The fifth of November is, I suppose, after Christmas Day and St George’s Day, the holiest fixed date in our national calendar. For centuries it has been celebrated annually with comminatory sermons, feux de joie, and (at least in robuster times) with the ceremonial burning (or, in Lewes, drowning) of combustible (or submersible) popes. And why not? For it commemorates our ‘great deliverance’ from that devilish popish attempt, in 1605, to blow up the Royal Family, the House of Lords and the whole Palace of Westminster: national institutions which, though we may criticise them in particular, we still cherish in general as part of our national myth.
What a bizarre project! we may say. How could anyone have conceived it? So some writers have tried to argue that it never really was conceived, that the whole thing was a masterly propaganda coup by Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, who, having brilliantly engineered the succession of James