by Rachel Morgandale, Columnist
Remember, remember the fifth of November…
No, it’s not just a line from “V for Vendetta.” It all started in 1605. Guy Fawkes, and other conspirators plotted to blow up parliament while the House of Lords was in session. Robert Catesby was the leader of the Gunpowder Plot. The plan was to assassinate James I and install his daughter on the throne as a Catholic monarch of England.
In the wee hours of the morning on Nov 5, Guy Fawkes was caught guarding 36 barrels of gun powder underneath parliament. He was discovered after an anonymous letter tipped authorities to the plot.
The fifth of November became a holiday almost immediately, celebrating the thwarting of the plot. The night of Nov 5 is sometimes known as Bonfire Night. Traditionally, bonfires and torches are lit, fireworks set off. Sometimes even effigies of Guy Fawkes are burned.
Historically, Guy Fawkes Night was sometimes used to express anti-Catholic sentiments since the plotters were Catholic. Tensions between Protestants and Catholics have been a large part English politics, especially at the time of the plot. Effigies of the Pope have been part of the burning traditions as well. In more recent years, this as fallen out of favor as the UK celebrates a diverse populous of many faiths.
Many modern celebrations of Bonfire night have been compared to Halloween or Celtic Samhain celebrations. Like Halloween, costumes are often worn for modern celebrations, usually Elizabethan dress. Candy is also a tradition, such as bonfire toffee, a brittle toffee made with black treacle (or as those in the States know it, molasses).
Plenty of songs, poems, theatre, and film commemorate the Gunpowder Plot. One traditional rhyme starts with that famous line, “Remember, remember the fifth of November.” In the film, “V for Vendetta,” the Gun Powder plot is revived by a renegade called V. Set in a future, fascist version of the UK, the character wears a Guy Fawkes mask as part of his protest.
The shape of history and politics would have been quite different if the Plot had been successful. It’s unclear whether or not modern celebrations are celebrating the fact that the plot was foiled and parliament preserved, or saluting the sense of anarchy the plotters represent. It’s an opportunity to remember the long and sometimes turbulent history of England for those in the commonwealth and also an opportunity to break out of the everyday for one night. Many Brits prefer it to the Americanize Halloween celebrations of Oct. 31.