Thursday, November 5, 2009

guy fawkes day

well here it is november 5th and i completely overlooked the major event of the day for all anglophiles which is that this day in england is “guy fawkes day”. the day is named after guy fawkes, the most famous of a huge pile of conspirators who decided to blow up the parliament of england and the king back in 1605.
my own memories of guy fawkes night are vague but involve a stuffed "guy" in a wheelbarrow, a catherine wheel, fireworks, and treacle toffee and a massive (to me at the time) bonfire.
the history of the event is well documented.
the big bomb plot was supposed to mark the beginning of a great uprising of english catholics,
who were really bothered by the increased severity of penal laws against the practice of their religion.
the big mistake that the conspirators made?
well they got a little carried away by their importance
and expanded their number to a point where secrecy was impossible.
this is key to the success of secret societies:
don't share everything.
keep it small.
have lots of secret symbols and signs.
meet in strange places.
the plot itself is unique in my own view.
one of the chief conspirators hired a cellar under the house of lords,
in which 36 barrels of gunpowder,
overlaid with iron bars and firewood,
were secretly stored.
the conspiracy really began to fall part
when a mysterious letter was sent to lord monteagle,
a brother-in-law of one of the conspirators,
(more proof that
it's the brother-in-law you should worry about,
not the mother-in-law)
on october 26,
urging him not to attend parliament on the opening day.
the 1st earl of salisbury and others,
to whom the plot was made known,
took steps that lead to the discovery of the materials
and the arrest of poor guy fawkes as he entered the cellar.
it's easy to imagine his disappointment!
the other conspirators,
were either overtaken in flight or seized afterward,
and then were killed outright,
imprisoned,
or executed in various nasty ways.
guy fawkes day,
november 5,
is still celebrated in england with fireworks and bonfires,
on which effigies of the conspirator are burned.
now here's the funny thing: the real guy was never burned.
he was supposed to be hung, drawn and quartered
(please don't ask or google it
it's horrible)
but he managed to jump off the scaffold
breaking his neck and thereby sparing himself the nastiness of all that was planned for him.
so happy guy fawkes day to all my english and expatriot english readers!!

17 comments:

Rachel Fenton said...

Thanks for this, Steven. My mum's favourite trick to do, every year (groan), is - when the kid says "penny for the guy, missus" - to give a few coins then pick up the guy and walk off with it!

Coastcard said...

Good morning from Wales, UK. A fascinating post.

Yes, Steven, Bonfire Night, and like you I have some happy memories of those bonfires and fireworks. There is definitely something about the crackle of dead leaves on a fire and the smell of toasted marshmallows and roasted chestnuts (hmmm); but - alas - it's a night that our pets hate because of the bangs, and I guess it must be terrifying and dangerous for wildlife (e.g. sleepy hedgehogs) in our gardens, too.

We have a theory that the smoke hangs in the air and is the harbinger of autumn mists and fog. Wonder if anybody can verify (or contradict) this.

Coastcard said...

P.S. Hope you are enjoying The Hobbit, a favourite book of mine. I love Mr Bilbo Baggins!

Coastcard said...

Just realised my first message may have vanished into the ether! Off out now (so won't re-write comments now), but greetings on Bonfire Night from the UK. A great post, Steven.

Titus said...

Thank you steven. Raining here so heavily at the moment we're going to need barrels of gunpowder to light the bonfire!

steven said...

hello coastcard - lovely to hear from you, and hear from you, and hear from you again!!! i love the hobbit. fourty years ago, i heard the hobbit read to me by my grade six teacher. i have read it several times since but this is the first time in twenty years. it is a magical, gorgeous tale with so many reminders of times gone past in my life but most especially it is an escape!!! i'm hoping that the film that is scheduled to come out sometime soon is half as good (or better than half as good). have a lovely day!!! steven

steven said...

rachel that's too funny!!!! i can only imagine the gobsmacked look on the little kid's faces...... steven

steven said...

oh titus that's a shame - well nip into london, perhaps there's still some under the h.o.p. have a peaceful rainy day. steven

Dunkerswick said...

The rain continues to pour here in the North West. Fortunately many of the organised public displays dont take place until the weekend so maybe it will have dried out a little by then. When I was younger a bonfire wasn't complete without treacle toffee.

Jane Moxey said...

"Remember, remember the fifth of November with gunpowder, treason and plot.." That's all I remember. I wonder if there's more to that ditty. The smell and the size of those bonfires in the UK is what I remember the most. And thanks and ugh about the REAL ending of Mr. Fawkes. Silly old Guido (as I read he called himself).

On July 4th here in the US the poor pets are terrified of the fireworks ("Rockets' red glare, bombs bursting in air" etc.). We live overlooking a harbor and there are folks who go nuts with the illegal fireworks they can purchase on the local Indian reservations. It's quite a show though:)

Bee said...

What a very good explanation of this archaic tradition! And now it has just become "Bonfire Night" -- and will be celebrated on the weekend, when it is more convenient. Later tonight, I am making my Bonfire Chili (although I think that burnt sausages are the traditional fare).

Reya Mellicker said...

Thank you so much for explaining Guy Fawkes Day! You're a very good teacher.

Hung, drawn and quartered, eh? Whoa ...

steven said...

hey dunkerswick welcome!!! i follow the bbc online and that's the only way i'd know of the terrible flooding that's going on up there. the treacle toffee taste still fills my mouth and mind when i think of those nights as a young english boy 'round the bonfire. pure magic!!! have a lovely evening. steven

steven said...

hi jane - fireworks are still a huge favourite experience for me as well - although i have never bought any - well except for the little cherrybombs that i used to have when i first came to canada. have a peaceful evening by the harbour!!! steven

steven said...

thankyou bee. i remember burnt sausages on a bun from at least one bonfire evening. lovely and hot and juicy on the inside but thoroughly carbonized on the outside!!!! have a lovely evening. steven

steven said...

thanks reya!! i try to leave the teaching behind when i get here but i think it's a bit of a mindset. my blog used to be almost all like this posting - find a subject, unpack it, pass on the knowledge. it's a good thing for hiding behind!!!! have a peaceful dc evening. steven

Eryl Shields said...

I haven't been to a bonfire on guy fawkes night for years: too cold and too wet, usually. But you've made me feel quite nostalgic, maybe I'll light a little fire in the garden at the weekend and get a catherine wheel!