This is probably the nearest England comes to having a special historical anniversary and a truly gruesome tale it is, too. It's quite a treat to see the horror that dawns on faces of Americans or Europeans as one explains to them what it is exactly that we are celebrating. "That guy is a symbol of the fact that the badly tortured Guy Fawkes who then confessed was hung, drawn and quartered before being burned to death. Let me explain what hanging, drawing and quartering means." Pale faces all round.
A couple of links that are of interest. History Today has an article about the various alternatives that Catholics faced in Jacobean England and why this group decided on terrorism. There are many interesting points in that article, which gives a very coherent analysis of the situation and of the options available. It is worth remembering that any group that wanted to dispose of the existing monarch and put a Catholic one in his place had in mind a complete destabilization of the country, something Elizabeth and her advisers understood very well. A glance across the Channel, the war in the Low Countries and the civil war in France, would have shown what that would entail.
The article touches on the various legends and theories that have been woven round the Plot. Here is a slightly less well written piece that discusses the possibility that it was all either set up or exaggerated by Robert Cecil, the first Earl of Salisbury.
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