Tonight, here in the United Kingdom, we will celebrate what is known as “Bonfire Night.” This is where we traditionally celebrate the thwarted attempt of Catholic plotters in what’s called The Gunpowder Plot, on 5th November, 1605. The most famous of these plotters was Guy, or Guido, Fawkes. The others were: John Wright, Thomas Wintour, Sir Ambrose Rookwood, Thomas Percy, Robert Keyes, Thomas Bates, Robert Wintour, Christopher Wright, John Grant, Sir Everard Digby, Francis Tresham, and the leader, Robert Catesby. These men were disenchanted with the lack of religious tolerance under the new King, and had resorted to drastic and murderous means.
King James I was to attend the Opening of Parliament and the idea was that these plotters would blow up the House of Lords – assassinating the King and ministers so they could install James’s daughter, the nine-year-old Elizabeth, upon the throne – as a Catholic. Fawkes was to guard the 36 barrels of gunpowder, which he and the other plotters had smuggled into the under-croft under the House of Lords. At midnight, men (who had been tipped off about a possible plot) found him, saw the gunpowder and arrested him. Some conspirators fled when their plot had been uncovered, but Catesby, fought and was shot to death.
“Remember, remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason, why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes, guy, t’was his intent
To blow up king and parliament.
Three score barrels were laid below
To prove old England’s overthrow.
By God’s mercy he was catch’d
With a darkened lantern and burning match.
So, holler boys, holler boys, Let the bells ring.
Holler boys, holler boys, God save the king.
And what shall we do with him?
The eight surviving men involved in the plot were subjected to horrendous tortures at The Tower of London (which included use of the Rack!) – there was a good exhibition on this last time I visited the Tower. They were found guilty of High Treason and sentenced to execution by hanging, drawing, and quartering. Their genitals and entrails burnt before them. Finally, their heads were struck off. Their body parts were sent around the country in order to frighten would-be terrorists from attempting another plot.
Remember, the Seventeenth Century was generally abuzz with religious fervour, hysteria and, at times, bigotry. There was an overwhelming hostility towards Catholics and this event seemed to support the fear and suspicion already inherent in the country against Catholicism.
This rhyme has been used in countless places in films* and books. As a result of uncovering the plot, King James allowed his subjects to celebrate this with the lighting of bonfires and this pretty much continued on the fifth of November every year since. People used to burn effigies of Guy Fawkes.
Unfortunately, this is probably just another excuse for people to go out and get drunk without even thinking about the events of 1605. Hopefully, those who read this will have a great time this evening with their friends and family, whilst pausing to think of the terrible thing that might have happened had the plot succeeded in its bloody plan.
© The Seventeenth Century Lady
1) Fraser, Antonia. “The Gunpowder Plot. Terror and Faith in 1605.”
*I disliked V for Vendetta, so no, I won’t have a video where the Gunpowder Plot was discussed in it. Why did I dislike it? I never like it when a historical figure is hijacked by a modern group or audience who don’t understand what that historical figure stood for. Fawkes was a Catholic believer, he was not an anarchist.