Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot, 1605

2018-11-05T17:49:17+00:00November 5, 2018|HH 2018|

“The wrath of a king is as messengers of death.” —Proverbs 16:14

Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot of 1605

King James VI of Scotland became King James I of England upon the death of Queen Elizabeth I. Not everyone in England was happy with this outcome. A secret cabal of Roman Catholic assassins determined to blow up the King and Lords and establish one of the daughters of James on the throne. The plotters acquired a substantial amount of gunpowder and positioned it beneath or next to the House of Lords, to be guarded and ignited by one Guy Fawkes, a secret Catholic and veteran of Spain’s wars against the Protestant Dutch. Guy and his body parts were destined to part company, instead of those of the King and Parliament.

Elizabeth I of England (1533-1603)

Guy Fawkes was born in York to an Anglican family, in 1570. His mother’s family, however, were recusant Catholics; one of his cousins secretly entering the Jesuit order. Upon the death of his father, Guy’s mother remarried, a Catholic named Denis Bainbridge, whose relatives clung to the papacy and disobeyed the Royal commands regarding religion, including hiding priests on the run from the authorities. The Reformation had made little inroads in the lives of the people around Fawkes. Upon reaching his majority and claiming his inheritance, Guy Fawkes travelled to the Netherlands to fight for three years alongside the Roman Catholic armies of Spain trying to crush out the Reformed Dutch who were fighting for their independence — a war that lasted about ninety years.

Guy Fawkes (1570-1606)

Guy adopted the Italian for his name, Guido, and travelled to Spain to enlist support against the new English King James I, a Protestant heretic that Fawkes desired to kill. Spain at the time was seeking a political rapprochement with England, and gave little encouragement to the mercenary. Fawkes joined a home-grown Catholic conspiracy in 1604, led by one Robert Catesby, to blow up the King and Parliament. Fawkes, the professional soldier, looked the part with broad shoulders, long hair and a beard. He impressed the conspirators as a man of action and a trustworthy confederate of strong Catholic convictions.

Detail from a contemporary engraving of the gunpowder plot conspirators —
Guy (Guido) Fawkes is third from the right

The inside man, Thomas Percy, gained access to the house owned by the “Keeper of the King’s Wardrobe,” which proved a suitable place from which to access a room beneath Parliament House. Up to twenty kegs of gunpowder were stored there under the watchful guard of Guido Fawkes, living under the pseudonym of John Johnson, a servant of Percy. By August of 1605, the stage was set for action. Spoiled powder was replaced by fresh and Fawkes possessed of the slow match to ignite the fuse. He prepared an escape route to the continent once the deed was done.

Royalist soldier Sir Thomas Knevet apprehends Guy Fawkes

Some of the conspirators became nervous that fellow Catholics might be killed when the Parliament was blown up and, on November 5, sent a letter of warning to William Parker, Lord Monteagle, a Catholic, to skip the gathering of Parliament. The letter made its way to the King who promptly ordered Sir Thomas Knyvet to conduct a search. He and his assistants caught Guy Fawkes exiting the building where the powder was stored, and seized the assassin. After first denying everything, torture brought to light the whole plot and the identities of the conspirators, all eight of whom were rounded up, tried and sentenced to death in the exquisite manner English Kings reserved for those who committed high treason.

Guy Fawkes before King James I

The erstwhile Fawkes cheated the hangman, however, by falling off the scaffold and breaking his neck prior to the scheduled show. His body, not intact, was nonetheless distributed around the Kingdom as an object lesson to potential regicides. Parliament made the 5th of November an official “day for rejoicing for the deliverance of the King,” still celebrated today as Guy Fawkes Day, with lots of explosions, partying, and mirth. He has become an icon of popular culture, and his visage appears in various places, including motion pictures. One historian has noted that Guy Fawkes came to be toasted as “the last man to enter Parliament with honest intentions.”

