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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb Narrative of the Powder Treason
For those among you who have read other historical narratives by Antonia Fraser you will know that her depth of research and story telling skills are beyond reproach. And so it is with this book.
The book outlines not only the details of the conspiracy itself but also sets the scene by explaining the very real persecution that catholics were exposed to in the last...
Published on 26 Nov 2005 by Mr. Peter A. Green

versus
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars History is written by the winners
. . . and the version of the Tudor period told to Catholic children differs from the version taught in state schools. To the majority of us, Elizabeth was the golden queen who held the balance of power for 40 years, redeeming the bloodbath of her sister's reign with mercy and temperance, and saving us from the terrors of the Inquisition as carried in the holds of the...
Published 21 months ago by Peasant


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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb Narrative of the Powder Treason, 26 Nov 2005
By 
Mr. Peter A. Green "p_a_green" (Ashford, Kent) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Gunpowder Plot: Terror And Faith In 1605 (Paperback)
For those among you who have read other historical narratives by Antonia Fraser you will know that her depth of research and story telling skills are beyond reproach. And so it is with this book.
The book outlines not only the details of the conspiracy itself but also sets the scene by explaining the very real persecution that catholics were exposed to in the last years of Elizabeth's reign and how they hoped, and indeed believed, that they would achieve toleration once James was securely on the English throne.
One aspect of the book which I found particulary fascinating was in respect of how little things have changed over the last four hundred years. We still have politicians who are prepared to make all kinds of promises before they gain power which they have no intention of actually keeping. We also have politicians who have no qualms about lying to us about the real dangers posed by our so called enemies in order that they can implement policies which are beneficial to themselves. And, of course, even in the twenty first century we still have religious extremists who are prepared to bomb London in order to further their cause, though not thankfully those with catholic sympathies anymore.
As we would expect from a historical writer who has written so extensively about female historical characters she places much emphasis on the women who are connected to the powder treason, most notably Anne and Eliza Vaux. She also betrays her catholic sympathies, not so much by supporting the conspirators which she doesn't, but by her very sympathetic portrayal of the Jesuits and lay men who were part of the story, though not of the conspiracy.
In summary, I would highly recommend this book not only because it is a very good read but also because in many important respects many aspects of the narrative are still highly relevant today.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book of fact that reads like good fiction, 23 July 2006
This review is from: The Gunpowder Plot: Terror And Faith In 1605 (Paperback)
Antonia Fraser has the gift of presenting facts and documents from history in beautiful, engaging prose that you just want to keep on reading. The Gunpowder Plot was the first book by Ms Fraser that I read and I loved the thrill and the suspense which she weaves into her narrative. I felt as if I was reading a fast-paced, intriguing detective story rather than a book of fact - and though I knew from the start that the Plot will not succeed, Ms Fraser's style is so absorbing that you'll find youself turning the pages with excitement as you glimpse into the early 17th century religious turmoil of England. Most people will probably have heard of the Gunpowder Plot but won't really know about the forces that shaped it, or the outcome that it brought for England. With The Gunpowder Plot you will discover so many interesting facts about the Plot that you never knew, for example why celebrating Guy Fawkes Day in the USA is such a bizarre contradiction. I learnt a lot while reading this book and thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Balanced and well-written account of the Gunpowder plot, 20 May 2007
By 
Roman Clodia (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Gunpowder Plot: Terror And Faith In 1605 (Paperback)
I don't want to repeat all the many reviews already on here, but would like to add that there is a detectable emotional bias on the side of Fraser for the catholics. That doesn't detract from the book in any way (and could we ever elide our own emotions, opinions, bias' from any narrative?) but instead does add an interesting contemporary layer to her story. At the end, after the conspiracy has been discovered, this emotionalism becomes more obvious in the stories of the torture and execution of the conspirators (some of whom, arguably, were not actually involved). Fraser ends by not coming out on the side of the conspirators, but instead evoking the pity that such 'noble' men were forced into such ignoble deeeds: an interesting view, perhaps, given our own more recent experiences of terrorism in London and other places? A worthy book, and well-worth a read, both for its historical story-telling and its more modern narrative sub-text.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Gunpowder plot: Terror and faith in 1605, Antonia Fraser- A scholarly, yet readable account of a notoriously tangled episode, 28 Sep 2009
By 
Victor (Hull, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Gunpowder Plot: Terror And Faith In 1605 (Paperback)
The infamous Gunpowder plot - the doomed attempt to blow up the English Houses of Parliament and King James - is a fascinating episode of British history. Despite its huge significance, and reach into the popular culture of the day (where we still celebrate the delivery of the King every year by burning Guy Fawkes in effigy every November the fifth), most people only know the very bare bones of the events, and can probably only name one conspirator (Fawkes). This is partially due to the distance of years, the necessarily complex and secret nature of the plot and the various cover-ups, both the conspirators and the government of the day.

