Saturday, November 5, 2011

Guy Fawkes is still remembered after 406 years

Today is the 5th of November. This date is set aside in Great Britain as Guy Fawkes Night - also known as Bonfire Night – which celebrates the foiling of an attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament in London on November 5, 1605. This incident is still remembered 406 years after the event.

The attack was planned by a group of Catholic conspirators, which included Guy Fawkes. The explosives would have been set off when King James I of England (King James VI of Scotland) and many parliamentary members were in the building.

The conspiracy is also known as "The Gunpowder Plot”. The object of which was to blow up the English Parliament that was scheduled to open on November 5th of 1605. They hoped that such a disaster would initiate a great uprising of English Catholics, who were distressed by the increased severity of penal laws against the practice of their religion. Guy Fawkes (considered the ringleader) and his co-conspirators were arrested, tortured and executed for their part in the plot.

Today, one of the ceremonies, which accompany the opening of a new session of Parliament, is a traditional search of the basement performed by the Yeoman of the Guard.

So who was Guy Fawkes? He was born on April 13, 1570 in Stonegate, Yorkshire. He was originally raised as a Protestant but attended a Catholic school.

At 23, he enlisted in the Spanish Army under the Archduke Albert of Austria and was known to have held a post of command when the Spanish took Calais in 1596 under the orders of King Philip II. Described at this time as a man of great piety, of exemplary temperance, a faithful friend, and remarkable for his punctual attendance upon religious observance."

Guy Fawkes was a Catholic who wanted to restore Catholicism as the Church of England. In order to do this, he had to find a way to dethrone the Protestant king, thus the conspiracy to blow up the Houses of Parliament because on that night the king and most of the aristocracy (Protestant and Catholic) would be inside.

The conspirators were found guilty and on Friday, January 31, 1606, Guy Fawkes, Thomas Wintour, Ambrose Rookwod and Robert Keyes were taken to the Old Palace Yard at Westminster and hung, drawn and quartered "in the very place which they had planned to demolish in order to send the message of their wickedness."


When we were children it was always a time of great excitement. Children would find donated men’s clothing and fill them full of fallen leaves and an effigy was made of Guy Fawkes. Held together with a belt at the waist, he was placed in a wooden wheelbarrow and wheeled around in the community. The tradition was to call out “penny for the guy”. This custom started originally to collect money for fireworks.

For several years we had a bonfire in our garden. We did not have fireworks but we always had ‘sparklers’ which we were allowed to hold in our hands. For us it was truly a magical experience.

Our mum would place potatoes wrapped in foil (jacket potatoes) in the fire to cook but they took such a long time we usually lost interest in those.

Traditionally there is a ceremonial effigy burning of Guy Fawkes, with fireworks glowing in the sky overhead. Nowadays I believe that it has become more of a community event in some towns and cities, where the municipality organizes a bonfire and hold a professional firework display in a park.
What is interesting to me, as I researched this topic for accuracy, I cannot remember ever hearing that the plot was the work of Catholics. So I am assuming that in more recent times that piece of history has been forgiven and we just use the tradition as a day to have fun.

I also checked with my family in England today to make sure that this is still happening as I have been away for a while. My sister just now emailed a reply “yes, bonfires and fireworks are going on as I type - Pebbles (her dog) is not happy!”


The children sing traditional Rhymes:

Remember, remember the fifth of November

Gunpowder, treason and plot.

I see no reason, why gunpowder treason

Should ever be forgot.


Guy, guy, guy

Poke him in the eye,

Put him on the bonfire,

And there let him die.


Remember, remember the fifth of November

It's Gunpowder Plot, we never forgot

Put your hand in your pocket and pull out your purse

A ha'penny or a penny will do you no harm

If you don't have a penny a ha'penny will do.

If you don't have a ha'penny, then God bless you.

"A Penny For the Guy"

I have to say that writing this article has brought back some fond memories of childhood. I hope that present day children in Britain are also having fun today. :-)

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