The execution of Guy Fawkes

Sir Walter Raleigh Beheaded, 1618

2018-10-24T20:47:11+00:00October 29, 2018|HH 2018|

“Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall. Better it is to be of an humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud.” —Proverbs 16: 18-19

Sir Walter Raleigh Beheaded
October 29, 1618

Warrior, pirate, businessman, investor, courtier, explorer, jailbird, Member of Parliament, Governor, historian, poet: Sir Walter Raleigh lived a most colorful and dangerous life, full of adventure. He loved to fight, hated the Catholic Church, was accused of atheism though a forthright Protestant, popularized tobacco smoking and died by beheading on October 29, 1618 by orders of King James I, on trumped up charges, to appease the Spaniards. He had ample opportunities to escape but never tried to.

Sir Walter Raleigh (1554-1618)

Devon County, England

Raleigh was born in Devon, a maritime county on the south coast of England. His anti-Catholicism probably dates from his youth when his devoutly Protestant family barely dodged the hounds of Queen Mary Tudor, who tried to roll back the Reformation through persecution during her five years on the throne. At the age of fifteen Walter sailed to France to serve in the Huguenot army, fighting those who sought to destroy the Reformation Protestants through war and massacre. In 1578 he sailed to America with his half-brother, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, and seven years later funded his own expedition to begin a colony in the New World at Roanoke Island, now part of North Carolina. That colony ultimately failed but became one of the great mysteries of American history.

Two years after his first voyage to America, Walter joined a military expedition against the Irish in Munster, once again in rebellion against their English overlords. As a captain, he and his men carried out the orders of his superiors to massacre by beheading six hundred Spanish and Italian mercenaries who had surrendered after a siege. Although critical of English policy in Ireland, Raleigh became a favorite of Queen Elizabeth I, who knighted the adventurous soldier and appointed him Captain of the Queen’s guard, a considerable honor. He acquired lucrative properties and monopolies, including considerable estates in Ireland, as grants from the Queen. He was made Lieutenant of Cornwall, Vice Admiral of Devon and Governor of Jersey, one of the Channel Islands. He took a seat in Parliament.

Queen Elizabeth I of England (1533-1603)

Raleigh secretly married one of the Queen’s ladies in waiting, Elizabeth Throckmorton, without the Queen’s permission. Elizabeth, some historians say in a jealous rage, threw them both in the Tower of London, a prison from which many prisoners never returned. Within two years Raleigh had succeeded in buying his way out of the Tower and embarked on the first of two expeditions to South America, searching for El Dorado, the lost city of gold, a chimera which impoverished other adventurers in history.

Elizabeth Throckmorton (1565-1647)

King James I of England (1566-1625)

When James Stuart became King James I, he instituted a foreign policy prohibiting further depredations against Spain’s empire. Sir Walter Raleigh had been a life-long enemy of Spain, carrying out attacks on their settlements and leading expeditions in South America. His political enemies, and there were many, began working for his destruction, implicating him in a treasonous plot. He once again was sent to the Tower, this time for fifteen years. While there, he wrote poetry and accounts of his explorations and adventures. His last work was a history of the world, showing the past as a record of God’s Providence and noting that “the injustice of kings is always punished.” In 1618 the Spanish minister intrigued to convince the King, who already disliked the Devonshire upstart, of Raleigh’s mortal guilt. They resurrected the charges from sixteen years earlier, and Sir Walter Raleigh was beheaded.

A nineteenth-century depiction of the Tower of London

Sir Walter was known for bold talk, lavish spending and an overweening pride. Encyclopedia Britannica notes that he can be presented as a hero or a scoundrel — an enigmatic personality who rose like a rocket from obscurity to the highest councils of the Royal favorites. His attempted colonization of America failed to take root, although his successful promotion of smoking tobacco, brought from North America, became legendary. He paved the way for the later successes of the Jamestown Colony, for which Providence denied him the prominent part. Like all men, past and present, Sir Walter’s feet of clay are readily apparent, but his travelled thousands of miles further than most, seeking to spread English civilization wherever they trod, hopefully for a sizeable profit.

