Remember Remember The Fifth Of November
"Remember remember the fifth of November, gunpowder treason and
plot. We see no reason, why gunpowder treason, should ever be
forgot!" -- Children's rhyme, author unknown.
Every year, on the fifth of November, one of the more curious
British holidays is celebrated. Bonfire Night, the one evening
of the year where fireworks are launched into the air almost
constantly and the burning of fires can be seen for miles
around. Children adore it and many adults do too. But there is
far more to the story behind the holiday than a fun celebration.
In 1604 a plan was hatched by a group of thirteen Englishmen to
destroy the Houses of Parliament. They were upset about the
treatment of Catholics in England, by the Protestant King James
I, and saw the easiest way of solving this problem being to kill
the King. Not to mention as many members of his parliament as
they could. Gathering thirty-six barrels of gunpowder they took
lodgings close to Parliament House and started on the
construction of a tunnel into the cellars of the Houses of
Parliament. However, this idea soon proved problematic due to
the proximity of the Thames river causing water to seep into the
tunnel. A cellar within the actual Parliament buildings was
therefore obtained by one of the conspirators, and the casks of
gunpowder moved there in disguise.
Shortly before parliament was due to recommence a messenger
delivered an anonymous message to one of the Catholic lords,
warning him to stay at home on the fifth of November. This
letter was passed on to the Secretary of State. On the fourth of
November, the day before parliament was due to open, Guido
Fawkes was found in the cellars of the houses of parliament with
the gunpowder and the necessary tools to light it. He was
tortured for ten days until the names of all the other
conspirators were extracted from him. Although many of them had
attempted to flee the majority were tracked down and tried. Ten
members were executed by being hung, drawn and quartered, which
was standard for traitors, with their heads removed to be
displayed on pikes. One died in prison.
In 1605, on the first anniversary of the gunpowder plot being
foiled, bonfires were lit all over London and fireworks let off
in celebration. Within a few years this was a nationwide
celebration with official recognition. As he was the most famous
of the conspirators, even though not the leading one, effigies
of Guido (Guy) Fawkes were built by children and adults alike to
be thrown onto the bonfires. As years passed the tradition
became a part of British society, with children carrying around
their "guys" in wheelbarrows, begging for a "Penny for the guy."
To outsiders it may seem a barbaric holiday, with its symbols of
revenge and retribution. Many other holidays originate from such
gruesome beginnings also though, and it remains an essential
part of British life.