The BBC’s Gunpowder drama is dangerous

SIR – The BBC’s drama Gunpowder (Home news, October 27) did indeed open with the most graphic scenes of violence. It defends these by saying they are grounded in historical fact and reflect what took place during the time of the Gunpowder Plot. The episode fairly depicts the sheer desperation of Catholics who had been misled to hope for some remission of persecution at the hands of King James, son of Mary, Queen of Scots. The laity faced ruinous fines. Priests were hung, drawn and quartered, and the ghastly intention was that the victim should survive to see his heart and bowels hacked out.

But no woman was pressed to death in this period. The penalty of peine forte et dure was imposed for a refusal to plead in court. Years earlier, St Margaret Clitherow had refused to plead to protect her family. She was excused as much as those in authority could. She was never stripped naked, did not spend 24 hours under a door with weights on it, and finally – not in public – was pressed to death, a sharp stone under her back.

The persecution of Catholics had horrors enough. The Gunpowder Plot allowed the extension of the legend that Catholics were traitors, so that anti-Catholic prejudice was live into the 20th century, and still today Catholics are not felt to be quite reliably English and patriotic. The BBC should have no need to invent incidents, the most dangerous thing to do in a drama documentary.

The Very Rev Fr Leo Chamberlain OSB

St John’s Priory, Easingwold, North Yorkshire

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