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Wednesday, 1 September 2021

The Gunpowder Plot - Herbert Thurston SJ - CTS Onefifties Book 9

The Gunpowder Plot
CTS Onefifties Book 9
Herbert Thurston SJ
Catholic Truth Society
ISBN 9781784695354
eISBN 9781784695071
ASIN B075FMYQZW
CTS Booklet CL09


Over the last several years, I have read over 200 volumes from the CTS. I have read books from many series. And many authors. I have read several books that are part of the CTS Devotions and Prayer Series. I have read many in the CTS Biographies and also Saints of the Isles Series, and the Great Saints Series. In 2016 during the 150 Anniversary of the CTS they released special editions of 150 of their most popular and influential booklets. We are told about the series that:

“CTS Publisher Fergal Martin said, “1868 to 2018 we feel is something to celebrate. We have delved into our archives of thousands of titles and uncovered countless gems that celebrate the huge range and diversity of CTS publishing across a century and a half. The CTS archive represents a unique and valuable resource chronicling the changing concerns of the Catholic population of the British Isles and beyond over the last 150 years. There is something original and special here for everybody. Our hope is that readers can dip into the past – and find the present.””

These books were released right around the tire I was first discovering the value and worth of the CTS books and booklets. I believe this is the first in the series I have read. This volume was originally published in 1929 and reprinted and eBook released in 2017. The description of the booklet is:

“In the half century he lived at the Jesuit house in Farm Street (spending his days in the British Library), Herbert Thurston gained a reputation for exacting and severe scholarship in a wide range of mostly historical subjects. His largest project was a wholesale revision of Butler’s Lives of the Saints. He was especially concerned not to allow religious zeal or wishful thinking to overshadow historical facts; these, he was confident, would make the Church’s case without any need for special pleading. CTS, in 1897, had published a pamphlet on the Gunpowder Plot by Thurston’s Jesuit confrère John Gerard; this claimed the Plot had been from the start set up by government agents to discredit Catholics. Thurston, and others, reckoned this unfounded and fanciful. Thurston’s text is notionally based on Gerard’s, but silently discards his wilder theories. It is an excellent example of Thurston’s dry, copious and learned style.”

This volume begins with these words:

““Thirteen turbulent men alone were engaged in the conspiracy—it is a mere calumny to charge their guilt upon their fellow Catholics at home or abroad.”
Herbert Thurston (1856-1939) wrote a dozen books and almost eight hundred pamphlets and articles.”

And it is a fascinating little read. Many people today are familiar with the name Guy Fawkes, either from the mask of his face that the hacker group Anonymous uses, or from the graphic novel and movie V for Vendetta. In fact, it was after a rewatching of that movie that I picked up this volume. The first few paragraphs of the book state:

“It is frequently asserted by certain writers that the Gunpowder Plot was the work of Catholics as a body, and was approved and countenanced by the heads of their Church, and by Catholic princes abroad.

This is quite untrue, and there is no excuse for such a statement. Whatever the plot really was, only a small handful of Catholics, thirteen in all, were found to have been concerned in it. The rest of the Catholic body not only took no part in their designs, but manifested the greatest indignation against them. As Professor Gardiner tells us (History, i. 264), “Their Catholic brethren spurned them from their houses”; and, as Mr. Jardine adds, “Even their own relations assailed them with threats and reproaches” (Criminal Trials, ii. 82). In the most recent English encyclopaedia (Chambers, 1924) we read: “It is clear that the clergy in general, whether secular or regular, and the entire Catholic community, with the exception of a score of fanatics, were innocent of all participation in the plot.”

That no foreign prince was engaged is proved by the emphatic testimony of the Government itself, expressed on many occasions—e.g., by Sir Edward have had to take an oath of secrecy in solemn form.”   

And from there it explores the actual plot from beginning to end. It is a fascinating read. We are informed in the background section to this volume that:

“In the half century he lived at the Jesuit house in Farm Street (spending his days in the British Library), Herbert Thurston gained a reputation for exacting and severe scholarship in a wide range of mostly historical subjects. His largest project was a wholesale revision of Butler’s Lives of the Saints. He was especially concerned not to allow religious zeal or wishful thinking to overshadow historical facts; these, he was confident, would make the Church’s case without any need for special pleading. CTS, in 1897, had published a pamphlet on the Gunpowder Plot by Thurston’s Jesuit confrère John Gerard; this claimed the Plot had been from the start set up by government agents to discredit Catholics. Thurston, and others, reckoned this unfounded and fanciful. Thurston’s text is notionally based on Gerard’s, but silently discards his wilder theories. It is an excellent example of Thurston’s dry, copious and learned style.”

It is an excellent volume to have been pulled from the archives. It is another great resource from the Catholic Truth Society. I look forward to exploring some of the other books in the Onefifties Series.

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2021 Catholic Reading Plan! For other reviews of books from the Catholic Truth Society click here.

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