The French press, media and intellectuals castigate ad nauseam what they call the ‘ultra-liberalism’ of the present-day western world: and their characterization, as intellectually lazy as it is inaccurate, now goes virtually by default. Very few are the commentators who see through its inaccuracy. That a country whose public sector accounts for more than half of economic activity, and which is as highly-administered as France (and, it must be said, often well-administered, for who would not rather go on the Paris Metro than the New York Subway?), cannot plausibly be described as ‘ultra-liberal,’ ought to be perfectly obvious even on the most casual reflection, but alas it is not. If France is ultra-anything it is ultra-corporatist, but even that would be an exaggeration. And so present discontents are laid at the door of ultra-liberalism, though in fact a considerable proportion of the resentments and discontents of the young who approve of M’Bala M’Bala are attributable to the rigidity of the French labor market, which is caused precisely by an illiberal nexus of protections and restrictions.
The problem, then, is not ultra-liberalism but insufficient liberalism. The difference between France and other western countries, incidentally, is one of degree and not of type, though even degree can be important: illiberalism in the French labor market has in a matter of a few years turned London into one of the largest French-speaking cities in the world.
Theodore Dalrymple, “Illusions of Control in the Omnicompetent French State”, Library of Law and Liberty, 2014-01-07
July 26, 2014
April 16, 2014
In the Telegraph, Michael White explains why Handel’s Messiah really was the 18th century equivalent of Live Aid:
Every year, his masterpiece reliably comes round, filling musicians’ diaries with unending renditions of the Hallelujah Chorus and “Surely he hath borne our griefs” (or “worn our briefs” as choirboys have it), like a tonic for the flagging bank balance. And it will be the same this week, with a performance of some kind or other guaranteed to come your way, unless you’re living in the Outer Hebrides without a choir in sight or sound.
But for good measure, there’s also a BBC TV programme on Saturday in which the historian Amanda Vickery is looking at Messiah’s back story. And it seems her interest isn’t in the piece as a gift to musicians but as a gift to the poor — focusing on a London performance in 1750 that was, as she says, an 18th-century precedent for Live Aid.
This performance took place at the Foundling Hospital in London, which these days is a museum but was then a children’s home attracting the support of celebrated figures in the arts world. Painters including Hogarth gave it canvases to exhibit; composers such as Handel gave it music to perform. And the funds raised helped keep it going — in something like the manner of that other famous children’s home, the Ospedale della Pietà, Venice, where Vivaldi gave his services.
The only problem was that Handel depended for commercial success on operatic ventures that proved disastrously expensive and went sour when public tastes changed (as they always do). Hence his interest in writing English oratorios: they were cheaper to produce than opera, avoided over-priced Italian singers and attracted decent audiences.
Hence Messiah, which was written not for London but for Dublin, where it was premiered in April 1742. A large crowd was clearly expected because notices published in advance begged gentlemen to leave their swords at home and ladies to attend “without Hoops”. The critical information on those notices, though, was that making room for more people would “greatly increase the Charity”; because even this initial Dublin try-out was a fundraiser, designed for the relief of prisoners and an infirmary.
So it was good causes that helped swell the turnout. And from what we know of how it went, the audience was high-minded, entering into the spirit of an entertainment that was happening in a concert hall but none the less used sacred texts.
Jonathan Swift, the Dean of Dublin’s Anglican Cathedral, had initially tried to stop his choir being involved, on the grounds that a concert hall wasn’t the right place for such things, and that one of the soloists, Susannah Cibber, was a woman of loose morals. But when she sang “He was despised” she did so with such beauty that another clergyman in the audience stood up and shouted “Woman, thy sins be forgiven”: the kind of engagement you might wish of modern audiences, if only they could be distracted from their iPhones.
March 21, 2014
The Daily Mail describes it as a residency at the Hammersmith Apollo in London:
Kate Bush is to return to the stage in London — 35 years after she retired from touring after just six weeks on the road.
She will play a 15-date residency at the Hammersmith Apollo which was the venue for a celebrated concert film she made in 1979.
The 55-year-old made a surprise announcement about the shows — to be called Before The Dawn — on Friday morning, with the first taking place on August 26.
Bush talked about a desire to return to playing live in an interview three years ago, saying she would love to play again before she became ‘too ancient’.
She was just 20 when she completed The Tour Of Life after topping the charts with Wuthering Heights the previous year.
Over the years, theories about her absence from the stage have included her perfectionism, a fear of flying and the death of one of the tour crew, lighting director Bill Duffield, during a show.
