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Guy Fawkes Day Reconsidered
Remember, remember, the Fifth of November...
Remember, remember, the Fifth of November
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot…
Now, most Americans know this little piece of doggrel only from the 2005 film, V for Vendetta, based on a comic book/graphic novel of the same name. That story depends on some knowledge of Guy Fawkes and what Britain knows as the Gunpowder Plot, the Gunpowder Treason Plot, and the Jesuit Plot. On 5 November 1605, so the story goes, a group of Catholic English nobles planned to blow up the House of Lords and the Stuart King James I (of England)/IV (Scotland), enabling the restoration of a Catholic monarchy in Britain.
It wasn’t the first or only plot.
Religious trouble was rife in England, and had been since Henry VIII. The Church of England—a Protestant derivative of the Catholic Church—was the “official” church of the state; the monarch was/is its leader. But there were conspiracies afoot in the British Isles—some backed by the Church in Rome—that would destroy the Stuarts and place James’s Catholic daughter Elizabeth (by his wife, Anne of Denmark), or the daughter of Mary Tudor, Isabella of Spain.
This rather fanciful (to modern minds) idea was a quite real threat in 17th century Europe.
Of all the members of the conspiracy, the one that concerns us here is Guy/Guido Fox/Fawkes, probably born in April, 1570 in Stonegate, York, England. After converting to Catholicism as a young man, he hired out as a mercenary in the Low Countries in the service of the Spanish crown in the prolonged bloodletting known variously as the Eighty Year’s War or the Wars of Religion. After peace broke out, he journeyed to Spain, looking for support for a Catholic revolt in England.
He found some… sort of.
A group led by Robert Catesby, an untitled gentleman, included Fox in his 1604 plot to kill James I and much of the government at a ceremony called the State Opening that June. Fear of the plague delayed the event until November 1605. The conspirators dug a tunnel under the House of Lords and stored 36 barrels of gunpowder there—enough to blow the place to both smithereens and Kingdom Come.
The king’s men uncovered the plot before it would have gone off… barely.
The conspirators charged Fox with guarding the barrels and lighting the fuse, though details are light on how he would come to know just when. On 4 November, the day before the king was to be in the House of Lords, they found Fox under the House of Lords, mistaken for a servant. Just what anyone was supposed to be doing there is another mystery. Nonetheless, Fawkes was arrested. The conspirators bolted for the hinterlands but were hunted down swiftly. Their trials were swift; guilt unquestioned; executions by beheading, drawing and quartering assured. Even those killed in the pursuit were dug up and decapitated.
There were more people hanged for it than there were plotters who knew of it.
It seems clear to some historians that at least two of those who executed went to their deaths knowing nothing about the plot. The leading Jesuit in England had no clear role, but they chopped him anyway. At least one young nobleman went to the block (to be beheaded) and the quartering grounds (to be torn apart by horses) not understanding why. The common denominator was that they were all Catholics. This justice was swift because the times were desperate, being only a generation from the Spanish Armada (1588).
I know of no reason why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot…
In January 1606, Parliament passed the Observance of 5th November Act that called for services and sermons. Gradually, bonfires and fireworks were added to the festivities, and the Act remained in force until 1859. The Fifth of November is often called Bonfire Night or Guy Fawkes Night/Day in Britain, and is still observed/celebrated on both sides of the Atlantic, though less now in the United States than before 1776. Leave it to the English and their colonists to observe an assassination attempt with fireworks.
But there’s a larger context…
While religious persecution had a great deal to do with both the plot and the revenge afterwards, the ascension of James I’s son, Charles I, had similar undertones, but in reverse. Charles adhered more to his mother’s Catholic faith than his father’s Protestant, and that may have contributed to the triggering of the English Civil War; it certainly had an influence on the Glorious Revolution of 1688, when the Catholic-leaning James II was deposed by popular demand and by the house of Nassau. Nobody saw that coming as much as the long-dead Oliver Cromwell, former Protector of England.
The Liberty Bell Files: J. Edgar’s Demons is a work of fiction, following a fictional FBI agent through his early career, capping off the Stella’s Game Trilogy and filling in some blanks in that story. It’s about a division of the FBI that does not and has never existed, that works on a huge collection of files on people, organizations, magazine articles, UFO sightings, books, werewolves, and other long-legged beasties that might have kept Hoover awake at night but that were never created because that would have been illegal… everyone knows that… nope, never existed… move on; nothing to see here…
The best thing about Liberty Bell Files is that the cases our hero works on are based in part on fact and in larger part on my imagination. It is up to the reader to establish which is which. Did our intrepid hero finally find out what happened to Jimmy Hoffa? Were there subversive organizations made up of ladies-of-the-evening? Is there a subversive “church” that worships sex? That’s up to you… and your imagination. Available at your favorite booksellers or from me if you want an autograph.
CK ‘73 Update
Some traction; we’re still moving. We still need a place to congregate—an RHQ. ANYONE in the area can step up and volunteer a space?
And there’s a website now: https://www.eventcreate.com/e/ck7350. To register for the event (we’re just nosey and want to know who’s showing up) the password is CK7350. Clever, eh?
On Woodworking, History, and Writing
A Narrative of Doors…
On 5 November:
In 1781, the US Congress elected John Hanson President of the United States, Assembled, at Federal Hall in New York City.
In 1941, Japan’s Imperial General Staff issued Top Secret Order Number 1. This order began the preparations for the operations that would begin at the end of the month, initiating the attacks on Pearl Harbor, Hong Kong, and other British, American and Dutch possessions in the Pacific and Netherlands East Indies.
And today is LOVE YOUR RED HAIR DAY. If you have it, great. If you don’t, This Redhead: The Dialogues should be published early next year.