It’s that time of year again! With fireworks for the young and alcohol for the old, we remember the day Guy Fawkes almost annihilated the British parliament.
In Britain, the fifth of November is a time for celebration. Bonfires are made, and sometimes stoked with effigies of politicians past and present. Parades weave through city streets. A night sky illumed with red, green and purple bouquets denotes firework shows you’d be crazy to miss. Alcohol floods gullets and food pads stomachs to make the night a bit sweeter.
What are they commemorating?
The failed attempt of the Gunpowder Plot.
In 1605, regarding Catholicism as superstition, King James campaigned against all those who practiced the religion. Before King James, Catholics were killed, barred from practicing their rights and denied certain civil rights under the rule of Queen Elizabeth I. Continuing the tradition of intolerance, King James had Catholic priests exiled, and adherents of the faith fined.
The twelve men planned to institute a new system of government under which Catholics could worship and practice their religion openly without fear of persecution. The upheaval, the men decided, would be triggered by an explosion under the Houses of Parliament.
Moreover, they wanted to institute a Catholic monarchy, thereby making England a Catholic nation again for the first time in almost a century (since Henry VIII).
Nestled under the Houses of Parliament (the House of Lords and House of Commons, located at the Palace at Westminster) were several barrels of gunpowder. Fawkes, who had been working as caretaker of the cellar, would then light the matches during the state opening of a new session of Parliament.
Fawkes would then use a boat to escape across the Thames River, and as the king and members of Parliament were consumed by flame, his co-conspirators would begin revolting in the English midlands. The men would kidnap the King’s daughter Elizabeth and force to use her political influence to enact their agenda.
Eventually the men would have Elizabeth marry a Catholic thereby reinstating the Catholic influence in the monarchy.
The plot, however, would never come to fruition.
Fawkes & Co. Foiled
On October 26th, authorities got their hands on a letter to a Catholic sympathizer to avoid the State of opening of Parliament. The letter prompted an investigation which eventually uncovered the Gunpowder plot. The author of the letter is still unknown.
On November 4th, authorities found Fawkes scampering around the 36 barrels of gunpowder nestled below the Houses of Parliament. He was hauled away, matches in tow, and taken to the tower of London where he was tortured.
Catesby and three of the men attempted escape. They did not get far. The men would die in a firefight with British authorities.
Fawkes and the remaining conspirators were captured and sentenced to death by hanging, drawing and quartering.
Parliament subsequently declared the fifth of a November a day of thanksgiving and a year later the first celebration was held. More than four hundred years later, and the fifth of November has lost its anti-Catholic sentiment.
To this day, guards perform checks of the cellar beneath and the Houses of Parliament but it is mostly for show.
All across the Britain and the former British empire, children take to the streets and chant:
“Remember, remember, the fifth of November
Gunpowder treason and plot
We see no reason
Why Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot….”