But in a rare interview with Mojo magazine in 2011 to mark her comeback, she explained that her years of silence on the touring circuit were simply down to the sheer exertion of the ordeal.
‘It was enormously enjoyable. But physically it was absolutely exhausting,’ she said.
LONDON – 12th MAY: English singer Kate Bush performs live on stage at Hammersmith Odeon in London on the penultimate date of her European tour on 12th May 1979. (Photo by Peter Still/Redferns)
January 28, 2014
The famous river doesn’t freeze as it did during the Little Ice Age, so the very last Frost Fair was held in 1814:
It is 200 years ago since the last “frost fair” — an impromptu festival on a frozen Thames, complete with dancing, skittles and temporary pubs. Could such hedonism be repeated today?
Londoners stood on the Thames eating gingerbread and sipping gin. The party on the frozen river had begun on 1 February and would carry on for another four days.
The ice was thick enough to support printing presses churning out souvenirs. Oxen were roasted in front of roaring fires, drink was liberally taken and dances were held. An elephant was marched across the river alongside Blackfriars Bridge.
It was February 1814. George III was on the throne, Lord Liverpool was prime minister and the Napoleonic wars would soon be won.
People didn’t know it then but this “frost fair” — a cross between a Christmas market, circus and illegal rave — would be the last. In the 200 years that have elapsed since, the Thames has never frozen solid enough for such hedonism to be repeated.
But between 1309 and 1814, the Thames froze at least 23 times and on five of these occasions — 1683-4, 1716, 1739-40, 1789 and 1814 — the ice was thick enough to hold a fair.
Update: Over lunch, I was reading Correlli Barnett’s Marlborough and came across this description of the onset of winter in 1708-09 (and a frost fair that the BBC didn’t list):
And for Europe too the coming of a Whig administration in England was a fateful event. The Whig leaders were hot for the exaction from Louis XIV of ‘no peace without Spain – entire’, without any compromise whatsoever. Yet in the winter and spring of 1709 even such inflated war aims began to look practicable. Before the Duke at last closed down the Oudenarde campaign in January 1709, long after the normal time for going into winter quarters, he had retaken Bruges and Ghent. And the siege of Ghent witnessed the onset of an enemy even more terrible to France than Marlborough. In the last days of 1708 cold of unimagined bitterness closed on Europe like a trap. At Ghent the sentinels of besieged and besieging forces alike were frozen to death at their posts. And this was only a beginning: after a short and deceptive thaw in January, the cold set in like another ice age, the people of Europe cringing month after month under a bruise-coloured sky heavy with snow. On the frozen Thames at London Bridge there was an ice fair; a little city of booths and stalls stretching from bank to bank, and bonfires twinkling across the ice in the polar gloom. From Brussels Marlborough was reporting to Heinsius in February:
The continuall snow as well as hard frost will, if it continues, kill al the cattel of this country and bee very inconvenient for our garrisons, for even in this town we have no forage but what we bring dayly by carts …
The port of Harwich was ice bound; so were the Dutch ports. There were ice floes in the Channel. Even the mouth of the Tagus at Lisbon was frozen. It was fortunate indeed that the Duke had not carried out his post-Oudenarde plan to invade France, or his army might now have been lying somewhere between Abbeville and Paris, with seaborne supplies cut off by ice, and dependent for subsistence on what it could find in the French countryside.
And in France, already impoverished by war as she was, famine had come in the wake of frost. The cattle died; the vines split. In the towns and the country the starving wandered in search of food in ragged, despairing packs. The very fabric of French society seemed in peril from the effects of the cold.
December 2, 2013
H/T to Eric Kirkland for the link.
