Pretty Revolutionary

to Ashby St. Ledgers. This place claims to be the prettiest village in Northamptonshire - a modest boast. Ashby has an important place in the history and mythology of England, for here lived Robert Catesby, one of the prime movers of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, an event still commemorated every November 5th (Guy Fawkes Night).

Of course, the late-autumn bonfire was a regular tradition, long before Catesby's motley crew arranged for Fawkes to pile barrels of gunpowder in the cellars of the House of Commons.

Perching an effigy of Guy Fawkes on top demonstrates one of the ways in which the old traditions are remodelled and reinvigorated - though I'm not sure if Guy ever appreciated his contribution to the Heritage industry.

Catesby seems to have been a particularly fervent fanatic, from a family determined to hold on to their Catholic faith against the tide of Anglo-Protestantism. It's worth noting that, unusually, the Gunpowder Plot had no associated foreign conspiracy. It was a strictly English affair. Apart, of course, from the mercenary Fawkes.

Typically English, also, in that scholars still argue about the suspicious confusion surrounding the Plot, and its unmasking.

Many claim that Robert Cecil, the King's chief minister, (a thoroughly devious man) knew all about the plot long before its apparent discovery, and that he may have even played some part in setting the conspirators up. (A "Popish Plot" was always good for rallying the country round the King (and his ministers).)

Others claim that the conspirators were just too stupid to realise how cock-eyed the whole scheme was (notwithstanding how close it came to succeeding).

Today, little of this matters more than the opportunity the event affords for a bright, noisy party, with bonfires and fireworks, at a time when the gloomy evenings are beginning to drag the spirits down. (These days, it's called Seasonal Affective Disorder).

The building where the plot is reputed to have been hatched still stands. It's the gatehouse of the Manor House of Ashby. The very room concerned is to be found up a single, creaky staircase, windows on either side to give warning of unwelcome approach. It is clearly a Tudor building, not a hint of Mock about it, complete with wooden beams and plaster infill.

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