Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Gunpowder, treason and plot

The sky was lit up by bonfires and fireworks last night as people celebrated the four hundred and seventh anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot.

Alternate history being very popular (especially if it's to do with World World II), I was wondering if anyone's ever speculated in print about what would have happened if Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators had suceeded in blowing up the King and Parliament on the fifth of November 1605.

Two questions strike me. Firstly, would England have become and remained an absolute Catholic monarchy like Spain? And given that the Puritans in Parliament, the backbone of the English revolution, would also have been blown up, would Charles I still have lost his head in 1649 even if a Protestant monarchy had been restored after 1605?

A lot of this hinges on the role of individuals in history. As someone once said, "Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past." Individuals are important - Cromwell in 1649, Robespierre in 1789, Lenin in 1917 - but so are the conditions in which they find themselves.

I doubt that England would have become and remained either an absolute or a Catholic monarchy if Guy Fawkes had suceeded in 1605. The rising class of merchants and bankers in London would have seen to that, just as they did in 1649 and again in 1688 when James II tried to impose one.

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