5th November: Guy Fawkes Night

Gunpowder_Plot_conspirators

Crispijn van de Passe’s engraving of eight of the thirteen Gunpowder Plot conspirators

Remember, remember the fifth of November

Gunpowder, treason and plot

I see no reason why gunpowder treason

Should ever be forgot

A popular rhyme English children learn whilst growing up and is recited every year on Guy Fawkes Night (Also known as Bonfire Night and/or Fireworks Night)

Guy Fawkes Night is a celebration for the thwarting of a terrorist plot against King James I. On 5th November 1605 Guy Fawkes was arrested after being found with thirty-six barrels filled with gun powder underneath the House of Lords. He was tortured, signed a confession and sentenced to death.

Guy_fawkes_henry_perronet_briggs

Painting by Henry Perrinet Briggs (1823) depicting the capture of Guy Fawkes.

However, Guy Fawkes wasn’t acting alone. There were several other conspirators involved in the Gunpowder Plot. Led by Robert Catesby, the other co-conspirators were John Wright, Thomas Wintour, Thomas Percy, Robert Keyes, Thomas Bates, Robert Wintour, Christopher Wright, John Grant, Ambrose Rookwood, Sir Everard Digby and Francis Tresham. Guy Fawkes was given charge of the explosives because he had many years experience fighting against the Dutch during the Dutch Revolt (1568-1648).

The reason for the plot was simply that the conspirators were catholic and wanted to be free from persecution under the protestant King James I. They had survived the reign of Elizabeth I and had hoped that James I would be more tolerant towards them. He obviously was not. Some of the plotters were killed trying to escape London, the rest were rounded up, sentenced and then hung, drawn and quartered, which really isn’t a pleasant way to die. Bearing in mind this in front of a jeering crowd, you would have been hung by the neck to the point of death, then taken down and sliced open. Your innards would be cut out while you are still alive, shown to the crowd, burned and then your body would be hacked into quarters and sent to the four corners of England as a message to any other potential traitors to the crown.

800px-King_James_I_of_England_and_VI_of_Scotland_by_John_De_Critz_the_Elder

Portrait of King James I by John de Critz (c.1606)

In 2005, Richard Hammond hosted The Gunpowder Plot: Exploding the Legend for ITV which recreated the old Houses of Parliament (the current one was finished in 1859) to see how much destruction the gunpowder would have caused had the plot been successful. The results surprised even gunpowder experts and the documentary is well worth watching.

On January 1606 the signing of the Observance of the 5th November 1605 Act meant that a day of public thanksgiving would be held every year as a reminder of the failed plot. Growing up I remember making an effigy of Guy Fawkes and, with my sister, would cart him around the neighbouring streets asking people for a “Penny for the Guy”. As night fell my father would light a bonfire in the garden and throw the guy on it. This would be followed by a feast of hot soups, jacket potatoes and an assortment of sugary treats, and  concluding with a firework display carefully orchestrated by my dad.

A_022_Bonfire

The burning of the Guy.

Apparently this custom was taken to North America but died out during the time of the American Revolution. Sadly, I was unable to continue the traditional practices of Guy Fawkes Night whilst living in Canada because where I lived, we were not allowed to have bonfires in our gardens and fireworks are only sold at certain times of the year, and are only allowed to be let off within those times of the year.

I still ensure that I chant the rhyme at least once on that day though. It was and still is part of my heritage after all and I don’t want to lose it.

Remember, remember the fifth of November

Gunpowder, treason and plot

I see no reason why gunpowder treason

Should ever be forgot

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2 responses to “5th November: Guy Fawkes Night

  1. Pingback: Gunpowder, Treason and Plot | carlcymru·

  2. Pingback: November 5 1605 King James learns of gunpowder plot (Guy Fawkes) | Craig Hill·

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