Episode 3 Elizabeth I's Secret Agents


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Britain at the time of Queen Elizabeth I was divided,

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unstable and violent.

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Despite this, Elizabeth stayed in power for over 40 years.

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The secret of her incredible reign...

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..is hidden in this portrait.

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Detailed in the folds of her dress,

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these eyes and ears represent a spy network.

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The world's first secret service...

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..run by a father-and-son team.

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Both exceptionally intelligent,

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and given the job of protecting Queen and country.

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This series tells their story over five decades,

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and reveals how the secret state was born...

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..Elizabethan England as it really was,

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with a network of spies battling a terrorist threat.

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And both sides will stop at nothing.

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The Elizabethan state is mirrors within mirrors,

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the double-crossings, the conspiracies.

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It's an endless labyrinth.

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Leading historians have researched these events

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from different individual perspectives.

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Elizabeth was ineffably different.

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She was exceptional, she was holy,

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she was magical.

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They'll take us inside the mind of each of the key players...

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..dissecting their motives and actions,

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while the course of British history hangs in the balance.

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You have to wonder what personal cost comes with that.

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That there must be some kind of damage to somebody's soul

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to commit that kind of crime.

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We'll see how history is really made,

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in the corridors of power from just behind the throne.

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In this episode, a new king, a Catholic extremist on the loose,

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and the most infamous terrorist conspiracy in British history,

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the Gunpowder Plot.

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It's the dawn of the 17th century.

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For hundreds of years,

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England has been a separate country from Scotland.

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But on the 23rd of March, 1603, when Queen Elizabeth dies,

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her crown passes to her cousin, King James VI of Scotland.

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The task of installing him as James I of England

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falls to this man, England's spy master, Robert Cecil.

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Robert Cecil has an exceptional combination of talent and drive

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and intelligence and cunning,

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and a willingness

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to go to any length in order to succeed.

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But he now has to get the unknown quantity...

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..of a foreign king,

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king of a country which has usually been an enemy country.

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He has to get him down from Scotland,

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down to London, get him crowned,

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get him installed, and see if he can get the King in harness.

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And he doesn't really know who James is by this point.

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James is a mystery to him.

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James has a reputation for being obsessed with the occult,

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for promiscuity and extravagance.

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James believes that the king's authority comes directly from God.

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He is not to be legitimately challenged by any earthly authority.

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God had particularly smiled upon and blessed him,

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and he intends to enjoy this.

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James has been King of Scotland since he was a year old

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and he's rather spoilt.

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In a favourite phrase of James's, "Kings are little gods,

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"they exercise a manner of divine power."

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So, in early 1603, Cecil has a lot on his plate.

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It's not just that he has to deal with a boss who thinks he's God...

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..Cecil is also trying to capture someone he regards

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as the most dangerous man in England.

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Catholic priest John Gerard is Cecil's archenemy.

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Gerard was not like other priests, he was a maverick, he was brazen,

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he was flamboyant.

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You've got this cockiness, this swagger to him,

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but also this absolute certainty that what he's doing

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is the right thing.

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Cecil and Gerard are more than just opponents in a bitter religious war,

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this has become personal.

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SHOUTING

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Ten years ago, Cecil had Gerard in his grasp,

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threw him in the Tower of London, and tortured him...

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..only for the priest to escape.

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Getting Gerard back behind bars is a top priority.

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Cecil sincerely believed...

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..that the defence of Protestant England, it was a sacred cause.

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And, with that belief, there came, in this age of religious warfare,

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the equally sincere conviction

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that Catholicism was a perfidious doctrine,

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and that English Catholic priests were agents of a hostile

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and dangerous foreign power.

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I think Robert Cecil would have said that Gerard was a traitor

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and he was a plotter and he was a risk to national security.

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But Gerard would say that the terror is coming from the state,

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not the other way around.

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Cecil puts his spy network on to finding Gerard.

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He has agents in every port and market town...

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..in the prisons and inside every suspect household.

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Despite their efforts, Cecil can't find the priest.

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Four weeks into the new reign,

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King James is still travelling south.

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Cecil needs to get some control over him,

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so he travels north to meet James.

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Cecil is England's Principal Secretary,

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effectively Prime Minister,

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and he's used to getting his way.

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But from James's point of view,

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it would have been unthinkable...

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..that Cecil should dominate.

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He's not an equal. No, he's not an equal.

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What James wants is for the two to slot into

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an appropriate relationship between master and servant.

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Cecil comes out of this intense meeting with James

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and sends a letter saying, "I've made a discovery of his

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"royal perfections and I see the greatest felicity for the nation."

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But Cecil must be thinking...

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..that in English terms, James is not a perfect king at all

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and that the coming years will be full of panics and surprises.

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One of James's first acts as King rocks Cecil badly.

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Although James himself is Protestant,

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while still en route to London, he knights a Catholic.

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And not just any Catholic, but Thomas Gerard,

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the brother of Cecil's old enemy, John Gerard.

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So, for Gerard, this is hope.

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This King, you know, he must be their friend, and augur in

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a golden age. Finally, a golden age for the Catholics in England.

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Though himself a Protestant, James is the son of a Catholic.

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He's married to a Catholic.

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Now, he's sending a blatant signal that his reign

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will be friendly to Catholics.

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But to Robert Cecil...

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..to normalise the situation of English Catholics

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runs the risk of creating a bridgehead for foreign influence.

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He sees them as an enemy within,

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and therefore he won't do anything to allow them to fortify themselves.

