Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Remember, remember the fifth of November

Remember, remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason, why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

While in the USA fireworks are a big part of July 4th celebrations, across the pond in England, tomorrow November 5th the skies will be filled with aerial explosions.

Guy Fawkes Night is celebrated in Britain annually on November 5th. The event is accompanied by firework displays, the lighting of bonfires and the ceremonial effigy-burning of one Guy Fawkes. T
Well I remember when i was young, kids used to make a effigy of Guy Fawkes and stand outside subway and train stations asking "Penny for the Guy". Collecting the odd bit of change to help raise money for their fireworks.

Of course some of these effigy's for burning are a little bit more series than those we used to make. Such as this one from the Lewis parade.

In 1605, thirteen young men planned to blow up
the Houses of Parliament. Among them was
Guy Fawkes, Britain's most notorious traitor.

After Queen Elizabeth I died in 1603, English Catholics who had been persecuted under her rule had hoped that her successor, James I, would be more tolerant of their religion. James I had, after all, had a Catholic mother. Unfortunately, James did not turn out to be more tolerant than Elizabeth and a number of young men, 13 to be exact, decided that violent action was the answer.

A small group took shape, under the leadership of Robert Catesby. Catesby felt that violent action was warranted. Indeed, the thing to do was to blow up the Houses of Parliament. In doing so, they would kill the King, maybe even the Prince of Wales, and the Members of Parliament who were making life difficult for the Catholics. Today these conspirators would be known as extremists, or terrorists.

To carry out their plan, the conspirators got hold of 36 barrels of gunpowder - and stored them in a cellar, just under the House of Lords.

But as the group worked on the plot, it became clear that innocent people would be hurt or killed in the attack, including some people who even fought for more rights for Catholics. Some of the plotters started having second thoughts. One of the group members even sent an anonymous letter warning his friend, Lord Monteagle, to stay away from the Parliament on November 5th. Was the letter real?

The warning letter reached the King, and the King's forces made plans to stop the conspirators.

Guy Fawkes, who was in the cellar of the parliament with the 36 barrels of gunpowder when the authorities stormed it in the early hours of November 5th, was caught, tortured and executed.

It's unclear if the conspirators would ever have been able to pull off their plan to blow up the Parliament even if they had not been betrayed. Some have suggested that the gunpowder itself was so old as to be useless. Since Guy Fawkes and the other conspirators got caught before trying to ignite the powder, we'll never know for certain.

Even for the period which was notoriously unstable, the Gunpowder Plot struck a very profound chord for the people of England. In fact, even today, the reigning monarch only enters the Parliament once a year, on what is called "the State Opening of Parliament". Prior to the Opening, and according to custom, the Yeomen of the Guard search the cellars of the Palace of Westminster. Nowadays, the Queen and Parliament still observe this tradition.

On the very night that the Gunpowder Plot was foiled, on November 5th, 1605, bonfires were set alight to celebrate the safety of the King. Since then, November 5th has become known as Bonfire Night. The event is commemorated every year with fireworks and burning effigies of Guy Fawkes on a bonfire.

Some of the English have been known to wonder, in a tongue in cheek kind of way, whether they are celebrating Fawkes' execution or honoring his attempt to do away with the government.

Today, one of the ceremonies which accompanies the opening of a new session of Parliament is a traditional searching of the basement by the Yeoman of the Guard. It has been said that for superstitious reasons, no State Opening of Parliament has or ever will be held again on November 5th. This, however, is a fallacy since on at least one occasion (in 1957), Parliament did indeed open on November 5th. The actual cellar employed for the storage of the gunpowder in 1605 by the conspirators was damaged by fire in 1834 and totally destroyed during the rebuilding of the Palace of Westminster in the Nineteenth Century.

Remember, remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason, why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

Guy Fawkes Night is not solely a British celebration. The tradition was also established in the British colonies by the early American settlers and actively pursued in the New England States under the name of "Pope Day" as late as the Eighteenth Century. Today, the celebration of Guy Fawkes and his failed plot remains a tradition in such places as Newfoundland (Canada) and some areas of New Zealand, in addition to the British Isles.

Where I was living before moving over to America, (Sussex) Bonfire festivities on the 5th are a major inter town event. With each local town production it's bonfire night the main center being in the town of Lewes. where huge parades pass through the town before ehading for the sites of the various groups "bonfires".

Lewes Bonfire Night

The town's most important annual event is Lewes Bonfire Night, this event not only marks the date of the uncovering of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605, but also commemorates the memory of the seventeen Protestant martyrs.

The current celebrations take the form of a series of torchlit processions through the town. The event is organized by the local bonfire societies, under the auspices of the Lewes Bonfire Council. Lewes itself currently has seven bonfire societies (Nevill Juveniles is a children's society and holds its celebrations a week or two before 5th November; Southover, which disbanded in 1985, reformed in 2005) and a number of nearby towns have their own bonfire societies. The other five local bonfire societies from the town (Cliffe, Borough, Commercial Square, South Street and Waterloo) each proceed on their own route accompanied by a number of other societies from the neighboring towns.


BARRY EVA (Storyheart)

Author of Young Adult Romance/Fiction book
"Across the Pond"

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