His Maiesties Speach, in this last Session of Parliament
On Saturday, November 9, 1605—only four days after the planned attack—King James addressed Parliament about a failed conspiracy to kill all members by detonating thirty-six kegs of gunpowder planted under the very chambers where they sat. His speech gave thanksgiving “to GOD, for the great and miraculous Deliuerie he hath at this time granted to mee, and to you all, and consequently to the whole Body of this Estate.” Viewed by some as being relic of anti-Catholicism and outdated, celebration of November 5th as Guy Fawkes Day remains as a fading British tradition in modern times.
In giving thanks, James claimed that “Kings are in the word of God it self called Gods, as being his Lieutentants and Viceregents on earth, and so adorned and furnished with some sparkles of Diuintie,” a Stuart perspective which would lead to future troubles. James blamed the conspirators’ actions on “their blind superstition of their errors in Religion …yet doeth not follow, That all professing that Romish religion were guilty of the same.” He then delayed Parliament’s session until January, at which time he hoped it would take up the important business of uniting the crowns of England and Scotland.
His majesty’s speech in “as neere is his very words as could be gathered at the instant” was quickly brought to print in what soon became known as “The King’s Book.” In addition to the speech, the volume contains the government’s official account of the Gunpowder Plot and its discovery, which greatly benefited from “his Maiesties fortunate Judgement in cleering and soluing of obscure riddles & doubtfull mysteries.” Also included were the confessions of conspirators Guido (Guy) Fawkes and Thomas Winters together with a description of a failed uprising of Catholics, instigated in Warwickshire, and a plot to seize the king’s daughter and crown her queen.
How Shakespeare was personally affected by these events is uncertain. His neighbors and family members were acquainted with some of the conspirators—Shakespeare, in fact, was a distant relative of Thomas Winters. A consummate professional, he adjusted to the times. His Scottish play debuted in 1606, in which Macbeth witnesses an apparition of Banquo’s successor kings, with a nod to James and an illusion to the unity of England and Scotland. The evils of equivocation are prominent in the play. Investigations of the Gunpowder Plot uncovered a Jesuit tract entitled A Treatise of Equivocation. It provided Catholics instruction how to provide deceptive answers when questioned under oath.
Chrzanowski 1605j *