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Two days later, Cecil's situation gets even worse.

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A source in his network tells him they've finally tracked down

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John Gerard.

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He's on his way to meet James.

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This raises the nightmare scenario that James may be going behind

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Cecil's back to strike a deal with Gerard and the Catholics.

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Everything that Cecil has spent his life working for,

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everything that Cecil's father,

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and his father before him spent his life working for,

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building up the English state with the Tudors,

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everything is now in the balance,

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because the real danger is that Cecil...

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..will be caught on the wrong side of that kind of change.

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And so it is in Cecil's interest to polarise the whole issue of religion

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into the good and the bad, into loyal Protestants

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and disloyal Catholics

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and a picture of us-versus-them conflict.

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Cecil knows the surest way to stop the King befriending the Catholics

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is to show James the Catholics are plotting against him.

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One of Cecil's agents passes on some chatter in the Catholic underground

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that someone is recruiting desperados for an

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extraordinary mission.

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They're plotting an armed raid on a royal palace,

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with the aim of kidnapping the King.

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A captured priest is tricked into giving up the location

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of the snatch

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and the leader of the kidnap gang,

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an ex-soldier on the fringes of the royal household.

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Cecil can even identify the secretive ringleader,

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a Catholic priest with the belief that if he can get him alone,

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he can convert James to Catholicism.

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That's why he wants to kidnap the King.

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For Cecil, this is manna from heaven.

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We don't know how much of the intelligence Cecil believed,

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but we do know that he reacted as if all of it and more was true.

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And this is seen in the way that he uses every asset

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at his personal disposal to maximise the intelligence value

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and also the political value of his response.

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Two months after inheriting the English crown,

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James finally reaches London.

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He installs himself at Greenwich,

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just one of the dozen vast palaces at his disposal now he's King here.

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But James has barely begun to enjoy himself

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when Cecil drops his bombshell.

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Cecil tells the King some Catholics are plotting to raid the palace

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and kidnap him.

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And any deal between the King and the Catholics

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is stopped dead in its tracks.

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The discovery that he was going to be abducted helps to shape his views

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on religion and kingship.

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That is that Catholic extremists are wasps, vipers,

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firebrands of sedition.

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DOG BARKS

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The priest behind the kidnap plot is hunted down by Cecil's men.

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Within a fortnight of his arrest, he's executed.

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Another Catholic priest, convicted of being his accomplice,

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follows him to the scaffold.

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Then James signs a bill reaffirming all of Protestant England's laws

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against Catholicism.

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Their rights remain banned.

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Priests like Gerard are ordered out of the country on pain of death.

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When the law banning Catholic priests is renewed,

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this is a victory for Cecil.

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You have to admire

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the coldness and the skill with which he does all this.

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It makes me think that Cecil is the supreme political operator

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of his day,

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but it is chilling as much as cold.

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Gerard's brief glimpse of a golden future is snuffed out.

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It's worse than ever. They'd had this hope,

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and it's the hope that kills you.

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And Gerard likened it to being in a dark room for a very,

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very long time and then there's a flash of lightning

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and then there's a pale light and then it goes out.

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And then that room feels darker than it's ever been before.

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But, even now, Cecil isn't finished.

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He uses the kidnap plot's ringleader as a pawn in a move against rivals

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at James's court.

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Under interrogation, the ringleader was forced to implicate

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one of the King's courtiers.

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The man is Cecil's own brother-in-law,

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but he's thrown in the Tower.

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He gives up Sir Walter Raleigh, Cecil's real target.

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Raleigh's poetry and exploration have made him a national treasure,

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but he's made the mistake of trading on his fame

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to compete for power with Cecil.

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It takes just one dodgy confession for Cecil to get Raleigh convicted

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of treason, and thrown in the Tower to await execution.

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Cecil is utterly merciless.

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You cannot help but admire his skill,

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you cannot wish that you'd had the chance to meet him

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and find out what made him tick.

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But you wouldn't want to cross him.

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And by meeting Robert Cecil,

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you have the feeling that you would have somehow compromised yourself,

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you'd have exposed yourself to his intelligence, to his sharp eye.

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And it's because of that that he is a terrifying figure.

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Father John Gerard is forced to go on the run again

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when the law against priests is renewed.

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He disguises himself as a country gentleman.

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Though hidden in his luggage is all he needs

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to practise Catholic ceremonies.

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For Gerard, this fight will never be over.

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John Gerard sees himself as a soldier of Christ.

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This is a holy war for him.

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That is Gerard's vision,

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and he is utterly single-minded and ruthless in his pursuit of it.

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Gerard becomes an expert at living undercover.

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He has many false names.

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Gerard knew that Cecil was after him and after him specifically.

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He probably saw it as a vendetta.

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You know, for Cecil, it's always Gerard first.

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What Gerard needs is a base where he can hide out safely,

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somewhere beyond the spy master's grasp.

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And that brings him here to Harrowden Hall in Northamptonshire,

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the home of a wealthy Catholic widow, Eliza Vaux.

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Eliza Vaux was 29 when she was widowed, left with a large family,

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and was devastated...

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..refusing even to go into the part of the house

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where her husband had died, and engulfed completely in misery.

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In her sorrow, she turns to John Gerard.

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He helped Eliza out of her grief,

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he helped her out of that period of mourning.

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Gerard comes along and it kind of seems God sent to her

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and he becomes her spiritual confessor.

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They're incredibly close.

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A well-connected aristocrat,

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Eliza Vaux is potentially very useful to Gerard.

