Treason, Treason, Most Foul We will Never forget the 5th Of November.
Remember, remember, the fifth of November, I see no reason to forget the 5th of November. Remember, remember, the fifth of November, Gunpowder, treason and plot! If you can’t give us one, we’ll take two; The better for us and the worse for you!
Fireworks can be seen all over France every July 14th as the nation celebrates Bastille Day. Across the USA some ten days earlier on the 4th July, Americans celebrate their Independence Day. In Britain the words of a children’s nursery rhyme “Remember, Remember the 5th of November, Gunpowder, Treason and Plot” are chanted as fireworks fly and bonfires gradually consume a human effigy known as the ‘Guy’.
So who was this Guy? And why is he remembered so fondly 400 years after his death?
It could be said that the story started when the Catholic Pope of the day failed to recognise England’s King Henry V111 novel ideas on separation and divorce. Henry, annoyed at this, severed ties with Rome and appointed himself head of the Protestant Church of England. Protestant rule in England was maintained and strengthened through the long and glorious reign of his daughter Queen Elizabeth 1. When Elizabeth died without children in 1603, her cousin James VI of Scotland became King James I of England. and that cursed a bit of a problem.
James had not been long on the throne before he started to upset the Catholics within his kingdom. They appear to have been unimpressed with his failure to implement religious tolerance measures, getting a little more annoyed when he ordered all Catholic priests to leave the country.
What happened next?
The Gunpowder PlottersA group of Roman Catholic nobles and gentlemen led by Robert Catesby conspired to essentially end Protestant rule with perhaps the biggest ‘bang’ in history. Trust me when I say the biggest bang in history I mean it. Their plan was to blow up the King, Queen, church leaders, assorted nobles and both Houses of Parliament with 36 barrels of gunpowder strategically placed in the cellars beneath the Palace of Westminster.
The plot was apparently revealed when the Catholic Lord Monteagle was sent a message warning him to stay away from Parliament as he would be in danger, the letter being presented to Robert Cecil, James I’s Chief Minister. Some historians believe that Cecil had known about the plot for some time and had allowed the plot to ‘thicken’ to both ensure that all the conspirators were caught and to promote Catholic hatred throughout the country.
And the Guy?
Guy Fawkes was born in Yorkshire in 1570. A convert to the Catholic faith, Fawkes had been a soldier who had spent several years fighting in Italy. It was during this period that he adopted the name Guido (Italian for Guy) perhaps to impress the ladies! What we do know is that Guido was arrested in the early hours of the morning of November 5th 1605, in a cellar under the House of Lords, next to the 36 kegs of gunpowder, with a box of matches in his pocket and a guilty expression on his face! Well, I suppose it was not a box of matches seeing as matches were not invented until 1826 so it must have been the Flintstone in his pocket…….the guilty expression on his face!
Under torture, Guy Fawkes identified the names of his co-conspirators. Well, you tend to do that when you have all your fingers broken and you finish up being twelve inches taller than you were when you first entered the Tower due to the Rack that they used to stretch you. Many of these were the relations of a Catholic gentleman, Thomas Percy. Catesby and three others were killed by soldiers while attempting to escape. The remaining eight were imprisoned in the Tower of London before being tried and executed for High Treason. They experienced that quaint British method of execution, first experienced almost 300 years earlier by William Braveheart Wallace they too were hanged, drawn and quartered.
Hanged, drawn and quartered
Victims were dragged on a wooden hurdle behind a horse to the place of execution where they were first of all hanged but not until dead, then their genitals were removed, they were disembowelled and beheaded. Their bodies were finally quartered, the severed pieces often displayed in public.
However what about our hero Guy Fawkes.
Fawkes was able to resist interrogation, until King James issued an order on November 6, 1605, authorizing the use of torture on Fawkes, who only then relented and confessed. By then, many of the conspirators had fled, but the king’s forces moved swiftly to hunt them down. Catesby, Percy, and Christopher Wright were killed in a shoot-out in Staffordshire in the Midlands of England and near to where I live, with James I’s soldiers. Catesby’s death spared him from the grisly punishments meted out to traitors, but also denied historians his version of how the conspiracy unfolded — how the idea of blowing up Parliament came to him, as well as the way in which he recruited his team of conspirators. The rest were caught, taken back to London, and convicted of treason (except for Francis Tresham, who died in prison before the trial). All who were tried were sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. All except our hero he was sentenced to that worst kind of execution. One he managed to escape. Well, sort of.
Fawkes and the others were set for execution in January 1606 — “these wretches,” as James described them, “who thought to have blown up the whole world of this Island.” Fawkes was able to escape his full sentence. On the day of execution, he jumped from the gallows, breaking his own neck in the fall. Nonetheless, his corpse was quartered and sent to “the four corners of the kingdom.” The other men received the full measure of their sentences as a warning to other potential rebels.
King James’s reaction was remarkably circumspect. He was anxious to avoid both a pogrom against his Catholic subjects and diplomatic tensions with Catholic states. His speech to Parliament and official sermons preached by leading churchmen stressed the heinousness of the plot — but also accepted that many English Catholics were still loyal subjects. The miraculous nature of the plot’s discovery proved an important propaganda tool. Even before the executions of the plotters, Parliament passed the Thanksgiving Act of 1606 requiring every parish church in England to deliver a sermon on November 5 thanking God for deliverance from a Catholic plot.
Over time the day of thanksgiving morphed into Guy Fawkes Day (also called Bonfire Night) throughout the United Kingdom. Every November 5, fireworks (representing the gunpowder) and bonfires mark the occasion, with straw effigies of Fawkes — called “Guys” — being burned. Despite not being the leader of the conspiracy, Fawkes became the face of it and was elevated to lasting fame.
A few facts
Scholars have wondered just what the impact of the Gunpowder Plot would have been if the plotters had been able to carry it out. In 2003 a study by the Centre for Explosion Studies at the University of Aberystwyth in Wales sought to find out. If Fawkes had been able to ignite the barrels of gunpowder, there would have been total destruction within a 40-yard radius, walls and roofs destroyed at 100 yards, and windows broken as far away as 900 yards. The Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey would have been completely destroyed, while structures in Whitehall, about a third of a mile away, would have been damaged as well.
On the orders of James’s spymaster, Robert Cecil, Fawkes was tortured on the rack in the Tower of London. Days later, Fawkes signed a confession on which his shaky signature can scarcely be read.
A 1606 engraving depicting the execution of Guy Fawkes and three fellow plotters on January 31 in Westminster. The plotters are dragged on hurdles to the site, where the grisly instruments of their end await them.
A few photos of a typical bonfire night in England celebrating a night when a man tried to blow up a king
So now you know that we were not celebrating Joe Biden thinking he had become Presiden. Just a man long dead.