Sunday, November 05, 2006

Guy Fawkes Night

Remember, remember the fifth of November
The gunpowder, treason and plot.

So begins a rhyme learned by British children. The full text can be found here. The 5th of November is an unusual holiday, or remembrance, in the British Isles, as well as South Africa and other Commonwealth countries. This year will be the 400th year that this slightly odd event will take place.

On the 5th of November 1605, a group of thirteen conspirators lead by Robert Catesby who came to prominence during the Essex Rebellion of 1601, decided to blow up the British Houses of Parliament, whilst the king, James I, was also in the building. This group wanted to further the cause of Catholicism. They failed, but they left behind in their wake a unique tradition, that has now lasted 400 years.

On the evening of November 5th, one of the plotters, Guy Fawkes was discovered in the cellars of the Houses of parliament with 32 barrels of gunpowder. Fawkes and his fellow conspirators were tried for treason. Fawkes was sentenced to death by the brutal method of hanging, drawing and quartering. Tradition has it that Fawkes attempted to jump from the gallows, to break his own neck, in the first phase, to avoid the agony of the other phases. Unfortunately, this plan failed, as the robe broke, thus leaving Fawkes very much conscious for the rest of the execution.

In memory of these events, it became a tradition for the King and parliament to commission a special sermon each year. The first of these sermons was delivered by Lancelot Andrewes. The events of this period recently formed an important theme in the feature film V for Vendetta. Along with the tradition of the sermon, it has become common for the British people to celebrate on this date also.

On the night of the fifth of November, or thereabouts, large bonfires are lit. On the top of these bonfires and effigy of Guy Fawkes is placed. Fireworks also are lit throughout the British Isles on this night. Prior to the event, it is not uncommon for groups of children to display their 'Guy', as the effigy is affectionately known and ask for "A penny for the Guy?" in order to buy fireworks.

It has been suggested by some that the traditions enacted on Guy Fawkes Night have their origins in older pagan traditions that were associated with the festival of Samhain. This association though is not incontrovertial. Further details about the historical events surrounding this event can be found at the web site of The Gun Powder Plot Society.

I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

The CP


Blogger ToastedSuzy said...

Nice! Thanks for this.

I can't read the poem without hearing Hugo Weaving's voice.


10:30 AM  

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