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The Catholic women were vital to the success of the mission,

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and Gerard never underestimated their worth.

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16th-century women were perceived to be inferior to men in this period,

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they just weren't as important.

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But what it did mean is that they could fly under the radar in a way

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that men just couldn't.

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And women, especially widows who had money, they're absolutely vital.

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Eliza Vaux was previously a friend of Robert Cecil,

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but now it's Gerard she wants to help.

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Eliza seems to have got along fairly well with being a Catholic,

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but wasn't a particularly fervent one.

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But it was the death of her husband and her introduction to John Gerard,

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who helped to turn her grief into a real burning passion for her faith

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and replace the grief with a sense of purpose.

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Though it's an offence punishable by death to shelter Gerard,

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Eliza Vaux invites him to make Harrowden his base of operations.

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He takes complete control over her house...

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..installs secret passageways

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and gets rid of any servant he considers not Catholic enough.

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But John Gerard is only just getting started.

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Via Eliza Vaux's friends and neighbours,

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he replicates Harrowden in other grand households nearby.

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Soon, much of the Catholic gentry across the English Midlands

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is secretly assisting Gerard.

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All the ladies want to be converted by him,

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all the men want to be friends with him.

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And so it goes on and on,

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almost like he's a sort of octopus with tentacles.

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He was so effective, and he had so many friends and followers latterly,

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that he said that he could travel 150 miles or so

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without ever once having to stop in a tavern.

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Gerard even gives some of those in his network code names.

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Through trusted couriers, he can communicate with

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other Catholic networks.

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Cecil is receiving fragments of intelligence about Gerard -

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Gerard is moving from house to house amongst the Catholic gentry of the

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Midlands, and Cecil is watching these houses, he knows

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that they're against him.

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He doesn't know how it's going to fall into a shape.

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He has, in other words, a known unknown.

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And it is his task now to try and identify the extent of that unknown,

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what kind of threat it represents, and how,

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as he brings it to the light, he can turn it to his advantage.

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A year into his reign,

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King James begins to reveal the scale of his ambitions.

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With the dream of bringing Christians together,

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he commissions the King James Bible.

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It'll become the most widely read book in the history

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of the English language.

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And he has a bold thought about how he will rule his joint kingdoms

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of England and Scotland.

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His big idea began when English crowds cheered his coronation.

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James mistakes such celebrations for a popular appetite,

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and a political appetite for union beyond their having a king,

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who happened to be King of Scotland, as well.

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The idea of a union of England and Scotland into another entity,

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Britain, I think then starts to gain shape in James's mind.

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Cecil feels a union could actually create deep instability in a country

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which, as he knows, under a new king, under a new royal house,

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is not on a stable footing to start with.

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Cecil fears that if James unites England and Scotland against

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the wishes of the people, there's a risk of a popular revolt.

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But though the King has come to appreciate Cecil the spy master,

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he's much less respectful of Cecil the politician.

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James refers to Cecil quite often as "my little beagle".

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Sometimes there are other nicknames that feature, "parrot-monger",

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"monkey-monger", but the most common one is "my little beagle".

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His little beagle in Cecil is loyal and good at sniffing out

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what he has to sniff out.

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It's probably better than being called a lapdog,

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but it's still a mocking reference to his dependency

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and the fact that he survives by serving.

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But Cecil's doubts about union are shared by the English Parliament.

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They turn down James's request to be called King of Great Britain.

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James ignores Parliament.

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He issues a coin called the Unite.

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It describes James as King of Great Britain,

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a title he has now adopted in open defiance of Parliament.

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There's also a declaration.

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"I shall make them one people."

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From Robert Cecil's point of view, this is making trouble.

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It is putting James's ambitions...

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..literally on show, in circulation.

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Cecil's greatest successes have come when he has been able to watch from

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the side of events as the forces have clashed,

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and been able to steer the conflict one way or another.

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He is now in the middle

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and the great force of the will of the Scottish King

0:25:350:25:40

versus the resistance of the English Parliament

0:25:400:25:44

threatens to crush him.

0:25:440:25:46

James makes Cecil even more vulnerable by diluting his power.

0:25:490:25:53

Cecil becomes just one voice in a council

0:25:550:25:58

of the King's closest advisers.

0:25:580:26:00

These men form the nucleus of a new court

0:26:020:26:05

that will do whatever James wants.

0:26:050:26:08

It's not possible for Cecil to have a final victory

0:26:080:26:11

in which he is the most powerful individual at the court.

0:26:110:26:16

He'll never be supreme, in that sense,

0:26:160:26:20

but there is no way out now for Robert Cecil.

0:26:200:26:22

He's been someone who's been born in this game,

0:26:220:26:26

has risen to the top of it, so he can only carry on playing.

0:26:260:26:29

And his willingness to stop at nothing...

0:26:290:26:33

..is his last and greatest asset in this game.

0:26:340:26:37

Meanwhile, Father John Gerard arrives in London.

0:26:470:26:50

He stays in a Catholic safe house next-door to a pub.

0:26:540:26:57

Here, he meets up with a splinter cell in the Catholic underground.

0:27:020:27:05

It contains five young men.

0:27:080:27:10

Among them, a mercenary called Guy Fawkes.

0:27:100:27:13

Guy Fawkes is a Yorkshireman.

0:27:160:27:17

He's got a Protestant father and a Catholic mother.

0:27:170:27:21

And, for some reason, he decided early to go for the Catholicism.

