Guy Fawkes was probably one of the very few who entered Parliament with honest intentions.
To blow the place to smithereens intentions, that is.
And we all know how that turned out.
But, what If Guy Fawkes had succeeded?
First, here’s a little bit of the history behind Bonfire Night:
Also known as Guido Fawkes, the name he adopted while fighting for the Spanish, Guy was a member of a group of provincial English Catholics who planned the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605.
When he was 8, his father died. His mother then married a recusant Catholic, whose beliefs must have had an effect on the young Fawkes, because he converted to Catholicism later on and left for the continent, where he fought in the Eighty Years’ War on the side of Catholic Spain against Protestant Dutch reformers in the Low Countries.
He travelled to Spain to seek support for a Catholic rebellion in England but was unsuccessful. He later met Thomas Wintour, and returned to England with him.
Wintour introduced Fawkes to Robert Catesby, who planned to assassinate King James I and restore a Catholic monarch to the throne. The plotters secured the lease to an undercroft beneath the House of Lords, and Fawkes was placed in charge of the gunpowder they stockpiled there. Prompted by the receipt of an anonymous letter, the authorities searched Westminster Palace during the early hours of 5 November, and found Fawkes guarding the explosives.
Over the next few days, he was questioned and tortured, and eventually he broke. Immediately before his execution on 31 January, Fawkes jumped from the scaffold where he was to be hanged, and broke his neck, thus avoiding the agony of the mutilation that followed, namely, being hung, drawn, and quartered – a punishment reserved for those convicted of high treason.
Fawkes became synonymous with the Gunpowder Plot, the failure of which has been commemorated in Britain since 5 November 1605.
Every November the 5th, an effigy is made of Fawkes for the sole purpose of being placed upon the top of a bonfire and burnt. And every year, you’ll see children sitting with dummies they’ve made, shouting, “Penny for the guy!”
The bonfire is accompanied by a fireworks display symbolising what would have happened if Fawkes had actually managed to blow up the Houses of Parliament unhindered.
Which brings us nicely back to our earlier questions… What if he’d succeeded?
For starters, The planned blast would have been powerful enough to destroy Westminster Hall and Abbey; explosives experts believe that Guy Fawkes used 25 times the amount of gunpowder needed to kill those in the chamber above.
Some have suggested that the degree of devastation would have been akin to Ground Zero after 9/11.
The face of London would be changed, and the death toll would have extended far beyond the blast site, as Westminster was a ramshackle complex of pubs, houses, and brothels, sitting cheek-by-jowl with the powers-that-be. Those nearby who escaped death or injury in the blast would probably have perished in the resulting inferno.
An inferno would have spread very quickly, taking out everything in its path and causing many deaths, injuries, and widespread damage.
There’d also be a Catholic monarch.
If there’s a Catholic monarch, then the Catholic church would be only religion and all behavioural and civil dictates would come from the Vatican.
(Can you imagine the horror!)
There would be no freedom of thought.
Atheists, pagans, protestants, Muslims, in fact, any belief system other than Catholic, would probably have been burnt at the stake as witches and/ or heretics.
However – no one would have stood for this for very long. Thankfully!
Historian, Alice Hogge, doubts the conspirators’ hoped-for regime change would have lasted. “You probably would have seen a backlash within 10 or 20 years, maybe even sooner. In the course of history, any time someone took over forcefully, once the dust had settled, you saw attempts to unseat that ruler.”
For even in the face of upheaval, society reasserts itself. “A crown with such violence, can it ever prosper? I don’t know that it can.”
With King James I, his heir Prince Henry, and most of the Privy Council and other law makers dead, there would have been a huge power vacuum, and England would have been up for grabs.
The conspirator’s plan had been to install Princess Elizabeth as a puppet catholic queen.
However, Elizabeth was known to be very strong willed. This could have lead the Catholics to turn to a four year old prince (Charles I, who eventually lost his head). His reign could have been very different from the one that ended in the English Civil War…
Or, parliament could have filled the vacuum. But it’s unlikely since nobody was really considering getting rid of the monarchy then, and it would take another 37 years until England even considered it.
There would be no Britain. It would have been quite probable that England and Scotland went their separate ways, only two years after joining together.
Great Britain was the brain child of James I, so with him out of the picture, his idea wouldn’t have come to fruition.
Americans may be speaking French, Spanish, or even German now. Without Puritan religious fundamentalism driving people from England to “the New World” for a purer life, it is quite possible that the French or Spanish may have been more successful in colonising North America.
England would be wide open to invasion (or rather, continued invasion, having already been invaded by the Romans, Vikings, Anglo-Saxons, and French).
A lot of people had a lot of reasons to continue to invade, whether it was the French, Spanish, or even the Scots, (although they were sort of in charge anyway). A complete power vacuum would have provided the perfect opportunity.
And lastly, the Great Fire of London may have occurred earlier.
In 1666 much of London burnt down due to the Great Fire, not helped by thatch roofs and closely packed housing. These conditions already existed in 1605, and a big explosion in the city centre could well have lit the first spark for even greater destruction.
So, next time you see a guy atop a bonfire, think about what it would be like if there was an effigy of the Houses of Parliament there instead, and the chain of events that would have occurred for it to be that effigy, and not the usual guy!
What do you think would have happened if Fawkes’ Gunpowder plot had succeeded? Let us know in the comments!
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