The Fifth of November: A Short History

GunpowderPlot
Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

Depending on where you are in the world, today is either Guy Fawkes Day or Bonfire Night. It may also be Guy Fawkes Night or just plain November 5. Whatever.

Back in 1605, a group of English Catholics, upset by the policies of Protestant King James I (the same James that authorized the King James Bible), attempted to assassinate both James and certain members of Parliament. Known as the Gunpowder Plot, the scheme was planned by Robert Catesby, who convinced a group of like-minded individuals that their best course of action involved blowing up the House of Lords during the opening of Parliament on November 5. Ultimately, the group hoped to place James’ daughter Elizabeth on the throne and groom her as a Catholic queen. His fellow would-be assassins included Thomas Bates, Sir Everard Digby, John Grant, Robert Keyes, Thomas Percy, Ambrose Rookwood, Francis Tresham, Thomas and Robert Wintour, John and Christopher Wright, and Guy Fawkes. Having fought in the Spanish Netherlands, Fawkes dealt with explosives.

gunpowderbarrels
We’re going need powder. Lots and lots of powder.

Despite their efforts – or perhaps because of them – the plot was discovered on or about October 26, with an anonymous letter sent to Parliament. Fawkes was found in the basement of the House of Lords along with 36 barrels of gunpowder, enough to totally obliterate the House and everyone in it. Eventually, 8 of the conspirators were captured and sentenced to death by being drawn, hung, and quartered.

hungdrawnquartered
Not a pleasant way to go.
Photo source: WikiMedia Commons

Today, the Gunpowder Plot is remembered by Guy Fawkes Day or Bonfire Night. In popular culture, the Guy Fawkes mask has appeared in the movie V for Vendetta and has been appropriated by the hacker group Anonymous and certain members of the Occupy Wall Street Movement.

guyfawkesmask
Reform or Regicide?
I’m so confused . . .

Additionally, the Gunpowder Plot was commemorated in verse, a version of which I present to you for your enjoyment:

The Fifth of November (English folk verse c. 1870)

Remember, remember!
The fifth of November,
The Gunpowder treason and plot;
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!
Guy Fawkes and his companions
Did the scheme contrive,
To blow the King and Parliament
All up alive.
Threescore barrels, laid below,
To prove old England’s overthrow.
But, by God’s providence, him they catch,
With a dark lantern, lighting a match!
A stick and a stake
For King James’s sake!
If you won’t give me one,
I’ll take two,
The better for me,
And the worse for you.
A rope, a rope, to hang the Pope,
A penn’orth of cheese to choke him,
A pint of beer to wash it down,
And a jolly good fire to burn him.
Holloa, boys! holloa, boys! make the bells ring!
Holloa, boys! holloa boys! God save the King!
Hip, hip, hooor-r-r-ray!

Posted for NaBloPoMo 2013

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