0:27:210:27:25

He's become a fanatic.

0:27:250:27:27

And what he wants to do is to destroy the English government.

0:27:270:27:30

All the men with Fawkes are of the same desperate mould.

0:27:320:27:35

They are wild by temperament, they're young,

0:27:360:27:40

quite a few of them have had careers of violence,

0:27:400:27:43

either as soldiers or notable for their use of arms.

0:27:430:27:48

Second thing is that most of them have had a conversion experience

0:27:480:27:52

in the recent past, having either been Protestant for a bit,

0:27:520:27:56

or being lukewarm Catholics.

0:27:560:27:58

They're burning with a new sense of the importance of their religion.

0:27:580:28:03

So, they're people who've suddenly found God

0:28:030:28:05

and they're letting rip.

0:28:050:28:07

They've got faith for the first time and now they want to show it.

0:28:070:28:11

Minutes before they meet with Gerard,

0:28:130:28:15

Fawkes and his friends agreed a plan

0:28:150:28:17

to get rid of the entire Protestant state in one moment.

0:28:170:28:20

They will blow up the Houses of Parliament with the King inside.

0:28:200:28:24

But they want their lethal violence to have God's blessing

0:28:260:28:30

and that's why they've come to Gerard.

0:28:300:28:33

It's important to the conspirators that the priest who administers the

0:28:330:28:37

sacrament to them is John Gerard,

0:28:370:28:40

because he's a man in the same mould.

0:28:400:28:42

He's relatively young, he's incredibly daring,

0:28:420:28:45

he's forever escaping from the authorities

0:28:450:28:48

and he's one of them.

0:28:480:28:50

John Gerard has just set in motion the Gunpowder Plot.

0:28:530:28:56

The May meeting is the key meeting.

0:28:580:29:02

This is the moment when the Gunpowder Plot becomes a real thing

0:29:020:29:06

and this is the moment when, from the plotters' point of view,

0:29:060:29:10

the mass seals the Gunpowder Plot in the blood of Christ.

0:29:100:29:14

It's late autumn, 1605.

0:29:240:29:26

Tensions that have been building for almost half a century,

0:29:260:29:30

since Queen Elizabeth came to the throne, are about to come to a head.

0:29:300:29:33

Parliament has been asked to meet

0:29:380:29:40

to discuss the huge challenges that lie ahead.

0:29:400:29:43

King James will attend the State Opening

0:29:430:29:45

on the fifth of November.

0:29:450:29:47

But just ten days before Parliament is due to open,

0:29:540:29:57

something catches the eye of Robert Cecil.

0:29:570:29:59

This is the actual piece of paper that crosses Cecil's desk that day.

0:30:030:30:07

It comes from one of his Catholic informants,

0:30:080:30:11

who has been given an anonymous tip-off.

0:30:110:30:13

Cecil picks up on one crucial phrase...

0:30:160:30:19

What does it mean? That there shall be a terrible blow delivered to the

0:30:270:30:31

Parliament from some unseen hand?

0:30:310:30:33

This is a piece of paper saying something quite worrying.

0:30:350:30:38

So Cecil has to find out the extent and the reality

0:30:400:30:45

at what might lie behind it.

0:30:450:30:47

With so little time before the State Opening of Parliament,

0:30:490:30:52

Cecil knows he must act fast.

0:30:520:30:55

But there's a problem.

0:30:550:30:57

The Privy Council is the official body for dealing with threats

0:30:570:31:00

against Parliament and the King,

0:31:000:31:03

but it's dominated by men who've learnt to be wary

0:31:030:31:06

when Cecil cries wolf.

0:31:060:31:08

Everybody knows that Cecil is a man perfectly happy to take the whiff of

0:31:080:31:14

a plot and produce a great cloud of supposition from this

0:31:140:31:19

and to exploit it to his advantage,

0:31:190:31:22

even putting Walter Raleigh in the Tower.

0:31:220:31:26

So the Privy Council is not going to give

0:31:260:31:28

Cecil a free hand to run with this,

0:31:280:31:31

to increase his power by producing the full plot.

0:31:310:31:36

The threat is as serious as it could possibly be...

0:31:390:31:42

..but Cecil's investigation appears to be making no progress at all.

0:31:430:31:46

Meanwhile, the plotters are at work.

0:31:530:31:56

One of them, Thomas Percy,

0:31:580:32:01

is a minor aristocrat with a position at court.

0:32:010:32:04

He gets them access to the Palace of Westminster

0:32:050:32:09

and rents them a cellar beneath it, in what's known as the undercroft.

0:32:090:32:13

They store 36 barrels here,

0:32:150:32:17

all of which Guy Fawkes has filled with gunpowder.

0:32:170:32:19

And if they go off at once, they're going to have the impact of,

0:32:230:32:27

in modern terms, a small-scale nuclear bomb.

0:32:270:32:30

EXPLOSION

0:32:300:32:33

It's going to be a hell of a bang.

0:32:330:32:35

The blast range will spread across almost a mile of Central London.

0:32:350:32:39

Everything within 40 metres will be razed to the ground

0:32:390:32:42

and anybody inside those buildings killed.

0:32:420:32:44

And the cellar is right underneath the House of Lords,

0:32:450:32:49

which, on the fifth of November, will be packed with

0:32:490:32:52

the 300 most important people in the British state,

0:32:520:32:55

including all of Parliament, the King and both his young sons.

