Early Modern Terrorism? The Gunpowder Plot of 1605 & its Aftermath (workshop)

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For more past programming from the Folger Institute, please see the article Folger Institute scholarly programs archive.

This was a fall 2005 weekend workshop organized by Chris R. Kyle (Syracuse University). Speakers included Ian Archer (Oxford), A.R. Braunmuller (UCLA), David Cressy (Ohio State), Fran Dolan (UC Davis), Paul E. J. Hammer (University of St. Andrews), Jonathan Gil Harris (George Washington University), Jason Peacey (History of Parliament Trust), Charles Tilly (Columbia), and Jenny Wormald (Oxford).

This workshop marked the 400th anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot, one of the most dramatic assassination attempts in history. On 5 November 1605, Guy Fawkes and his fellow conspirators were foiled in their plan to detonate barrels of gunpowder at the opening of the English Parliament. Had they succeeded, the overwhelming majority of the political, judicial, religious, and administrative elites of England would simply have disappeared. The resulting power vacuum would have left England open to foreign invasion, re-conversion to Roman Catholicism, and a brutal struggle for the very survival of the nation as an independent entity. The workshop undertook fresh examinations of the documentary record as well as the social, political, religious, and architectural landscapes of early modern London and Westminster. With invited speakers as catalysts to discussion, participants explored such issues as the forms of protest in early modern England, the literary and political aftermath of the event, and the plot’s subsequent memorializations. The workshop considered the historical resonances of the event from multiple perspectives, examining the identities and status of the conspirators, the motivations and consequences of violent interventions in public affairs, the question of early modern terrorism, the political subterfuge of official responses, and the role of print culture in memory. The group also examined literary and dramatic responses to the conspiracy from the production of pamphlets to the performance of Macbeth and the sudden interest of playwrights, theater owners, and audiences in “staged” explosions. To preserve the interactive nature of the workshop, participation was limited to fifty. Applicants described the ways their current research engaged the issues and prepared them to participate actively throughout the sessions.