Monday, November 5, 2012

Remember, Remember the Fifth of November

"Remember, remember the fifth of November, Gunpowder Treason, and plot!"

When you think of Guy Fawkes Night and the fifth of November, how many people think of this guy?


Well that's totally wrong! That guy has nothing to do with Guy Fawkes or the Gunpowder Plot. Sure, that's a Guy Fawkes mask, but it's one that was made popular by "V for Vendetta" and then, Anonymous and the whole Occupy movement. Which has nothing to do with Guy Fawkes or the Gunpowder Plot, really.

The Gunpowder Plot was found out on 5 November 1605. What was this plot? An attempt to blow up Parliament. It was designed by Catholics (notably Robert Catesby) as an attempt to destroy all the current members of Parliament in order to replace them with Catholic ones so that they could have religious policies go the way they wanted. King James I was strict concerning most religions at the time (Puritans, Presbyterians, Catholics, etc) and the Catholics wanted the restrictions eased up a bit, but couldn't get it to happen.


The used a cellar that was directly under where Parliament met and filled it with 32 barrels of gun powder, topped with iron scraps, and packed with combustible stuff in order to make it burn quickly.

Unfortunately, they kept telling more and more people about the plot - they wanted to ignite a huge rebellion right along with it. But word spread to a man who had a brother in Parliament and so he warned the brother. And of course, word ultimately got to the government. They searched the cellar and NOW is when Guy Fawkes finally comes into the story.

He was just watching guard over the gun powder. He was arrested. Then tortured until he gave up the names of his co-conspirators. (That's how they rolled back in the day.) Conspirators were all sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered (a terrible way to go).


The end result was that the government decided Catholics couldn't be trusted and so restrictions were intensified and they even put fines in place. The Protestants, on the other hand, saw the thwarting of the Gunpowder Plot as a sign from God - he was protecting Protestantism in their eyes. So they took to celebrating the Fifth of November to commemorate the event. They set off fireworks and burned effigies of Guy Fawkes and other hate-figures (including the Pope). Puritans held sermons condemning popery and it was, all around, a pretty anti-Catholic thing in the beginning. It has since dwindled down to a purely social celebration.


In the beginning, when people would go around to gather wood and stuff for the bonfires, they would sing songs. Most notably, this one from 1742:

Don't you Remember,
The Fifth of November,
'Twas Gunpowder Treason Day,
I let off my gun,
And made'em all run.
And Stole all their Bonfire away.

Tada! History unwrapped. I feel better about having a blog and being a historian now that I've blogged about something historical. :]

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