0:32:550:33:00

There's no way of killing like overkill

0:33:000:33:03

and to make the biggest possible bang

0:33:030:33:05

ensures the greatest possible number

0:33:050:33:07

of deaths among the people at whom you're aiming.

0:33:070:33:10

Guy knows exactly what he's up to.

0:33:100:33:12

The bomb will create a power vacuum that will most likely lead

0:33:140:33:18

to a civil war, in which both Protestant and Catholic

0:33:180:33:21

will die in their tens of thousands.

0:33:210:33:23

At no point do I find any evidence that the conspirators worried

0:33:250:33:29

unduly about innocent deaths in the whole process.

0:33:290:33:33

After all, it's a glorious cause,

0:33:330:33:35

and this life is a short vale of tears

0:33:350:33:38

and the real point is the everlasting glory

0:33:380:33:41

to which a good Catholic is going to go.

0:33:410:33:43

With just four days left to prevent catastrophe,

0:33:520:33:55

Cecil goes to Whitehall Palace to see James.

0:33:550:33:57

He plans to bypass the Privy Council by getting the King

0:34:010:34:04

to kick-start his investigation.

0:34:040:34:06

And we have James's account of what happened.

0:34:090:34:12

James is given the letter without a word from Cecil, he reads it,

0:34:120:34:18

pauses, presumably for thought, and reads it again.

0:34:180:34:22

And at this point, according to James, Cecil says,

0:34:220:34:24

"The letter must've been written by a fool."

0:34:240:34:27

Cecil understands that the King will only become involved if he thinks

0:34:290:34:33

he has ownership of the investigation.

0:34:330:34:35

So Cecil lets James work out for himself that this is a tip-off

0:34:350:34:39

about a terrorist attack on the State Opening of Parliament.

0:34:390:34:43

James himself interprets the wording as the use of gunpowder.

0:34:460:34:52

He revels in how clever he has been in working this out.

0:34:540:35:00

He says, "I did upon the instant interpret

0:35:000:35:03

"some dark phrases therein."

0:35:030:35:06

You know, he talks about how he worked this out in a means

0:35:060:35:09

that couldn't have been worked out

0:35:090:35:10

by any theologian or lawyer in any university.

0:35:100:35:15

So, he's ever so clever to have worked it out and...

0:35:150:35:23

..James is like that.

0:35:230:35:24

So, he leaves this meeting with James with the King's endorsement,

0:35:260:35:30

effectively, to set to work.

0:35:300:35:33

And also, as he always tries to do,

0:35:330:35:37

to take charge of events,

0:35:370:35:39

to start planning for the triumph that he hopes will produce itself,

0:35:390:35:46

magically, like a rabbit from the hat,

0:35:460:35:48

out of a threat to the state, a victory for the King,

0:35:480:35:52

and also for Cecil.

0:35:520:35:54

Cecil's network is put on the case.

0:35:560:35:58

A double agent in the Catholic underground comes up with a name,

0:35:580:36:02

Guy Fawkes, and connects him with a leading Catholic conspirator,

0:36:020:36:06

Robert Catesby.

0:36:060:36:07

But where are these men?

0:36:090:36:11

And what is their plan?

0:36:110:36:14

Cecil is running out of time.

0:36:140:36:15

It is a test of Cecil. It's a test of his intelligence,

0:36:200:36:23

the fact that he's ready for this.

0:36:230:36:25

The situation is so advanced and so desperate,

0:36:250:36:27

it's also a test of his nerve.

0:36:270:36:30

The evening before the State Opening of Parliament,

0:36:380:36:41

Fawkes enters the cellar beneath it to lay the fuse for his bomb.

0:36:410:36:45

This is not a suicide mission

0:36:460:36:48

and Fawkes's fuse will be long enough to allow his escape.

0:36:480:36:51

But a search party approaches.

0:36:570:36:58

The game should be up, but Fawkes proves quick-witted.

0:37:120:37:16

He acts the innocent, he gives a fake name, John Johnson,

0:37:170:37:21

and they then go away.

0:37:210:37:23

Fawkes can barely believe his luck, to have had so simple an escape.

0:37:240:37:27

So, it must look to him as though God is blessing his venture.

0:37:290:37:33

The place has been searched, it's been given the all clear,

0:37:330:37:37

and all he has to do is just wait to light the fuse.

0:37:370:37:39

But he doesn't realise he's dealing with Robert Cecil.

0:37:440:37:47

The search party go back to Whitehall Palace to make their

0:37:510:37:53

report direct to the King.

0:37:530:37:56

Cecil is there, too.

0:37:560:37:57

The search party describes stumbling on someone

0:37:590:38:01

calling himself John Johnson.

0:38:010:38:05

They've also found out who is renting the cellar he's in.

0:38:050:38:07

Thomas Percy.

0:38:090:38:10

Thomas Percy.

0:38:120:38:13

That the tenant of the undercroft is Thomas Percy.

0:38:140:38:18

The name Percy probably doesn't mean much to James,

0:38:200:38:22

but Cecil has a file on Percy.

0:38:220:38:24

Because Percy is part of this network of Catholic families,

0:38:260:38:29

of gentry who are unwilling to accommodate to a Protestant state,

0:38:290:38:34

who are hiding priests and who are,

0:38:340:38:36

according to the chatter that Cecil's agents are picking up,

0:38:360:38:40

discussing a change of regime.

0:38:400:38:42

Cecil can connect Percy to the men he thinks are behind the plot,

0:38:440:38:48

Catesby and Fawkes.

0:38:480:38:50

It's midnight in the Palace of Whitehall by now.