October 30, 2013
[Karl Marx] was also an unemployed professor, a scholar in the German tradition with a first-rate brain, a vast depth of learning and considerable obscurity of thought. Of his intellect and scholarship there can be no doubt at all. He knew many languages and had read widely in many subjects. A very learned man indeed, he was admirably fitted for the life of a German university. Marx’s complete absorption in his philosophy, history and economics was quite typical of the sort of professor he should by right have become. That mixture of scholarship, vagueness, poverty and practical inexperience would have graced a chair at Heidelberg or Bonn. But for the death in 1840 of Frederick William IV, a man of strictly orthodox views on religion, Marx might have had an academic career. Barred from this, however, as an atheist, he had no class to teach, no pupils from whom he might have learned. There is a sense, of course, in which a professor lives apart from the world. But his duties, even in the mid-nineteenth century, involved some contact with other people. The most professorial of German professors would have examinations to set and appointments to keep. Sessions of Senate and Faculty might give him scope for eloquence or intrigue, and he would find for himself the need to compromise, concede and persuade. Howbeit painfully and slowly, the professor comes to know something of administration and finance. But this was the practical knowledge which Marx was denied. All the experience he had was in his own home, where his failure was catastrophic for his wife and family. Of his children some died of slow starvation and two committed suicide. Retaining and increasing all his professional learning, he became more purely theoretical than even professors are allowed to be. Of the difficulties of organizing human society he knew practically nothing. There was in fact no human society — no province or city, no school or club — of which he could be said to have been a member. His whole life was bounded by the printed page.
C. Northcote Parkinson, “Internal Contradiction”, Left Luggage, 1967.
September 27, 2013
The Vikings announced earlier today that quarterback Christian Ponder’s rib injury is severe enough that he won’t be playing against the Pittsburgh Steelers this weekend. In his place, backup Matt Cassel will get the start:
Cassel, who is replacing an injured Christian Ponder (ribs), will try to steer the Vikings towards their first win of the season, and comes into a situation that few expected a month ago. The Vikings are 0-3 and on the verge of their season imploding, if it already hasn’t. With issues at QB, offensive line, and all over the defense, the Vikings have stumbled badly out of the gate, and they really need a spark.
Will Cassel provide that? It remains to be seen. This is the reason Cassel was signed in the off season. Last year, the Vikings had serious deficiencies at the backup position, as was evidenced by the tire fire that was Joe Webb in the Wild Card playoff game against Green Bay. As a starter, Cassel 29-33. In his career, he has a completion percentage of just over 58%, with 82 TD passes and 57 interceptions.
There’s already fan speculation that this is a “designed” play:
Love the people who think Ponder's injury is an elaborate ruse. Like the guy would go along with a pretend injury when career's on the line.
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) September 27, 2013
Update: The cynics are already hard at work:
Only two and a half days until #Vikings fans call for Cassel to be benched and MBT to be the starting QB.
— John Kriesel (@johnkriesel) September 27, 2013
Of course we're not forcing you to watch Matt Cassel because you burned down the first White House, England. That's crazy talk.
— sir broosk (@celebrityhottub) September 27, 2013
September 22, 2013
Almost any Jew can be stateless, but Marx was particularly so — born of alien parents in a frontier region between Germany and France, educated in the Rhineland and in Prussia, a student at Berlin but a graduate of Jena, exiled by the age of thirty-two. Nor was this domicile chosen from any love of England or of anything but safety. He knew next to nothing of the English when he died, preferring to live among German exiles, talking German, thinking in German, and for preference writing in German. He knew of the toiling masses only from blue books and parliamentary reports. We hear nothing of his travels among the Lancashire cotton mills and as little of his talks with the London poor. There is no record of his visiting the coal mines, the docks, or even a public house. He was essentially homeless, offering no loyalty and expecting no aid. And with his scorn went hatred. He despised and loathed his rivals, quarreled with this allies and condemned all sympathizers who deviated even by a little from the doctrine he held to be sacred. Karl Marx had no country.
C. Northcote Parkinson, “Internal Contradiction”, Left Luggage, 1967.
August 5, 2013
I read about the London Necropolis Railway in The Fuller Memorandum by Charles Stross. I foolishly assumed he’d made it up for the purposes of the story. Not at all:
[Sir Richard] Broun was fascinated by the recently-emerged technology of steam trains. In 1848, Waterloo Station had only just been opened, and the railways themselves were still considered something of a novelty. Broun, along with his partner Richard Sprye, concocted a plan to ease the overcrowding issue with the help of this new invention. Buying up a 1,500 acre site outside Woking, they proposed the creation of a dedicated railway of the dead: a line (serviced by London & Southwest Rail) used for the sole purpose of transporting the deceased from London to ‘Brookwood Cemetery’ for burial.
The railway was inaugurated on 13th November 1854, with its own dedicated platform at Waterloo Station. A timetabled service would transport coffins down at night and mourners by day, delivering them to one of two stations: the Conformist station on Brookwood’s sunny side; or the non-conformist station on its dark north face. To prevent upsetting any delicate Victorian sensibilities, each ‘coffin train’ was divided into classes to separate the dead from their poorer neighbours. Even in death, it seemed, the idea of sharing a carriage with a pauper was anathema.