A depiction c. 1860 of the execution of Sir Walter Raleigh

The Battle of Trafalgar, 1805

2018-10-22T20:04:04+00:00October 22, 2018|HH 2018|

“Many plans are in a man’s heart, but the counsel of the Lord will stand.” —Proverbs 19:21

The Battle of Trafalgar, October 21, 1805

Admiral Horatio Nelson, England’s greatest living war hero, sent his last communication to the fleet. They were about to engage the combined naval forces of France and Spain in the Napoléonic War showdown at Trafalgar, off the coast of Spain near Cádiz. “England expects that every man shall do his duty.” It would prove to be one of the most important battles — some military historians think the MOST important battle — of the 19th century. At stake was the planned invasion of England by the mightiest army ever assembled on the European Continent, and it would establish for more than a century whose naval forces would control the world’s oceans. The British seamen did their duty.

Vice Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson (1758-1805)

Napoléon Bonaparte brought order out of chaos and established financial and social stability to France in the late 18th century. His powerful, almost irresistible army and allies, would be personally led by him through a series of wars lasting till 1815 against flexible coalitions including the armies of Austria, England, Prussia and Russia. In 1804 he declared himself First Emperor of the French, and planned an invasion of his foremost rival, Great Britain. The English Navy had proven itself against Napoléon’s naval forces six years earlier at Aboukir Bay in what has since been called the Battle of the Nile, in Egypt. The hero of that engagement was Rear Admiral Horatio Nelson. His powerful fleet now confronted the combined fleets of France and Spain in the ultimate showdown at sea.

The Battle of the Nile, August 1, 1798

French Emperor Napoléon Bonaparte (1769-1821)

A young Captain Nelson in 1781

Lord Nelson began his naval career as a common seaman under his ship captain uncle. Nelson served in the Navy against the rebellious American colonies and had risen through the ranks to take command of his own ships, serving in the Caribbean, Mediterranean, Indian, and the Atlantic Oceans. His style of leadership, and the way he fostered the admiration of those serving under him, became known as “the Nelson touch.” He lost an arm in one battle and was struck over the eye in another, but each time recovered sufficiently to continue his career. Nelson’s leadership in the destruction of the French fleet at the Nile in 1798 proved that he was the greatest captain of the era.

The Royal Navy blockaded the French coast, severely limiting France’s trade with foreign powers and crippling Napoléon’s ability to expand his naval forces. He determined to invade England in 1805, as a new coalition combined to once again try to stop Bonaparte’s imperial pretentions. Troopships could not make the jump to England due to the Royal Navy’s control of the channel and the oceans. The French and Spanish fleets, operating out of Spanish and Mediterranean ports hoped to break the blockade, rendezvous in the Caribbean and draw the English away from the European shores. Their captains were not enthusiastic about confronting Nelson, whose undefeated streak had been at their expense. Their fears were not displaced.

Nelson was wounded at the Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife (1797) which led to the partial amputation of his right arm

The Battle of Trafalgar — October 21, 1805

The opposing fleets met off the coast of Spain and fought the decisive Battle of Trafalgar. Nelson ordered a rarely-used approach of attack, striking the enemy line at perpendicular angles rather than the line of battle, in which ships in parallel lines exchanged broadsides. The combined fleet outnumbered the English thirty-three to twenty-seven in ships of the line, but Nelson’s plan proceeded to divide up the enemy ships, and superior British gunnery reduced a number of the opposing vessels to splinters. In close-in combat, lashed to the rigging in his flagship HMS Victory, Nelson was shot and mortally wounded, while directing the battle. Among his last words were “Thanks be to God, I have done my duty.” The British were victorious, although their most important naval hero of the age was killed at the very moment of his greatest glory.

The battle was fought off the southwest coast of Spain, just west of the Cape of Trafalgar

England’s navy dominated the high seas from Trafalgar until World War II. Viscount Nelson was interred at Westminster Abbey, the greatest war hero of British history — his statue gazes out atop the great column, looking over London from Trafalgar Square, to this day.

Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, London

Anthony Comstock Launches His Crusade, 1872

2018-10-15T17:00:10+00:00October 15, 2018|HH 2018|

“But every man is tempted, where he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” —James 1:14-15

Anthony Comstock Launches His Crusade,
October 19, 1872

H.L. Mencken

“The net result of Comstockery is complete and ignominious failure. All its gaudy raids and alarms have simply gone for naught. Comstock, of course, was an imbecile; his sayings and doings were of such sort that they inevitably excited the public mirth.” —H.L. Mencken, Prejudices, 1926


Anthony Comstock was one of the most admired and most hated men of the nineteenth century. Journalist and professional cynic H.L. Mencken hurled ridicule at the legislation inspired by Comstock and at anyone who tried to call America to repentance or, more commonly, sought to use the government to suppress vice and moral turpitude, by law. Comstock was neither an imbecile nor a failure in the years of his influence.

Anthony Comstock (1844-1915)

Anthony Comstock came into the world in 1844 as one of ten children, in the devoutly Christian family of the Comstocks of New Canaan, Connecticut. As a young man he showed the two primary characteristics that defined his life — an unabashed desire to serve Christ and an indomitable penchant for taking direct action to right a wrong. He enlisted in the Union army in 1863 at the age of twenty after his older brother was killed at Gettysburg, and shipped with the 17th Connecticut Regiment to a South Carolina swamp. He connected with the Christian Commission as his regiment moved around, and became a lay leader of the couple dozen Believers in his regiment.

Comstock’s notoriety came after the Civil War, with his most influential work beginning in 1872. In the year preceding, his job as a salesman created substantial wealth, he married a Christian woman, and established a comfortable home. Anthony, however, also became infuriated by the amount of pornography that surrounded his home in New York City, on the sidewalks, bookshops and taverns. The state had no effective way to enforce the laws against it, and many police and politicians looked the other way or were conniving in its propagation. Anthony found out the names of the four main publishers of obscene books and systematically set out to shut them down by purchasing the print plates and destroying them. A group of Christian bankers, pastors, and businessmen found out about his success in shutting down the industry and banded together with the Civil War veteran to continue the war against the porn industry.

East River Bridge in New York City, c. 1872

Comstock became a special prosecutor for the U.S. Post Office and director of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, from which positions he led a broad anti-obscenity campaign. His war against vice did not stop with the anti-porn crusade. He saw the close connection between obscenity, contraception, and abortion, and believed that it was civil governments’ responsibility to protect the American people from all three evil influences. A majority in Congress agreed and passed legislation to track and destroy the production, mailing, and propagation of each aspect of that tri-partite connection.

Official Seal of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice

Between 1872 and 1880 Comstock oversaw the arrest and conviction of fifty-five abortionists operating up and down the East Coast. He was physically beaten, spit upon, mocked and pursued, but the legislation that he had drafted for Congress was used to prosecute the likes of Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood and Julius Hammer, father of Armand and co-founder of the American Communist Party. Comstock saw contraception as the lynchpin of the other two vices and worked hard to prevent access to such abortifacients, with signal success.

As a fighter for public morals and defender of children, Anthony Comstock went up against organized crime syndicates, newspapers, politicians, law-enforcement, and those, like Mencken, who believed the Constitution protected obscenity and any other personal behavior that “was nobody’s business but their own.” The vices of Comstock’s day have metastasized, now with legal sanction and even approval from many in the Church, not to mention the public at large. Comstockery has become a term of derision and illegitimate interference in the libertine wantonness of popular culture. Nonetheless, one courageous Christian, one hundred forty years ago, took on the purveyors of vice, attracting others of like conviction to finance and help, and made a difference for a few years, to help stem the propagation of moral turpitude in a reprobate culture.