0:38:500:38:53

Parliament will open in a matter of hours, just after dawn.

0:38:530:38:56

There are just hours to go.

0:39:060:39:07

On Cecil's advice, a second search is ordered into the undercroft.

0:39:070:39:11

SHOUTING

0:39:210:39:23

Fawkes is found beside his barrels, with matches to hand.

0:39:260:39:30

The Gunpowder Plot has been foiled just in time.

0:39:300:39:33

And, at this point, he throws the disguise aside, and says,

0:39:340:39:38

yes, there is a plot.

0:39:380:39:39

Yes, I was about to blow you all to smithereens,

0:39:390:39:43

and, hey, you know what? I'm still proud of this.

0:39:430:39:46

As soon as Fawkes is arrested, his fellow plotters run for the hills,

0:39:500:39:56

chased by Cecil's men.

0:39:560:39:57

The plotters get as far as the remote Holbeche House

0:40:080:40:10

in Staffordshire.

0:40:100:40:11

This will be their last stand,

0:40:140:40:16

because this is where Cecil's men catch up with them.

0:40:160:40:19

The plotters only have a small amount of gunpowder left

0:40:300:40:33

for their muskets, but it's got wet on the road.

0:40:330:40:36

So they dry it out by the fire.

0:40:370:40:38

That's the first no-no with gunpowder -

0:40:400:40:43

you don't put it near a fire.

0:40:430:40:44

It blows up and seriously injures a couple of them.

0:40:460:40:50

And then, when they actually are surrounded, there is no shoot-out.

0:40:500:40:55

They take up swords, they put themselves on full view

0:40:550:40:59

at the entrance, and prepare to go hand-to-hand.

0:40:590:41:01

And, of course, they're shot down.

0:41:200:41:22

So they don't even make a decent job of a last stand.

0:41:220:41:25

It has that essential silliness,

0:41:250:41:27

combined with tragedy which is the keynote of the plot.

0:41:270:41:29

The day after the plotters' last stand,

0:41:390:41:41

the State Opening of Parliament finally takes place.

0:41:410:41:44

The arguments about James's plan for union of England and Scotland

0:41:460:41:50

are set aside and the King receives a hero's welcome for having saved

0:41:500:41:55

the entire ruling elite from being blown to smithereens.

0:41:550:41:58

From this point on,

0:42:000:42:01

James doesn't fear the threat of a violent overturning of his right

0:42:010:42:06

or of a diverting of his claim to the English throne.

0:42:060:42:10

And to that extent, James can feel more secure.

0:42:100:42:17

James will begin designs for a flag for his new kingdom

0:42:190:42:22

of Great Britain, the Union Jack.

0:42:220:42:25

Cecil is also sitting pretty.

0:42:280:42:31

James rewards him for breaking the Gunpowder Plot by ennobling him

0:42:310:42:35

as Viscount Cranborne.

0:42:350:42:38

The uncovering of the Gunpowder Plot and Cecil's handling of it

0:42:380:42:43

certainly doesn't do Cecil a disservice in James's eyes.

0:42:430:42:47

So, it confirms...

0:42:490:42:53

I think it's one of those many things that confirms

0:42:530:42:56

Cecil's utility to James.

0:42:560:43:00

But not everyone believes it's safe to relax.

0:43:010:43:04

Something is niggling away at the spy master.

0:43:050:43:07

Parliament is safe, the King is safe,

0:43:110:43:15

but Cecil doesn't know the extent of this conspiracy.

0:43:150:43:18

Robert Cecil does not like loose ends, he doesn't like mess.

0:43:200:43:25

He needs a storyline for a plot, if he is to make something of this.

0:43:250:43:30

Cecil now knows all of the five original gunpowder plotters.

0:43:360:43:39

Only Fawkes and Thomas Wintour, who has somehow survived the last stand,

0:43:440:43:48

are still alive.

0:43:480:43:50

Both are interrogated in the Tower of London.

0:43:510:43:54

Though they don't give Cecil a mastermind behind the plot,

0:43:570:44:00

they do give him something he can use.

0:44:000:44:02

They confess to knowing certain priests

0:44:040:44:07

and that these men of God are part of the Catholic underground.

0:44:070:44:10

Cecil has confessions which say that there are priests involved

0:44:150:44:20

in the plot.

0:44:200:44:22

He then spins this information in the direction of his preferred

0:44:220:44:28

narrative of events, which is, as there were priests in the plot,

0:44:280:44:34

the plot is made by priests.

0:44:340:44:36

Fawkes even admits the name of the priest who gave them God's blessing.

0:44:400:44:43

And the name which comes up...

0:44:470:44:48

..early in the narrative of the plot is that of Cecil's old enemy,

0:44:500:44:56

John Gerard.

0:44:560:44:57

For Cecil, the story behind the Gunpowder Plot

0:45:030:45:06

now becomes starkly clear.

0:45:060:45:08

This unparalleled act of terror was part of a holy war led by priests.

0:45:100:45:15

These are men he sees as the greatest danger

0:45:160:45:18

to peace and security

0:45:180:45:20

and the worst of them is Gerard.

0:45:200:45:22

You have to wonder, by this point, why Cecil is pursuing

0:45:250:45:30

the old enemies?

0:45:300:45:32

You have to wonder how much of this is rooted in Cecil's background,

0:45:320:45:36

and how much of this is confirmed by his political experience.

