Posts Tagged ‘Please do your research’
Remember, remember the fifth of November…
Most people will be writing about the outcome of the Presidential Election last night here in the United States today. But if you know me, follow me on Twitter, follow this site, or have spoken to me in the past week, you know that I just can’t stomach any more partisan political discussion. I’m elated that the political ads have disappeared from my TV. I’m disappointed in the responses of some of the people who surround me, but I can’t have everything, can I?
Instead, I’d like to draw attention to the fact that it’s Guy Fawkes Night! Most people became aware of him and the doggerels that are associated with him through the 2005 film V for Vendetta and through the hugely popular Graphic Novel by Alan Moore (1982-88: Originally published in The Warrior in black and white, and then by DC in color later. It’s being re-released in January 2009, by the way). But most people still don’t understand what Guy Fawkes Night is actually about, or what it is actually celebrating.
Guy Fawkes Night is celebrating the discovery and foiling of The Gunpowder Plot–an assassination attempt on the life of James I (and IV of Scotland) by a group of 13 English Catholics who intended to kill the King and his family, most of the Protestant aristocracy, and start a rebellion to place Elizabeth (James’s 9 year old daughter) on the throne as a Catholic monarch by blowing up the House of Parliament at its opening on November 5th.
- On November 5th - Guy Fawkes was discovered in the cellar of Parliament with 36 barrels of gunpowder.
- The King sent orders to the Tower of London authorizing the use of torture on November 6th on Guy Fawkes to get him to give up the names of his co-conspirators.
- November 8th - The rest of the co-conspirators were rounded up; two were killed in the skirmish and the rest were carted off to the tower.
- November 9th - Fawkes signs a longer, detailed complete confession outlining the plot and conspirators (evidence of his torture is present in his shaky signature)
- January 27, 1606 - The trial of the Gunpowder plot conspirators (Read the transcript of the trial here)
- January 30, 31 - The execution of the remaining conspirators (It is documented that Fawkes jumped from the scaffold before he could be systematically hanged so that his neck would snap, thus avoiding being conscious for the disemboweling during the ordered Drawing and Quartering. Robert Keyes, one of the co-conspirators, tried the same, but did not snap his neck. He was conscious for the remainder of the execution.
The celebration of Guy Fawkes Night traditionally included fireworks and bonfires–usually with hanging Guy Fawkes dolls and burning them in effigy. This practice has mostly fallen out of favor, and the meaning of Guy Fawkes Night has slowly become appropriated to symbolize drastic revolutionary measures to stand up to a governing body. For that reason, the opening of the traditional rhyme is often sung, but not the entire thing (Omitted verses in bold):
- Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
- The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
- I can think of no reason
- Why the Gunpowder Treason
- Should ever be forgot.
- Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t’was his intent
- To blow up the King and Parli’ment.
- Three-score barrels of powder below
- To prove old England’s overthrow;
- By God’s providence he was catch’d
- With a dark lantern and burning match.
- Holloa boys, holloa boys, let the bells ring.
- Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!
As with shifts in many popular concepts, the understanding of the origins of Guy Fawkes Night has shifted to only a cursory understanding of what the actual celebration is about–the saving of the King and Parliament, and maintaining the status quo. Without knowing the entire doggerel or rhyme, celebrants tend to miss the mark entirely.