I really cannot believe that the BBC chose to call a programme on the Gunpowder Plot “Gunpowder 5/11”. In fact, I nearly switched it off when the presenter started talking about “5/11”. Not impressed! However, despite the title, the programme was actually rather good.
I do wish, though, that there didn’t seem to be this obsession with drawing parallels between historical events and current ones. I’m not even sure that parallels can be drawn between concerns about Catholicism in the 17th century and concerns about Islamic fundamentalism now. Think about “Bloody Mary”, the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, Pius V’s Bull against Elizabeth I, the Spanish Armada, the plots to put Mary Queen of Scots on the English throne … and then think about “9/11”, the terrorist attacks in London, the terrorist attacks in Madrid, the atrocities carried out by IS … how far can you actually compare those situations? Anyway, I didn’t really appreciate the use of “5/11” in the title. I could also have lived without the references to the low opinions amongst the English Establishment of Scots who’d moved to London with King James: they weren’t relevant to the Gunpowder Plot and were presumably only there as a nod to certain recent political events.
Having said all that, the programme was quite interesting. OK, it was same old, same old, but it was presented well. It also made two very important points, which aren’t new but are well worth repeating. One was about the very scale of the Gunpowder Plot – that it planned to take out the entire Establishment. There’ve been a lot of individual assassinations in history, but this … bloody hell, the sheer scale of the plot … it talked about “The Greatest Terror Plot” and, yes, that’s probably what it was. The other was about the restraint shown afterwards. Feelings were running high. There could have been a huge wave of anti-Catholic persecution. But there wasn’t. The plot was foiled, and the alternative horrors that could have resulted from its failure didn’t happen either.
Relevance to today? Yes, a lot. Yes, it is still well worth commemorating. It’s also one of the few purely British historical traditions remaining. So much has already been lost, and it saddens me to see Bonfire Night being increasingly overshadowed by stupid plastic skeletons, cardboard bats and “scream” eggs. This was The Greatest Terror Plot. It was foiled. We’ve been marking that for 409 years. Don’t let’s lose that tradition now. Bring on the parkin buns, the jacket potatoes, the sparklers and the fireworks! Remember, remember the Fifth of November.