The Gun Powder Plot And The Vatican

The destruction of the Armada drew England together. The nation seemed to realize that if it did not draw together in the work of the Reformation, all of the various factions would fall prey to a common enemy. The years that followed were years of prosperity and added to the glory of England. Unfortunately, however, Elizabeth appreciated the Reformation less for the freedom it gave to the conscience than for freeing her throne. One of her chief aims was to reconcile the English Catholics leading her to dread the complete separation of the Church of England from Rome. She loved splendor in worship and finding the Puritans to be an intolerable nuisance, exercised great intolerance toward them.

Elizabeth has been called great, but her greatness lay largely in the greatness of those she surrounded herself with. The Reformation had set England on the road to greatness; and as the head of state, Elizabeth was lifted up along with it.

Elizabeth died in March of 1603. When it became apparent that she would soon breathe her last, the Catholic interests took steps to see that none would take her place who were not deeply attached to Roman Catholicism. James VI, the king of Scotland, whose Protestantism was open to question, was anxious to obtain the throne. He received warnings from Elizabeth and her counselors that unless his Protestant interests were above suspicion, he would never be accepted by England. In 1600 he gave strong assurances that he would maintain the profession of the gospel. This strong assurance doubtless quieted the fears of the English statesmen; but at the same time, it awakened the fears of the Roman Catholics.

The conspirators who had seen their hopes dashed by such a strong statement, appealed to Pope Clement VIII to use his influence to bar Jame’s ascent to the throne. Clement was not hard to be persuaded in the matter and sent two bulls—one addressed to the Roman clergy, the other to the nobility and laity. Both bulls were of similar tenor and urged that no one should be allowed to ascend the throne who had not only sworn to tolerate the Roman Catholic faith but who would, to the utmost of his power, uphold and advance it.

When Elizabeth died, the Catholic faction immediately dispatched a messenger to the court of Spain, seeking Philip’s interposition on their behalf. The memory of the Armada was still fresh in Philip’s mind. The loss that he had sustained, as well as the blow that the national spirit had received, was too great to allow him to do anything but wish them well.

“The Order of Jesus is never more formidable than when it appears to be least so. It is when the Jesuits are stripped of all external means of doing harm that They devise the vastest schemes, and execute them with the most daring courage….The Jesuits in England now began to meditate a great blow. They had delivered an astounding stroke at sea but a few years before; they would signalize the present emergency by a nearly as astounding stroke on land. They would prepare an Armada in the heart of the kingdom, which would have inflicted had not the ‘winds become Lutheran,’ as Medina Sidonia said with an oath, and in their sectarian fury sent his ships to the bottom.” J.A. Wylie, The History of Protestantism, vol. 3, 527

Catesby, a gentleman of an ancient family, proposed in one sweeping blow to destroy the king and Parliament. In short, he proposed to blow up the House of Parliament with the gunpowder when the king and the Estates of the Realm were all assembled. The plot was entrusted to about twenty persons. They were able to hire a coal-cellar under the Parliament building in which they placed thirty-six barrels of gunpowder. Over these they placed stones and iron bars.

In order to more deeply conceal their real feelings of the conspirators, there was a petition that was published in which they begged the king’s toleration, professing great fidelity and unfeigned love for his Majesty and attesting to their loyal behavior. Shortly before the time for the plot to be executed, Guy Fawkes, one of the ringleaders in the plot, was sent to Rome with a letter to Clement requesting an order from his Holiness, or else the head of the Jesuits, ordering a cessation of all disturbances among the Catholics of England. The Protestants were deceived by these pretensions, not realizing that the very men who were loudest in their protestations of loyalty and brotherly concern were all the while storing gunpowder under the House of lords, counting the hours until they could wreck ruin on England.

All that prevented the horrible crime from being executed was the failure on the part of one of the conspirators. Losing heart, one of the men involved wrote a letter to Lord Monteagle. A search was made and the plot was discovered.

Instead of learning from these events, James later sent the Earl of Bristol to Spain to negotiate the marriage of his son Prince Charles to the daughter of Philip. Though it eventually came to nothing, he gave fresh life to Romanism and laid the foundation for the miseries which would later overtake his house and England. Believing that the religion of his subjects was a weakness rather than the strength of his throne, he labored to destroy it; and in so doing, he alienated the nation.

James VI sank to his grave in 1625 and Charles I replaced him as reigning monarch of England. The year of James’ death was rendered memorable by the birth of a spiritual revival in Scotland. Even men of the world were impressed by the evidence of the working of a supernatural influence. The moral character of whole towns, villages, and parishes was suddenly changed.