In this excellent book, Antonia Fraser, one of our leading historical writers, sets out to uncover the roots of the plot, dating back the persecutions of Catholics in the reign of Elizabeth Tudor, describe how the plotters came together and brought their plans to fruition, delve into the mystery surrounding the uncovering of the plot and the roots of the Monteagle letter, and finally discusses the subsequent aftermath and the brutal fates of the plotters.

The tale is very well researched, and an excellent attempt is made to present all the known facts of the case. In some of the more contentious areas, such as the authorship of the fateful Monteagle letter, some interesting and plausible conclusions are presented. The narrative is very clear. By necessity there are a huge number of people involved, Fraser's descriptions bring many of them to life, and she is so clear in her narration that I found I almost never lost track of who is who. Even more interesting, Fraser draws several parallels with modern terrorism in Ireland, in which the struggle between Protestant and Catholic, central to the Gunpowder plot, is perpetuated even today.

All in all, a very clear and readable description of a confused yet fascinating episode in history. Authoritative, yet easily accessible to non-historians, I strongly recommend this account to anyone with an interest in the era. 5 stars.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars History is written by the winners, 11 Oct 2012
By 
Peasant (Deepest England) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Gunpowder Plot: Terror And Faith In 1605 (Paperback)
. . . and the version of the Tudor period told to Catholic children differs from the version taught in state schools. To the majority of us, Elizabeth was the golden queen who held the balance of power for 40 years, redeeming the bloodbath of her sister's reign with mercy and temperance, and saving us from the terrors of the Inquisition as carried in the holds of the Armada. More or less, anyway. It is, of course, a biased view in which Henry the Eighth, despite being a Bad Man, did a Good Thing when he got rid of monasteries, relics, chantry chapels and the other institutions used by Rome to maintain her hegemony.

Fraser, as a Catholic, necessarily has a different view from the mainstream on the history of the years from 1520 to 1620. She takes the view that the Gunpowder Plot was an extremist manifestation of a wide-spread seething of Catholic frustration and suffering. Her sympathy with fellow-travellers, and pity for the (admittedly wrong) conspirators, is evident from the start. Perhaps it is, indeed, high time the balance was redressed.

However, this is a weighing down on the other side of the scales, rather than an impartial view. From the start, Fraser refers repeatedly to the extremity of the 'persecution' of Catholics under Elizabeth. But if they felt so very persecuted, why was there so little insurrection during her reign? We need to look at matters from both sides.

Henry never embraced the theology of advanced Protestantism; he remained an Anglo-Catholic and liked to see himself as a sort of demi-pope rather than a trailblazer for reform. His short-lived son, educated in a more radical vein, brought in the main recognizable features of the Church of England. Mary's subjects, however, were left in no doubt that Protestantism was heresy and punishable with the utmost severity; moreover that in order to ensure the supremacy of the True Faith she was prepared to bring England into the Spanish sphere of influence. Her sister Elizabeth was constantly badgered about her beliefs and learned to walk a very fine tightrope as a result; any clear evidence of heresy could have given Mary the excuse to rid herself of a rival. Considering how young the Reformation still was, Mary found a surprising number of her subjects were sufficiently convinced she was wrong, to take the radical step of becoming martyrs for their beliefs. It is almost impossible for most of us to appreciate the mindset which, faced with the safe option of going along with the herd, is prepared to stand out and invite a hideous fate.

When Elizabeth came to the throne, both she and her new subjects had had quite enough of the hard-line approach. She made it as easy as possible for Catholics to fudge the issue, stay inside the law and carry on normal lives. The less devout, in droves, did just this. Anyone who doesn't find this surprising must be reminded of the following:
*According to Catholic dogma, attending C of E services, not attending Catholic mass, not going to confession and obtaining absolution, and dying without the services of a Catholic priest, all placed one in peril for one's immortal soul or, at the very least, a long spell in Purgatory; not an abstract concept for people of the time. "Fudging the issue" meant just this.
*By Catholic standards, Elizabeth had no right to the throne; her mother had not been legally married to Henry (who'd been excommunicated anyway, which made him an illegitimate ruler himself). Elizabeth herself, as a Protestant heretic, could not in the eyes of Rome be a legitimate ruler anyway.
*The Pope had explicitly made it the duty of good Catholics to depose Elizabeth by any means, and while infiltration by trained agents was constantly being attempted, it was the duty of Catholics to support these.

