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Friday, 7 November 2014

What If: The Gunpowder Plot had succeeded?

What if Fawkes had blown up Parliament?
On the 5th of November in Britain we celebrate Bonfire Night to mark the anniversary of how a group of conspirators lead by Robert Catesby tried to blow up the new King James I of England, (who was also James VI of Scotland), in Parliament. The demolition expert Guido Fawkes, (also called Guy Fawkes), placed one tonne of gunpowder under the House of Lords to blow up the King and Parliament. The 'Gunpowder Plotters' were Catholics and James I was a Protestant who was starting to become increasingly anti-Catholic so they believed that by assassinating him they could lead a Catholic rebellion and put his Catholic daughter Elizabeth on the throne. It failed and the plotters were executed. What if though Fawkes had succeeded?
Guy Fawkes; the infamous plotter
The Plot succeeds- Guy Fawkes was an explosives expert who had used gunpowder in the Spanish army who he had defected to years prior so he placed enough gunpowder in the rented under croft of the House of Lords for him to light a 15 minuted fuse, (giving him time to escape), to blow up the King and Parliament during the Opening of Parliament on October 5th 1605. The plague however caused the King to push back the Opening of Parliament to the following month. Fawkes had not expected this so had not gone to great lengths to properly protect the gunpowder from damp and when this happens the explosive powder reverts back to its original components. Thanks to this Catesby had to bring in another conspirator Francis Tresham to buy in more gunpowder. Tresham wasn't a good conspirator and warned his Catholic brother-in-law, Lord Monteagle, not to attend. Monteagle gave the letter to the King who had Fawkes arrested and his co-conspirators after their names had been tortured out of him. In this scenario the King doesn't put the Opening of Parliament back so the gunpowder doesn't start to deteriorate so there was no need to bring Tresham into the plot. The TV channel ITV did a documentary called The Gunpowder Plot: Exploding the Legend about how destructive the explosion would be and the nature of gunpowder makes it destructive. If I had a pile of gunpowder and set it on fire it wouldn't explode, only burn, but in a container the hear energy builds up until it explodes. The documentary shows that Fawkes used quite thick barrels and the House of Lords under croft had 2.1 m, (7 foot), thick concrete walls as well so there is a lot of stored energy. Well I think Alan Moore and David Lloyd in their graphic novel V for Vendetta summed the result up best...
I love that graphic novel
Although the clock tower wasn't built in 1605 but here's the explosion from the documentary.
Putting it bluntly the explosion would put Michael Bay to shame
Fawkes had detonated one tonne of gunpowder allowing for half of the gunpowder to explode and still be deadly. It was with everyone in the House of Lords being blown to smithereens. Not only would King James have died but also the Queen, the fourteen year old Prince Henry who was heir to the throne, the Archbishop of Canterbury, every Lord in England, almost every MP, (Member of Parliament), and even the famous Sir Francis Drake. The explosion would have been so huge that everyone in a 100 m, (330 ft), radius would have been killed. Being blunt it would be raining men all over London, (and a bit of a woman).