The first error of Charles was his marriage to the French princess, a member of the Roman Catholic faith. His second was his dismissal of Parliament because they refused to vote him a supply of money until they had been given a redress of grievances. His second parliament was dismissed for the same reason. Then deciding that he could do as well without a parliament, Charles ruled by prerogative alone. Under this arrangement he could tax his subjects whenever and to whatever extent that he chose. Many unjust and severe taxes were levied.

History confirms that civil tyranny cannot maintain itself along side of religious liberty. Whenever it is confronted by liberty of conscience, it must either extinguish that freedom or suffer itself to be extinguished by it. So was the case in the days of Charles.

The bishop who was over the diocese of London, Bishop Laud, was a man of remarkable character. Becoming one of Charles’s leading counselors, Laud bent his whole energies to molding the religion of England in the direction of the Roman Church. Candlesticks, tapers, and crucifixes began to appear in the churches. Those clergymen who questioned his policies were subject to fines and imprisonment. He made use of forms of prayer that were taken directly from the Mass Book. In his diary, Laud reveals that the pope twice made him the offer of a red hat.

Alarm and discontent, along with the smoldering spirit of insurrection, pervaded all of England. Superstitious rites replaced the pure scriptural forms of the Reformation, and civil and ecclesiastical tyranny were the rule of the land; but before it resulted in open rebellion, events in Scotland took such a turn as to bring deliverance to both Scotland and England.

The Scottish bishops, in a letter to Laud, expressed their desire to maintain a nearer conformity with the Church of England, confirming that this was also the wish of the people. With Charles, however, the wishes of the people mattered nothing. Rather than condescend to the wishes of the Scottish church, Laud imposed upon them the Liturgy, which upon examination was found to be alarmingly popish in nature. The 23rd of July, 1637, was fixed as the day on which the new services were to be implemented.

On that Sunday morning, the reader appeared in the desk of St. Giles’ and went over the usual prayers. Having ended, with tears in his eyes he turned to bid the people good-by, informing them that this was likely the last time he would ever read prayers in the church. At the stated hour, he was followed by the Dean of Edinburgh who appeared to institute the new services. As the dean, Liturgy in hand, worked his way to the desk, the scene became more animated. Scarcely had he begun to read when his composure was shaken by the whiz of a missile passing dangerously close to his ear. Tradition tells us that Jane Geddes, who kept a stall on the High Street, finding nothing more convenient, flung her stool at the dean, with the rebuke, “Villian, dost thou say mass at my lug?” Ibid., 542. The dean hastily shut the obnoxious book and fled with all speed. Thinking that perhaps his greater dignity would effect to gain the reverence of the people, the Bishop of Edinburgh ascended to the desk. His appearance, however, was the signal for a renewed tempest which was more fierce than the first. He managed to escape, the magistrates escorting him home to protect him from the fury of the mob.

If the hatred of the Scottish people had been limited to the unpremeditated outbreaks of the lower classes, the king would have triumphed in the end; but along with these surface demonstrations, there was the strong determined resistance that pervaded all ranks of society. The Privy Council of Scotland, sensing the firm attitude of the nation, sent a representation to the king stating the true feelings of the people. Charles insolently responded by issuing another proclamation, insisting that the Liturgy be used and branding with treason any who opposed it. This expression of tyranny was sufficient to thoroughly arouse the slumbering spirit of the Scots and served to unite them in their opposition.

In the opinion of Charles, nothing remained for him to do but to resort to force. In April 1640, the king summoned Parliament to vote him supplies for a war with the Scots, but they refused to do so. The king then turned to the clergy to raise the necessary funds. The queen addressed a letter to the Roman Catholics who, far from being indifferent spectators, raised a considerable amount of money. As a result, Charles raised an army and marched to the Scottish border.

The Scots were not unaware of what was taking place and had prepared to meet the invasion. Thirty thousand able-bodied men answered the call to service for their country. Hardly had their preparations been completed when the announcement was made that the English forces were approaching.

The Scots were overall victorious as they represented the flower of Scotland, whereas the English soldiers had little heart for fighting. Negotiations were soon opened and a treaty of peace was concluded. Though the terms were vague, the Scots still had a great deal of loyalty to their king and willingly agreed to terms that would never have been acceptable with a foreign enemy. This devotion was repaid by Charles’ perfidy, and the next year he again prepared to invade Scotland. Not waiting for the English armies to reach their boarders, the Scots entered England and completely discomfited the king’s forces at Newburn, almost without striking a blow. With his army dispirited and his nobles lukewarm, the king was forced to again open negotiations with the Scots.

In November, 1640, Parliament met at Westminster. This parliament, known as the Long Parliament, boldly discussed the grievances under which the nation groaned. The king’s two favorites, Strafford and Laud, were impeached and brought to the block. Other reforms were instituted, and many of the effects of the recent years of despotism were swept away by the spirit of reform. It seemed for a time that even the king was converted to the changes. The dark clouds of war seemed to be diminishing; and the king, who had betrayed the faith of his subjects a score of times, was almost trusted by a rejoicing nation.

