Remember, Remember, the Fifth of November
GUY FAWKES DAY | History begins with the events of November 5, 1605, in which Guy Fawkes — a member of the “Gunpowder Plot” — was arrested while guarding explosives he and his co-conspirators had placed beneath the House of Lords. Celebrating the fact that King James I had survived an attempt on his life, people lit bonfires. Months later, the introduction of the Observance of 5th November Act enforced an annual public day of thanksgiving for the plot’s failure. It was proposed by a Puritan Member of Parliament, Edward Montagu, who suggested that the king’s apparent deliverance by divine intervention deserved some official recognition and made November 5 a free a day of thanksgiving. Thus, making attendance at church mandatory.
The Plot Thickens
In 1604, Fawkes became mixed-up with a small group of English Catholics, led by Robert Catesby, who wanted James’ nine-year-old daughter, Elizabeth — a Catholic, to be installed as monarch. A room was found, unused and dirty, and was considered a great place to hide the gunpowder they planned to use. Twenty barrels of gunpowder were brought in at first, followed by 16 more on July 20. Parliament was set to open later that month, however, with the pesky threat of plague, it was delayed until Tuesday, November 5. After an anonymous letter revealing the conspiracy was sent to William Parker, the Fourth Baron of Monteagle, a search of the cellars underneath Parliament uncovered the dastardly plan. Fawkes had taken up his post late on November 4, armed with a slow-burning match and a watch. He was found leaving the cellar, shortly after midnight, and arrested. Inside, the barrels of gunpowder were discovered hidden beneath piles of firewood and coal. Fawkes gave his name as John Johnson and was first interrogated by members of the King’s Privy Chamber, where he remained defiant. When asked by one of the lords what he was doing in possession of so much gunpowder, Fawkes answered that his intention was “to blow you Scotch beggars back to your native mountains.” Fawkes admitted his intention to blow up the House of Lords, and expressed regret at his failure to do so. His steadfast manner earned him the admiration of King James, who described Fawkes as possessing “a Roman resolution.”
Unfortunately for Guy, he was scheduled for execution on January 31, 1606, but died as a result of a fall received when trying to escape. In Britain, November 5 is called Guy Fawkes Day. Bonfires were accompanied by fireworks from the 1650s onwards and it became the custom to burn an effigy. Effigies of other notable figures who have become targets for the public’s ire, such as Margaret Thatcher, have also found their way onto the bonfires, although most modern effigies are of Fawkes.
The “guy” is usually created by children, who use old clothes, wood, and newspapers. Gathering wood for the bonfire became the job of working-class children, who solicited flammable materials, money, food and drink from their wealthier neighbors, often by singing songs. Most began with the familiar “remember, remember, the fifth of November, gunpowder treason and plot.”
Guy Makes a Comeback
You have undoubtedly seen lurking Guy around lately. Guy’s image has been recently appropriated as the villain in the 2005 movie, V for Vendetta, and by the computer hacking organization known as “Anonymous.” As a result of all the publicity, the mask has become a top-seller on Amazon.com. The rights to the mask image belong to Time-Warner, who collects a fee for every mask sold. Who says “crime doesn’t pay”?
This article appears in the November 2013 edition of The Pineapple Post — Ocala, Florida. By Jeff Macharyas.