Until the 1940s it remained a weird London institution, a ghoulish Victorian hangover that resisted time, social change and falling demand. Ultimately, it took the Luftwaffe to close it down: during the heavy bombing raid of 16th April 1941 the Waterloo terminus was obliterated. The LNR had shipped its last cadaver.
H/T to Dave Slater for the link.
May 26, 2013
Mark Steyn on what was top of the issue-sheet for journalists discussing the Woolwich murder and the Swedish “youth” riots:
For the last week Stockholm has been ablaze every night with hundreds of burning cars set alight by “youths.” Any particular kind of “youth”? The Swedish prime minister declined to identify them any more precisely than as “hooligans.” But don’t worry: The “hooligans” and “youths” and men of no Muslim appearance whatsoever can never win because, as David Cameron ringingly declared, “they can never beat the values we hold dear, the belief in freedom, in democracy, in free speech, in our British values, Western values.” Actually, they’ve already gone quite a way toward eroding free speech, as both prime ministers demonstrate. The short version of what happened in Woolwich is that two Muslims butchered a British soldier in the name of Islam and helpfully explained, “The only reason we have done this is because Muslims are dying every day.” But what do they know? They’re only Muslims, not Diversity Outreach Coordinators. So the BBC, in its so-called “Key Points,” declined to mention the “Allahu akbar” bit or the “I”-word at all: Allah who?
Not a lot of Muslims want to go to the trouble of chopping your head off, but when so many Western leaders have so little rattling around up there, they don’t have to. And, as we know from the sob-sister Tsarnaev profiles, most of these excitable lads are perfectly affable, or at least no more than mildly alienated, until the day they set a hundred cars alight, or blow up a school boy, or decapitate some guy. And, if you’re lucky, it’s not you they behead, or your kid they kill, or even your Honda Civic they light up. And so life goes on, and it’s all so “mundane,” in Simon Jenkins’s word, that you barely notice when the Jewish school shuts up, and the gay bar, and the uncovered women no longer take a stroll too late in the day, and the publishing house that gets sent the manuscript for the next Satanic Verses decides it’s not worth the trouble … But don’t worry, they’ll never defeat our “free speech” and our “way of life.”
One in ten Britons under 25 is now Muslim. That number will increase, through immigration, disparate birth rates, and conversions like those of the Woolwich killers, British-born and -bred. Metternich liked to say the Balkans began in the Landstrasse, in southeast Vienna. Today, the Dar al-Islam begins in Wellington Street, in southeast London. That’s a “betrayal” all right, but not of Islam.
May 25, 2013
Here he is again, banging on about his failings, particularly over the Woolwich murder:
On occasions like this I really do feel a bit of an intellectual lightweight, I must say. There am I, stuck in the fuddy-duddy mindset where you see a 25-year old father of a one year old boy being hacked to death with meat cleavers on a busy London street and all you can do is respond with the gut feeling that “This is wrong. This is totally wrong!”
Whereas if I were a bit younger, less reactionary and I’d had a proper educational grounding somewhere serious like the LSE, what I would have realised is that you just can’t judge things like this at face value. Sure, there’s a temptation to dwell on what a terrible way to go it must have been for that poor young man; to think about what his family must be going through — his wife and mother especially, who will surely be re-living his imagined death every day from now on till they die; to get quite angry, even, about the perverted political values and warped mindset that led to this barbaric act — and also about the cultural relativism that helped make it possible. But succumbing to this temptation would, of course, be a serious mistake.
No, if you’re a truly enlightened citizen of the modern world, the correct way to respond is the way all those sophisticated intellectual types on Twitter did. You recognise straightaway that the horror of the murder is just a distraction from the real issue. The real issue being, of course, that this regrettable event was the sadly inevitable consequence of Britain’s racism, intolerance and Islamophobia — as demonstrated by Nick Robinson’s bigoted, ignorant and inflammatory use of that reprehensible “of Muslim appearance” comment on BBC news for which he has since, quite correctly, apologised.
Until, as a society, we learn to face up to our collective responsibility for Drummer Lee Rigby’s death, young men like Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale ought to have every right to go on drawing attention to this rampant injustice in whatever way they deem fit. It is frankly outrageous that in order to make their point they had to resort to the blunt instrument of execution by motor vehicle and butcher’s knife. A truly considerate society would have made public funds available for them to afford some properly functioning automatic weaponry. That way these gallant, oppressed freedom fighters could have made their vibrant and refreshingly direct contribution to our national debate with a lot less fuss and a lot less mess — perhaps preventing the disgraceful public overreaction we have witnessed over the last couple of days, everywhere from the hateful, violent racist English Defence League to the hardcore, fascist right-wing BBC.
