Filed under: Freedom, History, United Kingdom | Tags: Bonfire Night in Britain, Gunpowder Treason, Guy Fawkes Night
Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot.
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes Night, also known as Bonfire Night, is a British celebration marking the anniversary of the terrible “Powder Treason” of November 5, 1605. The original conspiracy of militant Catholics seeking restoration of a Catholic England, was headed by Robert Catesby. The conspirators managed to stow enough barrels of gunpowder in the cellars of the House of Lords to blow King and Parliament to bits. Guy Fawkes (1570-1606) was caught in the cellars red-handed by the Yeomen of the Guard. Catesby was killed resisting arrest. Guy Fawkes, though horribly tortured, betrayed nothing. Beyond that, it was all fairly complicated as conspiracies are, and the full truth is elusive. The conspirators were all executed.
King James VI of Scotland, son of Mary Queen of Scots, became King of England in 1603. In January 1604, he wrote to the lords of his Privy Council in Edinburgh:
And, for that oure equall ryght to boith the Crownes mon neidis affect us with as equall cair to boith their weillis, and that, being now joyned togidder under ane head, as thay haif bene of lang tyme past in ane religioun, ane language and ane commoun habitatioun in ane Ile disjoinit fra the great Continent of the world, oure princlie cair mon be extendit to sie thame joyne and coalesce togidder in a sinceir and perfyte unioun, and, as two twynis bred in ane bellie, love ane another as no moir twa bot ane estate, we half to this effect affixt a Parliament within this realme to convene about the twentie day of Marche nixt.*
(James native tongue was Lallans or Lowland Scots like that of the Scottish Court, but he could use Latin, English or French with ease).
He hoped to unite the three warring kingdoms and the warring religions. On 20 October 1604, he issued a decree proclaiming himself “King of Great-Britain, France, and Ireland— the first formal use of the term Great Britain. His appointed commissioners labored to produce an “Instrument of Union” that would formally unite the kingdoms.
London had just witnessed the founding of the East India Company, a venture that would bring about more changes than were dreamed of. Royal patronage brought about two landmark enterprises. One was the commissioning of an Authorized Version of the Holy Bible — the glorious King James version — the other was the granting of a license for a new theater, the Globe, in Southwark. It was supposed to unite London’s rival troupes of court-supported actors. It eventually provided a stage for William Shakespeare.
Nevertheless, there were religious fanatics on all sides. Some initiated the failed “Powder Treason.” The English celebrate with bonfires (big – in the streets, small – in backyards), featuring a “guy” or effigy of Guy Fawkes, and with fireworks. It was a day of Thanksgiving, for the survival of the King, and an anti-Catholic fervor. Children traditionally displayed the guy and requested “a penny for the guy” in order to raise funds for fireworks.
Our Halloween is intruding on ancient custom. Halloween’s commercial potential, as second only to Christmas for sales of stuff, is reaching business around the globe. Potatoes and sausages roasted in the coals are being trumped by candy and ghosts and goblins. I like the old customs that celebrate history. They used to celebrate Guy Fawkes day in Boston —more as a Puritan driven anti-Catholic day, but George Washington put a stop to it.
* The Isles: A History, by Norman Davies