you are watching the bright lights of the fireworks and toasting your marshmallows while the figure of whoever your personal Guy is crackles in the flames, do ‘Remember, Remember’ and spare a thought for the horrors that poor old Guy and his friends underwent and remember too that he may have had a wife and son that mourned his horrible end.

fireworks

References:

http://www.britannia.com/history/g-fawkes.html

http://mormon.org/values/family-history

A chilling tale just in time for Halloween!

It’s taken months of re-writing, editing, proofing and proofing again, but it’s here at last. My novel ‘The Black Hours’ is available from Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Black-Hours-ebook/dp/B00G505UUO/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1383214676&sr=8-1&keywords=the+black+hours
It’s been a long, sometimes stressful experience but one I have thoroughly enjoyed. And one I will soon be repeating as I am now working on a second novel. Provisionally titled ‘Remember, Remember’ it tells the story of the infamous Gunpowder Plot from a rather mysterious point of view. More details to follow – probably on the 5th of November!