Plotting against English Powers Author Antonia Fraser Doesn't Hide Sympathy for Catholic Minority

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FAITH AND REASON

The Story of the Gunpowder Plot

By Antonia Fraser 295 pages, Doubleday, $27.95 IS IT ACCEPTABLE for members of a severely persecuted group to use all available means to get even with the oppressing powers? Who decides what degree of severity justifies extreme measures? What if the modes of revenge kill innocent people? Is that culpable terrorism? What punishments for terrorism can be ethically inflicted? Certainly these are relevant, indeed pressing, matters for current consideration. In Antonia Fraser's latest book, "Faith and Treason: The Story of the Gunpowder Plot," she delves into those questions, but in the context of the 1605 plan by a group of English Catholics to blow up Parliament (with King James I present) and to kidnap one of his daughters. Thus this book is not only a well-written examination of a picturesque episode in British history, but also (and clearly most intentionally) a tract for our times, a contribution to the study of moral judgments in history. There is no argument that if one accepts the validity of the plot, as Fraser does, the conspirators were both extremely unwise and ruthlessly willing to shed blood. Guy Fawkes, the man who was planning to physically set off the explosion, and Robert Catesby, whom the author singles out as the key plotter, had the standard terrorist's willingness to wipe out lar ge populations in order to make his point and (considering the skill of the government and the weakness of the Catholics) a serene disregard for the dictates of common prudence. Most of the gang seemed unconcerned that many innocent members of Parliament, even Catholic peers, would be blown up. …