Monday, November 5, 2012

Remember remember the 5th of November...

Remember, remember,
The Fifth of November,
Gunpowder treason and plot;
For I see no reason
Why Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.

Happy Guy Fawkes Day! So most of my readers (that I know of, at any rate) are in America, and probably have NO idea what I'm talking about. If they recognize it at all it's only due to the 2005 movie V for Vendetta. So, what are you supposed to remember on the 5th of November? Let's hop in our time machine and travel back to 1605 in England.

On the throne is King James I. He is Protestant, and the nation as a whole is still simmering over the Protestant and Catholic split. A group of disgruntled Catholics, lead by Robert Catesby, begin to plot a way to overthrow the King and the protestant members of Parliament and take James young daughter Elizabeth and make her the new Catholic monarch of Britain. A pretty tall order to fill, is it not? And how do they plan on doing it? Simple: blow up the King and Parliament. BOOM.

The plotters purchase a building near Parliament, tunnel under the building, and place 36 barrels of gunpowder underneath the structure. Their plan was simple. On November 5, 1605, King James I would address the State Opening of Parliament, and they would lite the fuse and blow the King and Parliament sky high. Unfortunately for the plotters, the government is tipped off about the plot, and during a search on November 4, the gunpowder is found and the plot ultimately foiled. The plotters mostly flee, and eventually are all either killed or captured. In January 1606, those still alive are tried and convicted of treason, and are sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered.

So why is it known as Guy Fawkes Day, and not, Robert Catesby Day? Because, on November 4, it was Guy Fawkes, a member of the conspiracy, who was found with the barrels of gunpowder. He became the face of the conspiracy to the public.

Wait, people in Britain celebrate this guy who tried to kill the King and the members of Parliament? Well, not exactly. Starting in 1606, the government called on the people of England to remember the plot and celebrate not the attempt, but the failure of the attempt and that the King and government were saved from assassination. Today it's known alternatively as "Firework Night" or "Bonfire Night," and people in Britain light bonfires or shoot off fireworks to mark the evening. Also around this time are the "Guy Fawkes masks," which were featured prominently in V for Vendetta (the mask that the character V uses). These masks were once used to decorate effigies of Guy Fawkes that were burned on bonfires on November 5 (these effigies were known as "guys," and the term in the 19th century became used to describe oddly dressed men - because the effigies were often dressed in old or discarded clothing - and then in the 20th and 21st century the word evolved to just mean any male).

Okay, so that's my short summary of Guy Fawkes day for your random "did you know" history question. Hope you found it interesting.
To my UK readers: if I got something wrong here, LET ME KNOW! Set the record straight for me and my American readers.

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