0:45:360:45:39

That you should treat everybody as an enemy,

0:45:400:45:42

that sooner or later it'll come to bloodshed.

0:45:420:45:46

And it is better to be giving it out than receiving it.

0:45:460:45:50

The need to prove oneself,

0:45:500:45:51

to always assume that you start in a position of weakness,

0:45:510:45:56

but he's actually now in a position of unparalleled power.

0:45:560:46:00

Cecil is like a man who has a shovel

0:46:010:46:04

and believes he's digging himself out,

0:46:040:46:06

but he's actually getting deeper and deeper in.

0:46:060:46:08

In the Tower of London,

0:46:250:46:26

in the chamber where Fawkes and Wintour were interrogated,

0:46:260:46:29

is a trophy board commemorating Cecil's unravelling of

0:46:290:46:33

the Gunpowder Plot.

0:46:330:46:34

It lists the conspirators he's brought to justice...

0:46:370:46:40

..but one key figure remains at large.

0:46:440:46:46

Cecil needs to find John Gerard

0:46:500:46:52

and he's using every resource that he has.

0:46:520:46:55

Gerard is the most wanted man in England at the moment.

0:46:570:47:00

You know, if you think about the manhunt for bin Laden after 9/11,

0:47:010:47:03

it's a bit like that.

0:47:030:47:05

He's a dead man walking.

0:47:050:47:06

During the week after the plot has failed,

0:47:120:47:14

Gerard remains at Harrowden Hall with Eliza Vaux,

0:47:140:47:19

but both know there is no way out.

0:47:190:47:21

Gerard stays put. He knows he's comparatively safe

0:47:210:47:26

in Harrowden Hall

0:47:260:47:28

and he knows that there will be watchers everywhere.

0:47:280:47:31

Eliza would have known that they would come for her.

0:47:340:47:36

It was well known in Catholic circles that John Gerard

0:47:360:47:39

was staying with her.

0:47:390:47:40

So she would have known that they were coming for him

0:47:400:47:43

and that they would come for her also.

0:47:430:47:45

It was Tuesday the 12th of November, it was midday,

0:47:530:47:57

and about 100 armed men surrounded Harrowden Hall.

0:47:570:48:01

This is huge. This is probably the biggest raid that's happened

0:48:040:48:07

to date. The cordon stretched for three miles.

0:48:070:48:10

Gerard has prepared for this by having a hideout installed

0:48:190:48:21

at Harrowden, called a priest-hole.

0:48:210:48:23

Gerard hears the hooves, he gets into his priest-hole

0:48:300:48:35

and the door is opened.

0:48:350:48:38

They fan out all the searches, they interrogate Eliza Vaux,

0:48:380:48:41

they interrogate her family, her children, her servants.

0:48:410:48:45

They go through everything.

0:48:450:48:47

She must have been terrified, but she was very sensible

0:48:480:48:52

and level-headed, and she decided to take to her bed.

0:48:520:48:56

And act the, "Oh, my goodness me. Poor sick woman. I'm only a widow

0:48:570:49:01

"and all you gentlemen are in my house

0:49:010:49:03

"and of course I'll help and cooperate,

0:49:030:49:05

"but I'm having a fit of the vapours and I'll have to go and lie down."

0:49:050:49:08

The search goes on for nine days.

0:49:120:49:14

And Gerard, all this time, is in his priest-hole.

0:49:180:49:21

It's cold, it's dark, he's cramped, he can't stand up,

0:49:210:49:24

he can't stretch his legs.

0:49:240:49:25

This intense meditative focus on Christ's suffering

0:49:280:49:32

helped him get through, he said,

0:49:320:49:35

those dark moments when he feared for his soul and his body.

0:49:350:49:38

Cecil's men are unable to find Gerard.

0:49:460:49:48

Instead, they take Eliza Vaux back to London,

0:49:510:49:55

accused of sheltering a Catholic priest.

0:49:550:49:57

The only way she can save her skin is to give up Gerard.

0:50:000:50:03

She had his life in her hands,

0:50:060:50:09

but Gerard absolutely trusts Eliza Vaux.

0:50:090:50:13

Eliza Vaux arrives in a London gripped by an atmosphere of terror.

0:50:190:50:22

The only two of the original five plotters still alive,

0:50:300:50:33

Wintour and Fawkes, endure a brutally violent public punishment.

0:50:330:50:37

Tied to wooden boards,

0:50:400:50:42

they're dragged through the crowded streets to a scaffold that has been

0:50:420:50:45

specially erected in the heart of the city.

0:50:450:50:47

The two main surviving conspirators, that's Guy and Thomas Wintour,

0:50:540:50:59

die together and they get the grandstand executions.

0:50:590:51:04

Their fates are rather different.

0:51:120:51:15

The hangman cuts Wintour down while he's still very much alive,

0:51:150:51:19

so he can experience the full, appalling experience of being

0:51:190:51:23

cut to pieces while still living.

0:51:230:51:25

Wintour is castrated, disembowelled, and then cut into quarters.

0:51:280:51:32

Guy is different,

0:51:370:51:39

he's in such bad shape after torture that the executioner actually has to

0:51:390:51:44

push him up the ladder.

0:51:440:51:45

But, like the efficient ex-soldier he is,

0:51:450:51:48

Guy throws himself off with such violence,

0:51:480:51:51

he breaks his neck immediately.

0:51:510:51:53

He has a much easier death.

0:51:530:51:54

Eliza Vaux is brought before

0:52:040:52:06

a council of Gunpowder Plot investigators

0:52:060:52:08

and asked to reveal the whereabouts of John Gerard.

