Monday, November 05, 2007

Bonfire Night

In response to Anastasia'e question about Bonfire Night :-)

This is shamelessly "lifted" and only very slightly edited:

"In 1605, thirteen young men planned to blow upthe Houses of Parliament. Among them was Guy Fawkes, Britain's most notorious traitor.

After Queen Elizabeth I died in 1603, English Catholics who had been persecuted under her rule had hoped that her successor, James I, would be more tolerant of their religion. James I had, after all, had a Catholic mother. Unfortunately, James did not turn out to be more tolerant than Elizabeth and a number of young men, 13 to be exact, decided that violent action was the answer.
A small group took shape, under the leadership of Robert Catesby. Catesby felt that violent action was warranted. Indeed, the thing to do was to blow up the Houses of Parliament. In doing so, they would kill the King, maybe even the Prince of Wales, and the Members of Parliament who were making life difficult for the Catholics.

To carry out their plan, the conspirators got hold of 36 barrels of gunpowder - and stored them in a cellar, just under the House of Lords.
But as the group worked on the plot, it became clear that innocent people would be hurt or killed in the attack, including some people who even fought for more rights for Catholics. Some of the plotters started having second thoughts. One of the group members even sent an anonymous letter warning his friend, Lord Monteagle, to stay away from the Parliament on November 5th.

The warning letter reached the King, and the King's forces made plans to stop the conspirators.
Guy Fawkes, who was in the cellar of the parliament with the 36 barrels of gunpowder when the authorities stormed it in the early hours of November 5th, was caught, tortured and executed.
It's unclear if the conspirators would ever have been able to pull off their plan to blow up the Parliament even if they had not been betrayed. Some have suggested that the gunpowder itself was so old as to be useless. Since Guy Fawkes and the other conspirators got caught before trying to ignite the powder, we'll never know for certain.

Even for the period which was notoriously unstable, the Gunpowder Plot struck a very profound chord for the people of England. In fact, even today, the reigning monarch only enters the Parliament once a year, on what is called "the State Opening of Parliament".

Prior to the Opening, and according to custom, the Yeomen of the Guard search the cellars of the Palace of Westminster. Nowadays, the Queen and Parliament still observe this tradition.

On the very night that the Gunpowder Plot was foiled, on November 5th, 1605, bonfires were set alight to celebrate the safety of the King. Since then, November 5th has become known as Bonfire Night. The event is commemorated every year with fireworks and burning effigies of Guy Fawkes on a bonfire."

In many ways, this is actually quite a sad celebration. Here in South Wales, there are loads of Fireworks, but very few Bonfires, and I have not seen an effigy of Guy being burnt for 20 years.

In the English town of Lewes, it is a very different matter. Between 1555 -1557, no fewer than 17 "protestant martyrs" were burnt at the stake there.
Anti-RC feeling still runs high, and along with effigies of Guy Fawkes, effigies of the Pope are still burnt every year, along with those of unpopular locals and politicians.
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1 comment:

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Thanks for the interesting explanation, Elizabeth. Turns out I HAVE heard of the day, but under the name of "Guy Fawkes Day" rather than "Bonfire Night."

I'm glad in your area you don't still burn effigies of anyone.



P.S. Is this connected with the reason "guy" is apparently a disparaging word in the UK? In the US, it just means a male human being; or in the plural, it can just be the plural "you".