Nonetheless, not only did the vast majority of Catholics accept (however grumpily) the status quo, but when the crown passed to James - brought up in a far more radical form of Protestantism than Elizabeth - as Fraser notes, most English Catholics were concerned to display their loyalty right from the start. They did perhaps believe, from James's reluctance to make any unambiguous statement on the subject, that he intended to bring in freedom of religion; although this was not what had happened in Scotland and, while his mother was a Catholic, James was, like his predecessor Elizabeth, a monarch whose chief concern was to stay on the throne.

Fraser is quite good, and subtle, on why the Catholics had such high hopes for James, and it is here that we must look for the roots of rebellion, not in conditions under Elizabeth. Elizabeth's "persecution" had one aim; to prevent a Catholic party becoming wealthy, influential and fanatical enough to depose her in favour of a Spanish substitute. To this end she imprisoned those found to be too close to foreign sympathies, executed anyone implicated in actual plots against her, banned the entry of those who were likely to be instigating plots, and fined those Catholics devout enough to baulk at outward conformity, in order to reduce their wealth and influence. This was miserable for those who wished only to practise their religion loyally, but distinguishing between the truly loyal and those maneouvering to bring in foreign troops with the inquisition on their heels was just too close to call even for a man like Walsingham. History shows us that extreeme, violent action is rarely a response to long low-level oppression, but often a reaction to hopes suddenly dashed.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Harrowing and Gripping, 30 Oct 2007
This review is from: The Gunpowder Plot: Terror And Faith In 1605 (Paperback)
As soon as the scene of the day was set, I couldn't put this book down.
I only knew a bit of the gruesome fate that awaited a few of the characters of this real drama, but never before appreciated the extent of it, the accounts remaining, and how many were implicated.

This has enough detail and background, but with minimal patience required, as you are rewarded by constant plunges back to the real tension (and high stakes) that must have existed as this gripping episode in british history unfolded.

Fraser provides a comprehensive understanding of the fate of the Catholic conspirators that emerges through her respect for detail, pace, and moderate 'between-the-lines' (of the numerous biased accounts). She gets under the skin of what most likely occurred.

Literally: convictions, intrigue, friendship, betrayal, love, loyalties, horse chases, a mysterious letter, gun-battles, gunpowder, treason and plot. Then: the horrors awaiting the captives, and those finding themselves involved....and the repercussions for all.
Akin to 'The Crucible' concerning fear and witch hunts, but on a much more intricate scale.

Intelligent commentary and sympathetic character-analysis also involves one in this harrowing account to really 'remember, remember'.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A lesson from history in tackling terrorism, 21 Nov 2010
By 
Mark Pack (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Gunpowder Plot: Terror And Faith In 1605 (Paperback)
Antonia Fraser's lively and authoritative history not only provides an entertaining account of the events that have turned November 5th into an annual fireworks celebration but also throws a light on how to tackle terrorism. For the early seventeenth century world which spawned Guy Fawkes, Robert Catesby and an attempt to blow up Parliament was one in which there were widespread fears of plots and violence, motivated by differing religious views that led some (but not all) to see the future as inevitably bringing a violent confrontation for religious supremacy. Fears of terrorist conspiracy by an extremist minority in a religion that nominally owned obedience to an overseas religious figure all sounds rather contemporary.

Fraser's skill in mixing the stories of individuals with the story of social tensions brings out the frequent difficulty in deciding quite who or what behaviour is beyond the pale. There was then a spectrum, with at one end a small number of Catholic extremists plotting violent treason but then moving on to those who supported the plot, even if they did not directly participate, those who knew of the plot and let it be, those who knew of the plot and privately tried to stop it (but did not call in the authorities), those who did not know of the plot but only by virtue of turning a blind eye and finally, those who knew of the plot and, probably, did tip off the authorities. Picking precisely where on that spectrum to draw legal culpability, especially in a world of imperfect evidence and conflicting accounts, is not easy and the existence of that spectrum means that successfully tackling the extremists at one end often means appealing to - rather than antagonising - those further along the spectrum.

Aside from the strength of these modern parallels, the other aspect of the book which most surprised me was the role of women in keeping the Catholic religion going in England. The paucity of legal and property rights for women meant that they were, ironically, largely protected from the financial penalties levied on Catholics at the time. Therefore in many families the wife remained a Catholic, bringing up children (at least until adulthood) as Catholics too but with the husband and other adult men in the family paying obedience to the demands of Protestantism.

