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What was the Gunpowder Plot? The Traditional Story Tested by Original Evidence   By: (1840-1912)

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First Page:

TRANSCRIBER'S NOTES: Text in italics is enclosed by underscore characters. Where small capitals were used, text has been presented in uppercase. Abbreviations use superscript; the caret, ^, is used before superscript characters. Where multiple superscript characters are used they are enclosed in curly braces, {}. A small number of macron diacritical marks are used in the text and appear as an overlined letter. These marks are indicated by [=a] where a is the overlined character.

This text makes extensive use of archaic spellings in quoted material which has not been amended or modernized. Where typographic errors have been repaired, they are detailed in further transcribers' notes at the end of the text.

[Illustration: THE POWDER PLOT]







THE following study of the Gunpowder Plot has grown out of the accidental circumstance that, having undertaken to read a paper before the Historical Research Society, at Archbishop's House, Westminster, as the day on which it was to be read chanced to be the 5th of November,[1] I was asked to take the famous conspiracy for my subject. It was with much reluctance that I agreed to do so, believing, as I then did, that there was absolutely nothing fresh to say upon this topic, that no incident in our annals had been more thoroughly threshed out, and that in regard of none, so far, at least, as its broader outlines are concerned, was the truth more clearly established.

When, however, I turned to the sources whence our knowledge of the transaction is derived, and in particular to the original documents upon which it is ultimately based, I was startled to find how grave were the doubts and difficulties which suggested themselves at every turn, while, though slowly and gradually, yet with ever gathering force, the conviction forced itself upon me, that, not merely in its details is the traditional story unworthy of credit, but that all the evidence points to a conclusion fundamentally at variance with it. Nothing contributed so powerfully to this conviction as to find that every fresh line of reasoning or channel of information which could be discovered inevitably tended, in one way or another, towards the same result. In the following pages are presented to the reader the principal arguments which have wrought this change of view in my own mind.[2]

I cannot pretend to furnish any full or wholly satisfactory answer to the question which stands upon the title page. The real history of the Plot in all its stages we shall, in all probability, never know. If, however, we cannot satisfy ourselves of the truth, it will be much to ascertain what is false; to convince ourselves that the account of the matter officially supplied, and almost universally accepted, is obviously untrue, and that the balance of probability lies heavily against those who invented it, as having been the real plotters, devising and working the scheme for their own ends.

Neither have I any wish to ignore, or to extenuate, the objections which militate against such a conclusion, objections arising from considerations of a general character, rather than from any positive evidence. Why, it may reasonably be asked, if the government of the day were ready to go so far as is alleged, did they not go further? Why, being supremely anxious to incriminate the priests, did they not fabricate unequivocal evidence against them, instead of satisfying themselves with what appears to us far from conclusive? Why did they encumber their tale with incidents, which, if they did not really occur, could serve only to damage it, inasmuch as we, at this distance of time, can argue that they are impossible and absurd? How is it, moreover, that the absurdity was not patent to contemporaries, and was not urged by those who had every reason to mislike and mistrust the party in power?

Considerations such as these undoubtedly deserve all attention, and must be fully weighed, but while they avail to establish a certain presumption in favour of the official story, I cannot but think that the sum of probabilities tells strongly the other way... Continue reading book >>

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