0:52:080:52:11

I think that the interrogation before the council must have been

0:52:180:52:22

one of the most terrifying moments of Eliza's life.

0:52:220:52:27

Her old friend Cecil is on the council.

0:52:300:52:33

He demands she give up Gerard or die in agony on the scaffold.

0:52:350:52:39

Cecil is using these uncompromising, merciless methods

0:52:420:52:47

in trying to extract information from Elizabeth Vaux,

0:52:470:52:51

who is meant to be a friend.

0:52:510:52:52

We have a sudden flash, as it were, where we see

0:52:540:52:59

the willingness of Robert Cecil to go to any extent

0:52:590:53:04

in order to defeat his enemies, to achieve his objectives.

0:53:040:53:10

Because you could argue that by this point,

0:53:110:53:14

James is secure, the plot is broken, the country is secure.

0:53:140:53:19

And Robert Cecil is still driving forward to try and tie up

0:53:190:53:24

every last detail.

0:53:240:53:26

So Eliza Vaux has a choice -

0:53:290:53:31

to save her own life or Gerard's.

0:53:310:53:33

And she said, "Well, then, I will die.

0:53:370:53:39

"Then I will go to the scaffold.

0:53:430:53:44

"Nothing worse can happen, other than death."

0:53:490:53:53

And in that death, although the act of being executed is...

0:53:560:54:00

..awful and vile and dreadful, but through that,

0:54:020:54:05

if she manages to hold her nerve through that,

0:54:050:54:07

she would gain the crown of martyrdom, a place in heaven.

0:54:070:54:10

So, in a way,

0:54:100:54:12

she had already accepted that the worst that could happen to her

0:54:120:54:15

would be a great, a great crowning of somebody of her faith

0:54:150:54:21

and that would have strengthened her.

0:54:210:54:22

For once, Cecil relents.

0:54:240:54:27

He lets Eliza Vaux go home.

0:54:270:54:29

In the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot,

0:54:360:54:38

the Protestant-Catholic divide calms somewhat.

0:54:380:54:41

Britain even signs a peace treaty with Spain,

0:54:470:54:50

Europe's Catholic superpower.

0:54:500:54:51

The turbulence that began when Elizabeth came to the throne

0:54:530:54:56

45 years earlier has given way to a kind of peace.

0:54:560:55:00

And the English Parliament agrees to let James pursue his designs

0:55:030:55:06

for a flag of Great Britain.

0:55:060:55:07

It's at this time that Shakespeare writes of England,

0:55:160:55:19

"This sceptred isle, this other Eden, demi-paradise,

0:55:190:55:24

"this happy breed of men, this little world, this precious stone

0:55:240:55:28

"set in the silver sea."

0:55:280:55:30

But the somewhat shameful truth is that our modern world was partly

0:55:370:55:41

formed and kept alive by men like Robert Cecil.

0:55:410:55:44

It's in Robert Cecil's lifetime that Great Britain comes into focus.

0:55:500:55:55

He's not a poet like Shakespeare,

0:55:550:55:57

who can say, "This is who we are and who we've always been."

0:55:570:56:00

But this is because Cecil, by what he does,

0:56:020:56:06

is actually making this sceptred isle.

0:56:060:56:09

And the final chapter of the story,

0:56:180:56:22

James is congratulated for foiling the Gunpowder Plot.

0:56:220:56:24

Among those who come to pay their respects is a Spanish diplomat.

0:56:270:56:30

He arrives with a golden cup for James and jewels for Cecil.

0:56:320:56:35

And he departs with the King's best wishes.

0:56:370:56:39

But, as he leaves, the Spaniard's retinue of attendants

0:56:410:56:45

has grown by one.

0:56:450:56:46

This is how Father John Gerard escapes Cecil's clutches once again.

0:56:500:56:54

It's a really interesting dynamic between Gerard and Cecil, in a way.

0:56:580:57:02

There's this sense for both of them that they are absolutely

0:57:030:57:06

on the right side. You know, there's good and evil,

0:57:060:57:08

there's Christ and Antichrist,

0:57:080:57:10

there's freedom and tyranny, there's truth and falsehood.

0:57:100:57:13

And one will be hubris, one will be Nemesis.

0:57:130:57:17

So, in a way, they are the perfect foil to each other.

0:57:170:57:19

Nobody knows just how embarrassing it is for Cecil that Gerard escapes

0:57:260:57:30

as Gerard.

0:57:300:57:33

Cecil and Gerard are tied together in this conflict.

0:57:330:57:36

And Gerard, by escaping, delivers a humiliating private injury to Cecil.

0:57:380:57:44

And it is a failure, ultimately,

0:57:480:57:50

to capture and execute one of his greatest enemies.

0:57:500:57:54

In other words, however strong he is, he's not safe...

0:57:560:58:01

..and he can never be certain.

0:58:020:58:04

King James of Scotland travels south to take the throne at the invitation of Robert Cecil. Meanwhile, John Gerard, a Catholic priest who has dedicated his life to the destruction of the Protestant state that developed in Elizabeth's England has escaped and made contact with a splinter cell in the Catholic underground containing an extremist called Guy Fawkes who has a plan to blow up Parliament with the King inside.

Cecil hears about the gunpowder plot, but is unaware of when and how they will strike and his investigation is hampered, as he's also trying to manage King James who has a wildly ambitious idea of unifying Scotland and England in a new kingdom of Great Britain.


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