Monday, November 5, 2007

Apple #278: Guy Fawkes Day

Today, November 5, has been Guy Fawkes Day. Or so says my calendar. I know it's a British holiday, and I think it has something to do with burning effigies of some guy, but that's about all I can remember. So I'm going to ferret out the details.

By the way, I meant to complete this entry yesterday, so we could all prepare and celebrate appropriately when the day hit, but yesterday I was sick as a dog. Feeling better today.

  • Every November 5 is Guy Fawkes Day. It's not one of those holidays that roam depending on the year.
  • Guy Fawkes is the name of a guy (some say that our word "guy" actually comes from Guy Fawkes' name) who tried to blow up British Parliament and the King of England in 1605.

Guy Fawkes. See how he's frowning, in a clearly malevolent way? He must be a bad guy.
(Image sourced from Linx Public Affairs)


  • That fall, King James was going to show up to open Parliament for its session. Fawkes would then detonate his 36 barrels of gunpowder where they were stashed beneath a bunch of firewood and heavy iron bars. Kablooey, there'd be no more King, no more House of Lords.
  • Fawkes wasn't alone in his plan. He wasn't even the ringleader. Robert Catesby was the man behind the plan. Fawkes was just one of 13 fellow Catholics who had plotted together.

This print of depicts 7 of the 13 conspirators, including Guy "Guido" Fawkes. See how wily and scheming their eyes are? That's proof of their evil ways.
(Image from Learn History)


  • They were all angry because King James' predecessor, Queen Elizabeth I, had had a lot of Catholics executed during her rule. King James had promised to stop having so many Catholics executed. But it didn't look to the 13 conspirators like King James was going to be true to his word, and that Parliament was even less likely to stop killing the Catholics. So they hatched their plan
  • Despite their anger with the government, one of the conspirators got worried about his relative who was in the House of Lords and warned him about of the plot and told him to stay away from the Parliament buildings. The relative then forwarded the letter to King James.

King James I, the guy that Guy wanted to blow up
(Image from PBS)


  • [Recently, though, historians have questioned the authenticity of that letter. It is now believed that the King's officials knew of the plot and fabricated the letter as evidence before giving it to the King.]
  • On October 26, 1605, the soldiers went searching for the conspirators. They killed several of the 13 men in the process of arresting them, and they found Fawkes in the basement of the House of Lords, waiting next to the gunpowder to light it.
  • When they asked him his name, he said it was John Johnson. Not exactly a quick-thinker.
  • On November 5, when the public got the news that some guy named Guy Fawkes was in prison for a foiled treasonous plot, they were so happy he was stopped that they built a bunch of bonfires and made effigies of him and burned them.
  • Fawkes was tortured until he confessed, and later, he and the rest of his band were executed.
  • Subsequently, British officials went on to persecute and torture even more Catholics than before. Fortunately, that part of British practices has died away.
  • Year after year, the British celebrated the day they were saved from treason by building bonfires, making effigies of Guy Fawkes the traitor, and burning him. Sometimes people made effigies of the Pope as well, and burned him too.

The Newpound Bonfire Society dressing up and making effigies in remembrance of the Gunpowder Plot.
(Photo from Wisborough Green)


  • Children went around asking "a penny for the Guy," and used the money to buy fireworks, which they set off on the same night.

Remember, remember the Fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
We know no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.
Holla boys, holla boys! Huzza-a-a!
A stick and a stake, for King George's sake,
A stick and a stump, for Guy Fawkes' rump!
Holla boys, holla boys! Huza-a-a!

(English rhyme that came about several years after the actual plot)


TODAY
  • The routines of British government still reflect the influence of the Gunpowder Plot. The monarch only visits Parliament once a year, and that's to help preserve his or her safety. In addition, the cellars are still routinely searched before the opening and the monarch's arrival.
  • The celebration has evolved enough that it now has a tongue-in-cheek flavor. Some people might even be hailing the attempt to overthrow the government.
  • That whole "penny for the Guy" thing is now like trick-or-treat. Instead of being used to buy fireworks, the kids keep the money.

You can get this and other T-shirts to help celebrate Guy Fawkes Night here.


Guy Fawkes Day -- and Guy Fawkes Night -- is celebrated in various British-friendly countries around the world. Mainly, people burn a lot of stuff and set off fireworks.


Effigy of Guy Fawkes on parade in Lewes, England.
(Photo from Wikimedia)



Fireworks, set off near Kenilworth Castle, during a Guy Fawkes Night celebration.
(Photo from the Kenilworth Round Table)



Today is only one of many celebratory days of November.

Sources
Kaboose, Holidays & Fun, Guy Fawkes Day
Infoplease, Guy Fawkes Day: The anniversary of the famous Gunpowder Plot, reprinted from the Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 2005.
Fun Social Studies, Guy Fawkes Day: Bonfire Night
Guy Fawkes and Bonfire Night
Pip Wilson, Wilson's Almanac on Guy Fawkes Day

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