Decided to write a short article on Guy Fawkes and how he (and the plotters) failed to follow simple principles from the Art of War by Master Sun – my comments are in oliver green.
Fawkes and his fellow plotters had planned to blow up the Houses of Parliament on November 5 1605, while all of England’s politicians (including the King) were in attendance. They were foiled in their attempt and today, Britain celebrates with fireworks and bonfires on the anniversary of the failed attack.
Long referred to as The Gunpowder Plot, it involved a group of ten conspirators who managed to smuggle a great load of gunpowder under the Houses of Parliament before being caught at the last minute.
Yes it was about religion:
When James I ascended to the throne of England in 1603, there was optimism among English Catholics after aving been subject to a lengthy period of Protestant rule under Elizabeth I, there was hope among Catholics that her successor would be more sympathetic; after all the Kings wife was Catholic.
Between 1533 and 1540, when King Henry VIII took control of the English Church from Rome, the start of several decades of religious tension in England. English Catholics struggled in a society dominated by the newly separate and increasingly Protestant Church of England.
Henry’s daughter was Queen Elizabeth I, responded to the growing religious divide by introducing the Elizabethan Religious Settlement, which required anyone appointed to a public or church office to swear allegiance to the monarch as head of the Church and state. The penalties for refusal were severe; fines were imposed for recusancy, and repeat offenders risked imprisonment and execution. Catholicism became marginalised, but despite the threat of torture or execution, priests continued to practise their faith in secret.
King James I ended up leaning towards Protestants and so Catholics were once again in a position of dissatisfaction. Then come the plotters who decided that something needed to be done.
Guy Fawkes was not main man and the plot was planned in a pub.
Guy Fawkes is the name most remember for two reasons: he was the guy whose job was to light the gunpowder and he was the one who got caught red handed.
The real brains behind the whole operation was Robert Catesby, a loyal Catholic who had been forced out of university because of his religion. In February 1604 Catesby invited a guy called Thomas Wintour to his house in Lambeth, where they discussed Catesby’s plan to re-establish Catholicism in England by blowing up the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament.
The first meeting of five conspirators took place on 20 May 1604, at the Duck and Drake Inn, just off the Strand, Thomas Wintour’s usual residence when staying in London. Catesby, Thomas Wintour, and John Wright were in attendance, joined by Guy Fawkes and Thomas Percy. Where the five plotters swore an oath of secrecy on a prayer book.
Fawkes was more of a fighter than a thinker; he served in the Spanish army prior to being recruited into the band of plotters.
Also pubs would go on to play a key role in the build up to the plot. The guestroom of the Olde Coach House in Northamptonshire became the group’s headquarters.
Catesby’s family owned the land that the pub was on.
Here I would be thinking about the quote by Master Sun: “Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.” The whole plot started in a haphazard way and they started acting out as if they were already defeated – from this position any plans made would have an emotional element to them – which gives rise to potential ‘leaks’ within the plotters.
Fawkes had a fake name ‘John Johnson’
To smuggle an enormous amount of gun powder under the Houses of Parliament, the plotters rented a property, under Fawkes’ fake name: John Johnson. When Guy Fawkes was caught he gave this false name.
Here is William Capon’s map of Parliament and labels the undercroft used by “Guy Vaux (Guy Fawkes)” to store the gunpowder.
The quote by Master Sun comes into mind is: Be extremely subtle, even to the point of formlessness. Be extremely mysterious, even to the point of soundlessness. Thereby you can be the director of the opponent’s fate. – Guy Fawkes by choosing such a memorable fake name makes me think the he was just a weak link within the plotters and neither he nor the plotters thought things through.
Parliament knew of the plot days in advance
One of the plotters wrote anonymous letter to Lord Monteagle, a parliamentarian, who was due to be in the Houses of Parliament on November 5, warning him of the threat.
The letter was received on October 26, but after Monteagle told the Earl of Salisbury (the King’s first minister) about the proposed attack it was decided the best thing to do would be to wait until the last moment to catch the perpetrators in the act.
The anonymous letter sent to 4th Baron Monteagle (William Parker), was instrumental in revealing the plot’s existence. Its author’s identity has never been reliably established, although Francis Tresham has long been a suspect. Monteagle himself has been considered responsible as has Salisbury.
Master Sun would say to this: The opportunity to secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself. – no further comment.
The plotters lacked of basic knowledge of fireworks
As soon as Guy Fawkes was discovered about to light the fuse to ignite all the gunpowder, several of the plotters fled London to England’s Midlands on stolen horses. As they arrived at a safe house, they discovered that the gunpowder they were carrying with them was soaking wet – so they laid it out in front of a fire to dry it.
Naturally. It exploded, blinding one of the plotters.
Master Sun said: The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand. – the plotters had no contingency plans for what will happen if it rains – this is England, its obvious it will likely rain…
They all had a horrible end
Once the dust has settled and all the plotters had been caught, the majority of them were tried and found guilty of high treason. That only meant one thing: a horrible death.
The plotters were hanged, drawn and quartered. The were hanged until almost dead, then had their testicles removed and destroyed in front of their eyes. Their guts were then cut out before executioners beheaded and dismembered them.
They weren’t burned at the stake, though one tradition when celebrating on November 5 is to burn a life size figurine or “Guy” – whose name has lived on into history.
Master Sun said: Prohibit the taking of omens, and do away with superstitious doubts. Then, until death itself comes, no calamity need be feared. – Within the plotters there was a sense of religious fervour which likely blinded them from logical reasoning of carrying out this attack that led to their overall undoing.
Catholics suffered in response.
In the wake of the plot, new laws were passed which further restricted the capabilities of Catholics. They were unable to serve in the armed forces or vote in elections. Nor were they allowed to practice law. It would be the 1800s when they regained the right to vote.
Master Sun said: Thus, what is of supreme importance in war is to attack the enemy’s strategy. – Neither the English had a viable strategy to deal with the plotters and neither the plotters in how they will carry out their attack – the plotters were their own worst enemies.
So what is conspiracy surrounding the conspiracy?
It could have been an elaborate sting staged by the some members of parliament in order to force the country into a more vigorous anti-Catholic stance.
The Earl of Salisbury recruited the men to conduct the attack, which could explain why they were caught in such an easy and dramatic fashion. None of the plotters mentioned a conspiracy when they were facing death but it’s still up for debate whether Salisbury had a role or not.
Master Sun said: He who is prudent and lies in wait for an enemy who is not, will be victorious. – a sting seems more likely to draw out the plotters and their allies and alongside this more policies to persecute Catholic English to make sure they don’t get close to the levers of power.
Lord Monteagle was rewarded for life
Lord Monteagle, the man who told Salisbury of the letter that he was sent by one of the plotters was rewarded by being paid £700 per year thats around £300,000 by today’s standards.
Remember one of the plotters was Monteagle’s cousin, Francis Tresham (who is believed sent the letter).
Master Sun taught that one should always fight with knowledge: Now the reason the enlightened prince and the wise general conquer the enemy whenever they move and their achievements surpass those of ordinary men is foreknowledge.