Margaret Sanger (1879-1966)

The Great Chicago Fire, 1871

2018-10-08T15:01:49+00:00October 8, 2018|HH 2018|

“And the fourth angel poured out his vial upon the sun; and power was given unto him to scorch men with fire. And men were scorched with great heat, and blasphemed the name of God, which hath power over these plagues: and they repented not to give him glory.” —Revelation 16:8-9

The Great Chicago Fire
October 8-10, 1871

Fire has destroyed many cities in the past. The great fire of London, England in 1661 consumed more than 13,000 homes and 87 parish churches as temperatures reached 2,280 degrees fahrenheit. Many saw it as divine judgement on a dissolute monarch, Charles II. In the American Civil War, the cities of Atlanta, Columbia and Richmond were burned after falling to Union forces. Many saw those burnings as judgement by a dissolute general. In World War II, Allied fire-bombings immolated 1,600 acres of the city center of Dresden, Germany, burning to death more than 25,000 people. The bombing raids on Tokyo, created firestorms that burned up sixteen square miles of the city and killed an estimated 100,000 civilians. In 1871, Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicked over a lantern and burned down the city of Chicago.

1871 Chicago view before the ‘Great Conflagration’

By 1871, the Windy City had become a major metropolitan Midwestern city, sporting a population of 340,000, along the shores of Lake Michigan. The city had not grown because of the business generated by the 26,000 Confederate prisoners of war that had starved, frozen, and died of disease six years earlier at Camp Douglas, the largest and most deadly Union prisoner of war camp in the Civil War, but from the success of railroads linking the city with the grain and livestock markets of the Midwest, till it became the most important rail hub in the United States. By 1870, more ships docked at this inland port than New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, San Francisco, Charleston, and Mobile combined. The city had grown so quickly that most of the buildings were constructed from wood, plentiful and cheap. The 561 miles of raised wooden sidewalks created horizontal pine chimneys which would draw thousands of cubic feet of oxygen and encircle the city in a stranglehold of fire if set ablaze. And set ablaze they were.

Mrs. O’Leary and her cow — the supposed cause of the fire

October 8, 1871, a fire broke out in the barn of the O’Leary family on the city’s west side. The understrength and dispersed fire companies of the city were quickly overwhelmed as the fire leaped from building to building and street to street; many roofs were tarred. Convection whirls sucked the fire one hundred feet in the air, giving an appearance of tornadoes of heat and ash. A lumber mill, furniture factory and box factory stood side by side and provided acceleration fuel to the uncontrollable blaze. In one hour, the fire crossed the Chicago River to the South Side when burning debris ignited a horse stable — the Parmelee Omnibus and Stage Company. A roofing material company and the gas works quickly caught fire. On the north side of the city, a train of railroad cars containing oil caught fire, touching off the Wright Brothers’ Stables.

This Currier & Ives lithograph depicts people fleeing across the Randolph Street Bridge. Thousands of people literally ran for their lives to escape the flames. One survivor wrote: “The whole earth, or all we saw of it, was a lurid yellowish red. Everywhere dust, smoke, flames, heat, thunder of falling walls, crackle of fire, hissing of water, panting of engines, shouts, braying of trumpets, roar of wind, confusion, and uproar.”

People fled to the beaches of Lake Michigan, some trying to remain underwater, others wading out as far as they dared. It took two days for the fire to burn itself out with the untiring help of the exhausted firemen. It had destroyed 3.3 square miles of the city, obliterated about 17,500 buildings and killed an estimated three hundred people, perhaps many more, since the conflagration was so hot that bodies were completely incinerated. The post-fire investigators set out to determine what caused the fire.

1871 panoramic of Chicago after the fire

Early in the rumor mills of the city, a story made the rounds that Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicked over the lantern, and that tale is still believed to this day by many people. After interviews with fifty witnesses, it could not be concluded that the cow did the deed. Alternative theories have abounded; Richard Bales in The Great Chicago Fire and the Myth of Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow claims to have definitively solved the greatest mystery of Chicago’s history. Whatever the truth, Mrs. O’Leary, Al Capone, and Michael Jordan still hold the lead positions of recognition for the City of Chicago. The O’Leary property today is, appropriately, a fire academy. Once the providential and uncontrollable holocaust was spent, the city rebuilt, with all sorts of lessons learned about building materials, fire departments, codes, and strategic planning, to become the third largest city in America.

Map of Chicago, highlighting the burned area and indicating the starting point of Mrs. O’Leary’s barn (red dot)