Guy Fawkes

Children's nursery rhyme in BritainRemember, remember,

The fifth of November,

Gunpowder, treason and plot.

We see no reason

Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!

In November of 1605 there was a plot against the British government.  The plan was to blow up King James the First as he opened the House of Lords on the fifth of November, and get as many of the Lords as possible.  The House of Lords is one of the two British Houses of Parliament, the other is the House of Commons.  The plotters were Catholics, frustrated by the strict laws a Protestant nation made against them.  They found a cellar within the House, filled it with 36 barrels of gunpowder, and left one of their number the task of lighting the fuse and running like hell.  His name was Guy Fawkes.

Between getting the cellar ready and the opening of Parliament, one of the plotters apparently had an attack of scruples.  He sent an anonymous letter to a Catholic Member of Parliament on October 26th.  The letter warned William Parker, Lord Monteagle and eleventh Baron of Morley, to stay away from Parliament on opening day.  When Parker received the letter he took it straight to the King.  No one knows for sure who sent it.

On the night of November fourth, the King's men broke in and caught Fawkes checking the gunpowder.  Parliament and King were saved, and Fawkes was tortured until he revealed the names of his co-conspirators, who had already fled.  Four were fatally wounded when the Sheriff of Worcester tried to capture them at Holbeche House on the Staffordshire border.  One plotter died in the Tower of London, though there is still a question of whether he was poisoned, or allowed to escape, or died of natural causes.  The eight surviving plotters were hanged, drawn, and quartered in two batches.  Four died in St. Paul's Churchyard on 30th January 1606, four the next day in the Old Palace Yard at Westminster.  The heads of the four who died at Holbeche were recovered and stuck on pikes as a warning to others.

November fifth is celebrated in the UK as Bonfire Night, or Guy Fawkes Night.  There is always a floppy scarecrow made from old clothes, called the Guy, which gets burnt on top of a big bonfire while the fireworks go off around it.  Towns usually organise a fireworks display at a local park, and the crowds huddle up around the fire, trying to avoid the November chill.

Extensive research (two emails) shows that New Zealand also celebrates Guy Fawkes night (with fireworks, though without the chill of a British November).  This is interesting, since the first European to discover New Zealand (Abel Janszoon Tasman from the Netherlands) got there in 1642, thirty seven years after the Gunpowder plot was foiled.   Canada apparently doesn't observe the festivities.  I feel a flaming marshmallow coming on.

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