“Fight Against Stupidity And Bureaucracy”
“Remember, remember the fifth of November,” is something that kids used to chant on this day in Britain as a memento of a character called Guy Fawkes, whose claim to immortality was that he tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament in London, England in what became known as the Gunpowder Plot.
It all took place in 1605 and was a failed attempt to assassinate King James I of England and VI of Scotland by a group of provincial English Roman Catholics led by Robert Catesby.
They had planned to blow up the House of Lords during the State Opening of England’s Parliament on 5 November 1605, when the King would be certain to be in attendance. That event was then supposed to trigger a popular revolt in the English Midlands during which James’s nine-year-old daughter, Princess Elizabeth, was to be installed as the Roman Catholic head of state.
Catesby’s fellow plotters were John Wright, Thomas Wintour, Thomas Percy, Guy Fawkes, Robert Keyes, Thomas Bates, Robert Wintour, Christopher Wright, John Grant, Ambrose Rookwood, Sir Everard Digby and Francis Tresham.
Fawkes, who is remembered while most of the others have been forgotten, was a man with some military service and was therefore chosen to be in charge of the explosives.
The plot failed when an anonymous letter was sent to William Parker, 4th Baron Monteagle, on 26 October 1605 and a subsequent search of the House of Lords at midnight on 4 November 1605, revealed Guy Fawkes guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder.
He was arrested and in good conspiratorial fashion his comrades fled from London leaving him to face the consequences alone. One or two did try to make a stand against the pursuing Sheriff of Worcester and his men at a place called Holbeche House, and in the ensuing battle Catesby was one of those shot and killed.
At the trial of those who survived, held on 27 January 1606, eight conspirators, including Guy Fawkes, were convicted and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered, a particularly cruel form of punishment used for traitors in those days. (Think of the final scenes from the Mel Gibson movie Braveheart and you will understand the gruesome process.)
Immediately before his execution on 31 January, Guy Fawkes jumped from the scaffold where he was to be hanged and broke his neck, thus avoiding the agony of the mutilation that followed.
The failure of the Gunpowder Plot was commemorated for many years afterwards by special sermons and other public events such as the ringing of church bells. This evolved into the present tradition of ‘Bonfire Night’ when effigies of Guy Fawkes are traditionally burned on bonfires, accompanied by fireworks. Many such displays which will be held throughout Britain later today.
Interestingly, the ‘anonymous’ face mask currently in use by many anti government groups is based on the visage of Guy Fawkes.