Bonfire Night

BonfireOn the 5th of November 1605, a group of Catholics conspired to blow up the Houses of Parliament when King James I was inside. King James I was Protestant and the conspirators wanted to kill him and replace him with a Catholic monarch. There had already been a number of Catholic plots against King James I – notably the Bye Plot and the Main Plot two years earlier – but this was by far the most daring.

The plot was conceived and organised by Robert Catesby (who had already been fined for his part in a plot against the earlier Protestant monarch Elizabeth I) along with some other prominent English Catholics of the time. The explosives themselves were prepared by Guy Fawkes, an English soldier. At midnight on the 5th of November, a Justice of the Peace named Thomas Knyvet searched the cellars under the House of Lords and found Guy Fawkes with a watch, slow matches, touchpaper and 36 barrels of gunpowder. He never denied his intentions, openly declaring his plan to kill the king and destroy parliament. The next day he was taken to the Tower of London to be interrogated. King James I wrote:

The gentler tortours are to be first used unto him, et sic per gradus ad maiora tenditur [and thus by increase to the worst], and so God speed your goode worke.

After a few days of torture, Guy Fawkes revealed the details of his plot and the names of his co-conspirators. On the 31st of January 1606, he was taken to the Old Palace Yard in Westminster, where, along with some of the others involved in the plot, he was hanged, drawn and quartered.

Every year, the United Kingdom still commemorates the thwarting of this Catholic plot against the king. We set up bonfires on which we burn an effigy of Guy Fawkes (we also used to burn effigies of the Pope but most people don’t do that any more) and we set off fireworks. For the last three hours or so, I have been listening to continual explosions and watching the sky over London light up in reds, blues and greens. Although bits of the celebrations have been banned or restricted recently, usually because they have been deemed too dangerous or politically incorrect, I am happy that the core of the tradition still continues.

Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder, Treason and Plot!
I see no reason why gunpowder and treason
should ever be forgot!

Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, ’twas his intent
to blow up the King and the Parliament.
Three score barrels of powder below,
poor old England to overthrow:
By God’s providence he was catch’d
with a dark lantern and burning match.

A penny loaf to feed the Pope.
A farthing o’ cheese to choke him.
A pint of beer to rinse it down.
A faggot of sticks to burn him.
Burn him in a tub of tar.
Burn him like a blazing star.
Burn his body from his head.
Then we’ll say ol’ Pope is dead.

Holloa boys, holloa boys, make the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!
Hip hip hoorah!

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Published in: on November 5, 2006 at 12:00 am  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. There’s a nice series with Robert Carlyle available on DVD about this part of history, which I reviewed. It’s called “Gunpowder, Treason and Plot” (use control+f to find it).

  2. Remember, Remember, the Fifth of November.Freedom Forever!

  3. They do say that Guido Fawkes was the only man to enter Parliament with an honest intent. However, we became great because we turned our back on popery, which lead to the enlightenment ultimately, and thus his cause, had it succeeded, might have dragged us under with Spain, France, Austria and so on. Standing against science is no way to run a government.


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