Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Guy Fawke's Night

Remember, remember the fifth of November,
The gunpowder, treason and plot,
I see of no reason why gunpowder treason,
Should ever be forgot.

It seems appropriate, on the day the leader of the free world is chosen, to remember the most fateful day in British political history. An event we call 'Fireworks Night' or 'Guy Fawkes' Night' - or, what my wife insists on labelling, 'Burn a Catholic night!'

It's a day that shall live in infamy, celebrated in England on every November 5th.

It was the day, four hundred and three years ago, a man called Guy Fawkes and his band of collaborators attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament during the State Opening.

The year was 1605 - 71 years after Henry VII had declared himself Head of the Church of England. For seven decades, Catholic conspirators had plotted to return a Catholic monarch to the English throne, but they had been foiled at every turn.

Robert Catesby, a treacherous sort who'd already once tried to depose Queen Elizabeth, was the mastermind behind the ambitious plot to overthrow James I, the new bearer of the English crown.

He and his band of collaborators, led by Guy Fawkes, rented a cellar under the Houses of Parliament in London, which they filled with almost a ton of gunpowder. During the State opening of Parliament, when King James I planned to address the ministers of England, the conspirators planned to light the explosives and obliterate the treacherous king and his hated government.


Had they succeeded, English history would never have been the same. Parliament, the Great Hall and even Westminster Abbey would have been blown to rubble. It was a singularly ambitious and spectacular act of terrorism.

But terrorists were a treacherous lot even back then. Francis Tresham, a man reluctantly recruited to the Catholic cause due to his money and influence, betrayed Guy Fawkes and his conspirators at the last minute.

Tresham wrote to his brother in law, Lord Monteagle, advising him to "devise some excuse not to attend this parliament, for they shall receive a terrible blow, and yet shall not see who hurts them."

Monteagle revealed the warning to the Earl of Salisbury and later that night, when the 5th of November 1605 was but a few hours old, men-at-arms discovered Guy Fawkes lurking in the gunpowder packed cellar, carrying a watch, matches and fuses.

The conspiracy was foiled and Parliament convened as planned a few days later.

Ironically, the Catholics had plotted to assassinate King James I because of his intolerance of their faith. After the full extent of the plot had been uncovered, King James gave a speech to the people of England in which he declared "it did not follow that all professing the Romish religion were guilty of the same."

In much the same way that Barack Obama, as America's new 'king,' is a symbol of how modern Americans have accepted that modern day terrorism is committed by a minority of Muslims, rather than Islam as a whole (not that Obama is, or ever has been, a Muslim.)

Much like how the government responded after 9/11 or the London Bombings, four hundred years ago, King James declared that the foiled 'Gunpowder Plot' was not representative of the English Catholic community as a whole.

Despite that statement, Catholic Emancipation in England still took another 200 years.

As for the conspirators themselves? Guy Fawkes was tortured extensively, before being hung, drawn and quartered in Old Palace Yard. Robert Catesby fled to the midlands of England, where he died in a shootout with guards sent to arrest him.

And now, even four hundred years later, people in Britain celebrate Guy Fawke's day with bonfires, fireworks and stuffed 'guys.' Perhaps the exact details of the event are vague in many people's minds, but not the words of that famous poem, which reminds Englishmen each year why the 5th of November must remain such an important date in our nation's history.

4 comments:

Brit' Gal Sarah said...

Great minds lol

Trixie said...

I kept thinking last night as fireworks were going off everywhere how appropriate it was, like the british were celebrating for Obama as well!

mre30seattle said...

Great post. Really great comparision.

Always enjoying what you have to write.

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