May 23, 2013
Brendan O’Neill on yesterday’s brutal murder in Woolwich:
One of the most shocking things about the brutal attack in Woolwich yesterday was the arrogance with which one of the bloodied knifemen claimed to be acting on behalf of all Muslims. In what sounded like a South London accent, this British-seeming, casually dressed young man bizarrely spoke as if he were a representative of the ummah. He talked about “our lands” and what “our people” have to go through every day. He presumably meant Iraqis and Afghanis, or perhaps the broader global “Muslim family”.
How can a couple of men so thoroughly convince themselves that they speak for all Muslims, to the extent that they seriously believe their savage and psychotic attack on a man in the street is some kind of glorious act of Islamic resistance? Perhaps because they live in a country in which claiming to speak “on behalf of” a community, even if you’ve never been elected by or even seriously talked to that community, is taken seriously. A country where one’s identity, one’s racial or religious or cultural make-up, now counts for everything, certainly for more than what one does or what one believes. A country in which the politics of identity, the narrow and deeply divisive communal politics of shared cultural traits, has been privileged over all other kinds of politics.
The Woolwich murderer’s impromptu claim to be acting on behalf of the grievances of Muslims everywhere echoes the statements made by the 7/7 bombers. “Your democratically elected governments continue to perpetuate atrocities against my people all over the world”, said chief bomber Mohammad Siddique Khan. “My people” — what extraordinary arrogance and self-righteousness. Did Khan ever talk to “his people” or win a mandate from them? Of course not, no more than the knife-wielding nutter in Woolwich engaged with the inhabitants of what he thinks of as “his lands”. Rather, in this era in which any old fool can claim to be a “community spokesperson”, and can be treated seriously as such, these murderous loners seem to be trying a psychotic version of the same trick — claiming that by dint of shared skin colour or common religious sentiment they have the authority to speak on behalf of millions of people they have never met or whose lands they have never visited.
February 17, 2013
In History Today, Richard Canning reviews a new book on the trial of Frederick Park and Ernest Boulton, aka Mrs Fanny Graham and Miss Stella Boulton in 1871:
McKenna provides what is certainly the definitive account of the Boulton/Park story, drawn not only from contemporary journalism but also from the full legal transcript, a miraculous survivor housed in Kew’s National Archives. It is a miserable tale, if leavened both by McKenna’s dramatic verve and, during the show trial held in Westminster Hall, by Fanny and Stella’s black humour. The establishment account – that the pair’s persistent cross-dressing importuning was a scandal to public morals that must be stopped – soon breaks down. McKenna shows clearly how the men were effectively set up and, to some degree, even entrapped.
Police confidence in pressing the serious charge of ‘conspiracy to solicit, induce, procure and endeavour to persuade persons unknown to commit buggery’ (as opposed to the minor offence of outraging public decency) was nonetheless misplaced. Buggery had until lately incurred the death penalty and still carried a lifelong penal sentence. No such charge had been brought for 240 years. The problem which attended the endless, farcical medical examinations of Boulton and Park reflected sodomy’s millennial history as the nameless or invisible crime. Few Victorian doctors could claim to have seen evidence of the extreme anal dilation which purportedly occurred after the ‘insertion of a foreign body’. Of the half dozen who inspected the pair – both inveterate sodomites, as McKenna concedes – only one remained certain that the corporeal evidence supported conviction. They were acquitted and the notion that ‘the impurities of Continental cities’ had reached London was rooted in legal terms for a quarter-century – if paradoxically seeming somehow to be affirmed.
McKenna lays bare a fascinating tapestry of interrelated personal histories, only partially capable of reconstruction. Frederick’s elder brother Harry, already twice disgraced, was hiding in Scotland under an assumed name. Their father, a judge, was urgently shipped off to South Africa during the trial of his younger son. Impressively, Frederick’s mother – amusingly a literal ‘Mary Ann’ – took to the stand to defend his moral character. So successful was she that the identification of Frederick/’Fanny’ as a theatrical mother’s boy exonerated him entirely from the imputation of vice.