The Immediate Aftermath- By the time that the gunpowder had gone off Fawkes would be sailing out of the Thames to either France or Spain where he would be declared a hero but for reasons explained later he would never return to England. The conspirators would then go to the Midlands to kidnap Princess Elizabeth and possible even the young Prince Charles to put them on the throne but this would be impossible. The conspirators would have relied on a Catholic rebellion to do this but for three reasons it it would have been impossible. 1) Catholics comprised of only 5% of the population so obviously that would fail. 2) To organize a rebellion they needed to tell lots of people which would make them quickly found out so no one would know to revolt and 3) Catholics weren't interested in overthrowing James. He was well liked and wasn't as hard on them as his predecessor Elizabeth so the rebellion would have no support. News would reach quickly to the guardians of Charles and Elizabeth about the regicide so an armed guard would be ushered in to protect them and for Catesby to kidnap the two the modern day equivalent would be breaking into the Pentagon with a BB Gun, (or if you're a gamer playing Dark Souls blindfolded). In London the explosion would be heard and seen for miles around as well as blasting the glass out of every building nearby including shattering every window in Westminster Abby.
Like in this image Catholics wouldn't do too well if the plot succeeded
A short while after the blast- The London Mayor would quickly find out who rented the under croft and the conspirators would be revealed as Catholics. This would cause a wave of anti-Catholicism around not only England but also Scotland because James was also King of Scotland. Although Catholics in England, Scotland and Ireland were appalled by the actions of the plotters in our timeline, (and that of this alternate timeline), they would not be spared. All known Catholics would be beaten to death, their homes burnt and the 5% Catholic population would either be driven out of England or murdered. However Jews would also pay the price for this as well as any other non-Protestants or foreigners in England or Scotland as an angry hate filled mob wouldn't stop at just Catholics, throughout history if a small minority of an ethnic or religious group does something like this all others are relentlessly attacked. With most authority figures strewn across Westminster the number of Jews, Catholics and other minorities would seriously drop in England. Catseby and the conspirators would be arrested and hung, drawn and quartered which involves hanging someone half to death, cutting off their genitals and burning them before being beheaded and their body being chopped into four and burnt. This is what happened to Fawkes and the others in our timeline, (hence the burning of the Guy). Fawkes would have fled to Spain where he is hailed a hero for killing the English King, (Spain and England were bitter rivals), so with both countries distracted France will drastically change history, (I'll explain later). Charles would be declared King but his young age means that for his early reign there would be a Regency Council with some high ranking MPs who weren't blown up while as the anarchy dies down in England quick elections bring in new MPs.
What would the reign of Charles be like?
The Reign of King Charles- The Regency era would be less cultured. Shakespeare only wrote Macbeth to curry favor with King James so one of the most famous plays in the world would have never existed. James also wrote the Bible in English, hence why its called the King James Bible, where James changed the English language including how we structure sentences, when to use certain suffixes, not using thou and you when addressing someone to show power levels, (you was used of someone of low power talking to someone of high power and thou was talking to someone on the same power level or lower levels), and even using some punctuation like speech marks so our language would be drastically different. When Charles came to power he would have been a very different Charles to the one in our timeline. In our timeline he clashed often with his father James so in this alternate one he would have idolized his father's legacy. With Catholics killing his father and having a Protestant Regency he would have been severely anti-Catholic and would have done any attempts to challenge major Catholic rivals, namely France and Spain, and he would have made Scotland and England become more influenced in the 30 Years War leading to a greater defeat so he would have tried to regain prestige by expanding English colonies in the Americas by building up colonies in Canada, the Caribbean and the Southern US. In our timeline James got Charles to marry Henrietta of France but his Regency Council and later himself would get him to marry a Protestant such as a German or Danish Princess, (his mother was from Denmark). There would also be no English Civil War in this timeline.
You probably wouldn't have heard of Oliver Cromwell in this timeline
In our timeline Charles disagreed with his father over Parliament and his resentment towards his father made him favor the Divine Right of Kings, where he was chosen by God to rule the country and that he didn't need a Parliament. With no father to disagree with, (being a fortnight off his fifth birthday when James was blown up), and being raised to support Parliament he would never tried to dissolve Parliament so with him also granting Parliament more rights thanks to the Bishops' War, resulting in the same way as it did in our timeline, we would see a much more democratic Parliament than in our timeline by the end of the century. Oliver Cromwell who fought against the King in the Civil War and eventually executed the King could possibly be on the Regency Council but he wouldn't be a widely known as he is today. When Ireland revolts as it did in our timeline Charles would be much more virulent than Cromwell in crushing the Irish. Cromwell did many horrid things to Irish Catholics including slaughtering 800 civilians after the Battle of Drogheda because they happened to have weapons and later stripping Catholic landowners of their land, reducing Catholic landowners from 60% to just 8%, Charles would be much worse. He would have ruthlessly executed any Catholics whether they be man, woman and child and the Catholic landowners after the 1652 Act of Settlement for Ireland would be much lower. Irish nationalism would be even greater from now on thanks to this but a major Catholic diaspora would make a much more Protestant dominated Ireland. It is unlikely that Charles would put in place the same laws what Cromwell put in place like banning presents and Christmas, (I swear he was the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves), he wouldn't try to make Scotland become part of England much more quicker and we would see an Act of Union much more sooner than 1707 like in our timeline.
A French USA?
Les etats-unis d'Amerique- When Charles dies and his son, Charles II but not our Charles II with his father marrying a Danish or German Princess and not a French one, there would be less Puritan migration to the English colonies and it would more resemble the migration of that of the French or Spanish colonies. With James dead and the country in disarray after the explosion the funds are not allocated to form a colony on the East coast of America. With Spain and England arguing over Fawkes France moves in and founds New Paris instead of a Jamestown. The French form the Thirteen Colonies instead while the English hurriedly colonize Canada and sites of the Mississippi. During Charles' War against the Irish many Catholics flee to the French colonies creating a large Irish population in the states. While France grows in power in the Americas and years later during the Seven Years War a unified Britain annexes Quebec. The loss of income makes the French monarchy impose taxes like the Stamp Tax on the French colonists they start to rebel. The British, who were building an empire in India, decide to help the revolutionaries, with a French George Washington, in a role reversal of our timeline bringing in Portugal to help. Britain's naval strength, (possible greater than our timeline so Britain would be less threatened by France), allows France to recognize the new Les etats-unis d'Amerique. However this almost bankrupts Britain but a more constitutional, democratic government compared to France and our own Britain at the time means that the rebels are granted more rights. Also industrialization with the growing industries of textiles and railroads means that Britain gets out of a slump quicker and starts trading with the new French USA who in our timeline became a quick economic power by even opening the Stock Exchange before 1800 so in this alternate timeline it is likely that the USA is still an economic power. However the loss of the USA ruins the French economy and a revolution with Napoleon still rising to power but the British would be stronger with its forces not directed to fight the War of 1812 against the US with both nations forming an alliance as brothers in arms. The US would purchase British colonies on the Mississippi, (unaffecting the British economy with them having cotton in India to replace the ones in America), and a French speaking America declares 'Manifest Destiny' as it spreads across the continent.

Conclusion- If Guy Fawkes had succeeded we would have a very different world with no English Civil War, a largely Protestant British Isles and French being the dominant language for the film industry. Guy Fawkes would likely die poor in Spain and never become the figure that he is associated with today. Moore and Lloyd wouldn't choose his face for V's in V for Vendetta being seen as a symbol of prejudice instead of martyrdom and Anonymous could have a very different mask as its symbol of unity.

Thanks for reading and please any comments or further suggestions.

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