At heart, however, is the well told story of the plotters, their attempts to blow up Parliament and the consequences for them and for many other Catholics. It is a good read, even without those other bonus perspectives.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars history at its best, 30 Aug 1999
By A Customer
Antonia Fraser clearly has a gift for putting history down on the page in a way that makes it come to life. Forget about scholars who bore us with mind-numbing lists of pointless facts, Antonia is a woman who knows how to tell a great story brilliantly, and no story in English history is as compelling as the plot to blow up parliament. If all you know about Guy Fawkes is that he's a doll you burn once a year then read this book and you'll find out why some people called him a soldier-monk. Antonia has breathed life into a moment in time so many people know about but also know so little about. A great read.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting narrative, but......., 9 April 2014
By 
I.F.Coyle (Bolton, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Gunpowder Plot (Audio CD)
I listened to this book on Audible, and it seemed to me that, while providing a good narrative of the events surrounding the attempted terrorist plot of the 5th November 1605, the reader (or listener) has to be very aware of Ms. Fraser's clear religious leanings. Once one makes allowances for that (and those allowances do need to be considerable in parts) the book rattles along at a fair pace and provide a decent picture of life among the persecuted Catholic minority during the turn of the 16th century.

What it does NOT do is to provide any sort of insight into the reasons behind the treatment of the Catholics by the Protestant Government, nor does it suggest whether the vast majority of Protestants were for or against that treatment.

While providing great and interesting detail (in a Foxe's Book of Martyrs sort of a way) into gory executions and tortures, exciting chases into Priests Holes and worthy and staunch Catholic women, there is no real examination of why the Protestants had arrived at the position of persecuting their fellow-countrymen. There is no mention at all of the persecution of Protestants under Queen Mary, and little indication of the fear in many people's psyche, of foreign (particularly Spanish) invasion, with the attendant threat of Spanish Inquisition.

The plotters themselves have always come across to me as a bunch of rather evil-minded incompetents to be frank, and nothing in this book has made me feel any different. The arch-demon, Cecil is depicted as a zealot and a devil, but realistically, one would hope that his natural successors are still in charge!!

Many times while listening to this book, which was written in the late 90's, I was left wondering whether the book would be any different had it been written post 9/11

I know more about the period now than I did before, which is the hallmark f good history, but treat with care!!
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4.0 out of 5 stars 'Remember, remember the fifth of November...', 8 Mar 2014
By 
C. Ball (Derbyshire) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Gunpowder Plot: Terror And Faith In 1605 (Paperback)
'Remember, remember the fifth of November...'

And we do, some four hundred years on. The memory of the Gunpowder Plot lingers on to this day in the ritual bonfire and effigy of Guy Fawkes on Bonfire Night on the 5th November, in the ceremonial searching of the vaults and cellars of the House of Lords on the eve of the Opening of Parliament, in the perennial joke regarding Guy Fawkes being 'the only man to ever enter Parliament with honest intentions'. However, it is likely that the majority of those celebrating on the 5th November know very little about the historical context of the Plot, the virulent anti-Catholicism of Jacobean England, the players other than Guy Fawkes (who actually had a relatively marginal role and certainly wasn't one of the instigators), the subsequent hunt and trials of those accused, the executions and martyrdom of plotters and priests.

This is a complex story, with many players, both high and low, but Fraser lays it out clearly and concisely. The history of the Gunpowder Plot has long been riven by controversy and arguments between No-Plotters (those who believe that the Plot was manufactured and contrived by Robert Cecil, Secretary of State under both Elizabeth I and James I, as an excuse to crack down on Catholicism) and the Pro-Plotters (those who believe there was indeed a Plot, conceived and carried out by Catholic recusants) - Fraser navigates a diplomatic path between these two sides, coming down on the whole with the Pro-Plotters, albeit with a few caveats about how much Cecil knew and when.

The Gunpowder Plot, as the title 'terror and faith' illustrates, was simply an early example of what we today know as terrorism - wherever minorities are oppressed for reasons of faith (or ethnicity or political affiliation or any number of reasons) there will always be a small number who will feel that the only recourse is to violence. That they are often driven to such extremes by deprivation of rights, repressive legislation and societal discrimination is the real tragedy. Indeed, the Gunpowder Plot was described at the time as a 'heavy and doleful tragedy', although who exactly were the tragic heroes is best left to individual opinion.
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The Gunpowder Plot: Terror And Faith In 1605 by Lady Antonia Fraser (Paperback - 1 Nov 2002)
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