FAITH AND TREASON by Antonia Fraser


The Story of the Gunpowder Plot
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 Early 17th century England's complexities and dangers are rendered both comprehensible and relevant in the skilled prose of a veteran mystery novelist (A Splash of Red, 1981, etc.) and popular historian (The Wives of Henry VIII, 1992, etc.). Guy Fawkes Day, on November 5, is England's annual commemoration of the failed 1605 plot by a small group of English Catholics to blow up the House of Parliament with King James I present, in an attempt to bring back Catholicism as the state religion. Fraser's account of this dramatic incident is distinguished by her perspective on the larger issue of treason and on the vexed question of faith and patriotism. ``The end of the sixteenth century,'' Fraser notes, ``was an uneasy time in England. Harvests were bad, prices were high. As the Queen grew old, men everywhere were filled with foreboding about the future.'' Individual plotters (including ``Little John,'' the near-dwarf who created hiding spaces for Catholic priests, the charming Guy Fawkes, and Robert Catesby, the plot's charismatic leader) and the society in which they moved take on the depth and dimension of real life. In addition, Fraser's thoughtful narrative probes the serious issues raised by the event. Her self-appointed task is above all ``to explain . . . why there was a Gunpowder plot in the first place.'' Foremost among the striking aspects of English society Fraser illuminates is the Elizabethan distrust of Roman Catholics, who were suspected of disloyalty and were sometimes tortured and imprisoned for their beliefs. And she sets her discussion of the Gunpowder Plot against the background of modern problems of religious terrorism, describing the plotters as the equivalents of modern-day terrorists whose violence stems from their perceived weakness and desperation. Fraser's book, a solidly researched and gripping account of religious battles and persecution, forces the reader to reflect on both the gruesome results and complex origins of terrorism. (40 b&w illustrations) (Book-of-the-Month Club/History Book Club selections; author tour)

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-385-47189-0
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Talese/Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1996


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