At this critical moment, terrible tidings arrived from Ireland. A slaughter of Protestants by the Roman Catholics began on October 23, 1641, that rivaled that of the slaughter of St. Bartholomew in France. The butcheries were similar to those imposed on the Waldenses, and the estimates of the total number killed ranged from the low of 50,000 upwards to 300,000. The northern parts of Ireland were nearly depopulated. The persons involved in this atrocity pleaded the king’’ authority and produced Charles’s commission with is broad seal attached to it, reviving the former suspicions of the king’s sincerity and hurrying the king and the nation to a terrible catastrophe.

After the breakdown of a series of exchanges between the king and Parliament, Charles marched to Nottingham where he set up his standard on August 22, 1642.
The first battle between the forces loyal to the king and those recruited by Parliament was at Edgehill, Warwickshire. Both sides claimed the victory over the hard-contested field. From there the tide of battle shifted from one side to the other with the Royalists initially holding the upper hand. The Royalists had the superiority of arms and their soldiers were well discipline, led by commanders who had learned the art of war on the battlefields of the Continent. In contrast, the armies of Parliament were new recruits. As time passed, however, and the new recruits gained skill and experience, the fortunes of war began to shift. Brave from principle and with the consciousness of a noble cause, the army of Parliament was inspired with ardor and courage. The longer the war lasted, the greater became the disparity between the two opposing armies. Finally, on July 1, 1644, at Marston Moor, the virtual fate of the war was decided. From this day on, the king’s fortunes steadily declined.

When the king eventually became a prisoner, England came under a dual directorate, one half of which was a body of debating civilians and the other a conquering army. Parliament soon lost control of the situation and ceased to be master of itself. Cromwell, the virtual head of the army, put himself at the head of affairs and brought the debating to an end. Colonel Joyce was sent to Holmby House, where Charles was confined, and showed such good authority—namely and armed force—that Charles was immediately turned over to him. Colonel Pride was next sent to the House of Commons; and taking his stand at the door with a regiment of soldiers, he admitted only those who could be relied upon. The number to which Parliament was reduced to by this action was no more than fifty or sixty members. This body, known as the Rump Parliament, drew up papers accusing Charles Stuart of high treason. Brought before this tribunal, Charles declined to accept its jurisdiction and was quickly condemned as a traitor and sentenced to be beheaded.

The scaffold was erected before Whitehall on January 30, 1649. An immense crowd filled the street, along which shotted cannon were turned assuring that no tumult would interrupt the unfolding events. A scaffold receiving their sovereign’s blood was a spectacle that England had never before witnessed, and it was a drama they could scarcely believe would go to its end. At the appointed hour, the king stepped to the scaffold, bearing himself with dignity.

For thirty years the popish powers had attempted to overthrow the Protestant movement. Massacres and devastation had overtaken the cities and villages of Bohemia and Hungary. These nations, Protestant when the war began, were forced back and trodden into popish superstition and then into slavery by its end. This period, known as the Thirty Years’ War, continued to sweep over the forces of the Protestant kingdoms of Germany until Gustavaeus Adolphus of Sweden had rolled it back. After his death, Romanism seemed to gain a fresh force; but by this time, England and Scotland had become even more important theaters than Germany was. Knowing that without the overthrow of Protestantism in these two countries their triumphs in other parts of Europe would by to no avail, the Jesuits with their intrigue, sought to corrupt Great Britain and thereby recover both England and Scotland. Their design seemed to be on the very threshold of success when it all ended at the scaffold at Whitehall.

“So sudden a collapse had overtaken the schemings and plotting of thirty years! The sky of Europe changed in almost a single day; and the great wave of popish reaction which had rolled over all Germany, and dashed itself against the shores of Britain, threatening at one time to submerge all the Protestant States of Christendom, felt the check of an unseen Hand, and subsided and retired at the scaffold of Charles I.” Ibid., 556
In the overthrow of the popish plans, Protestantism ascended to a higher platform than it had ever before attained.

The fall of the monarchy in England was soon followed by a military dictatorship, headed by Oliver Cromwell. If Cromwell was a tyrant, he was so in a very different way than Charles had been. Under his government, England suddenly broke forth from a position of weakness to one of great prestige. She again became a force to be reckoned with in Christendom. The massacres were brought to an end in the Waldensian valleys, and even the pope trembled in the Vatican when Oliver threatened to make his fleet visit the Eternal City. For the remainder of his rule, as Lord Protector, until his death in 1658, the people of England experienced the spirit of liberty; and her people could breathe more freely.

The End