November 10, 2012
Tim Harford discusses the image and reality of Britain’s campaign for “living wages”:
The minimum wage, £6.19 an hour for those 21 and over, is a legal obligation. The living wage, £8.55 an hour in London and £7.45 an hour elsewhere, is the result of a very successful publicity campaign and can count Ed Miliband and Boris Johnson among its advocates. There are no legal sanctions for paying less than the living wage, although Mr Miliband did announce plans to “name and shame” those companies who didn’t. Apparently that is helpful, because “name” rhymes with “shame”.
Why do campaigners say that you can’t live on the minimum wage?
Try living on £6.19 an hour and see how you get on.
For an economist you’re getting very high-minded all of a sudden.
I think it’s perfectly reasonable to point out that £6.19 an hour isn’t a lot of money. £8.55 an hour isn’t a lot of money, either, but a lot of people have to get by on less. Unfortunately we economists have to ask awkward questions — for instance, whether these campaigns are likely to help people without much income.
[. . .]
Perhaps we should just raise the legal minimum wage to the same level as the living wage.
Perhaps. Perhaps we should raise the legal minimum wage to a £100m an hour. I think if we did we’d find unemployment might rise. A minimum wage does two things. It will shift money from employers in an imperfectly competitive market to low-paid workers and it will induce some employers to sack workers, even if both employer and employee would prefer a deal struck at an illegally-low wage rate. There’s a case that for the good of low-paid workers, there should be no minimum wage at all. There should be one but it needs to be modest if it isn’t to cause too much unemployment.
Is there any evidence on the right level?
There’s lots, and it is mixed, but on balance it’s in favour of the idea that if you raise the cost of employing people, fewer people will be employed. It is worth bearing in mind that, for a lowly paid worker shifting from job to job, having less work available but at a high hourly rate, isn’t a bad deal. The concern has to be that certain types of people — especially young unskilled workers — will be shut out completely and denied the chance to learn on the job.
November 5, 2012
Today is the anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot:
Everyone knows what the Gunpowder Plotters looked like. Thanks to one of the best-known etchings of the seventeenth century we see them ‘plotting’, broad brims of their hats over their noses, cloaks on their shoulders, mustachios and beards bristling — the archetypical band of desperados. Almost as well known are the broad outlines of the discovery of the ‘plot’: the mysterious warning sent to Lord Monteagle on October 26th, 1605, the investigation of the cellars under the Palace of Westminster on November 4th, the discovery of the gunpowder and Guy Fawkes, the flight of the other conspirators, the shoot-out at Holbeach in Staffordshire on November 8th in which four (Robert Catesby, Thomas Percy and the brothers Christopher and John Wright) were killed, and then the trial and execution of Fawkes and seven others in January 1606.
However, there was a more obscure sequel. Also implicated were the 9th Earl of Northumberland, three other peers (Viscount Montague and Lords Stourton and Mordaunt) and three members of the Society of Jesus. Two of the Jesuits, Fr Oswald Tesimond and Fr John Gerard, were able to escape abroad, but the third, the superior of the order in England, Fr Henry Garnet, was arrested just before the main trial. Garnet was tried separately on March 28th, 1606 and executed in May. The peers were tried in the court of Star Chamber: three were merely fined, but Northumberland was imprisoned in the Tower at pleasure and not released until 1621.
[. . .]
Thanks to the fact that nothing actually happened, it is not surprising that the plot has been the subject of running dispute since November 5th, 1605. James I’s privy council appears to have been genuinely unable to make any sense of it. The Attorney-General, Sir Edward Coke, observed at the trial that succeeding generations would wonder whether it was fact or fiction. There were claims from the start that the plot was a put-up job — if not a complete fabrication, then at least exaggerated for his own devious ends by Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury, James’s secretary of state. The government’s presentation of the case against the plotters had its awkward aspects, caused in part by the desire to shield Monteagle, now a national hero, from the exposure of his earlier association with them. The two official accounts published in 1606 were patently spins. One, The Discourse of the Manner, was intended to give James a more commanding role in the uncovering of the plot than he deserved. The other, A True and Perfect Relation, was intended to lay the blame on Garnet.
But Catesby had form. He and several of the plotters as well as Lord Monteagle had been implicated in the Earl of Essex’s rebellion in 1601. Subsequently he and the others (including Monteagle) had approached Philip III of Spain to support a rebellion to prevent James I’s accession. This raises the central question of what the plot was about. Was it the product of Catholic discontent with James I or was it the last episode in what the late Hugh Trevor-Roper and Professor John Bossy have termed ‘Elizabethan extremism’?