A Belated Post: Bonfire Night

I do apologise for not posting the past few weeks, I have had a myriad of internet related problems, work has been busy and then last week I was away at a conference in Spain. Nevertheless, I have a few posts to catch up on that I’d like to share with you. This one should have been out on the sixth of November however I hope that you can appreciate it a few weeks late. If you’re wanting a more in-depth reasoning, then perhaps I shall call it modern art; my desire to post clearly several weeks late signifies my rebellious desire to defy convention. Whatever you believe, here are my five cents on England’s celebration on 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!

These are the words that every young child in England knows, or at least used to know anyway. As Halloween closed, we all prepared excitedly for the bonfires that we would go to or firework displays we would attend. Colourful artwork would adorn classrooms and we would learn how evil Guy Fawkes and his fellow conspirators plotted to destroy the Houses of Parliament and kill King James the first, or sixth (I’ll get back to that in a moment) in 1605.

Houses of P.png
Also, to avoid confusion. These aren’t the houses of Parliament that would have been around in Fawkes’ time.  The houses of Parliament in the 17th Century have been demolished and were replaced with what we now know to be The Houses of Parliament. 

Of course, Fawkes was simply the bloke who was caught, ensuring that the gunpowder placed in a cellar below Parliament was set off at midnight. In short, he was the one who drew the short straw, and was tortured so much that by the end of it he could hardly even write his own name. Then again, if you’re going to tell the King’s Privy Council that the reason for your possession of so much gunpowder was ‘to blow you Scotch beggars back to your native mountains’, you can probably understand why.

For those of you unschooled in barbaric English history though, you’re probably wondering what Scotland has to do with this. As I mentioned briefly earlier, King James was both the King of Scotland and, separately, the King of England. Therefore, he was referred to as King James I of England and VI of Scotland. I won’t go into a huge history lesson, despite my love for this period of history, however James was the son of Mary, Queen of Scots; a Catholic. James was brought up as a Protestant, despite his mother’s beliefs and was named King of Scotland at just thirteen months old. The intention of the then Queen Elizabeth I as well as the Scottish ruling classes was that a Protestant King in Scotland would thus align England and Scotland as Protestant. Upon Elizabeth’s death, if no heir became apparent, James would rule both England and Scotland and the two countries would unite as one under a single religion. Pretty smart really.

This largely worked, however some people, particularly those such as Fawkes, had other ideas. I’ve generally found that our English history, especially around this period, revolves largely around religion. I’m sure you’ve already guessed that Fawkes was a Catholic. He didn’t like Protestants so the obvious decision was to blow them all up. Logical.

This failed.

Fawkes was tortured, other plotters were discovered and ultimately eight were trialled for treason, including Fawkes. As was tradition with high treason, he was dragged behind a horse, hung and then quartered.

The King announced that he would not have the plot forgotten and instead insisted that it be celebrated both as a warning to those intent upon further religious inspired treason and as a celebration of it’s failure. The ringing of church bells and sermons eventually led to the bonfire night that we know of today, celebrated with fireworks and a dummy referred to as a ‘Guy’ atop bonfires.

 

Until next time,

J

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