Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Guy Fawkes Night
Remember, remember the 5th of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason that gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.
The British celebrate Guy Fawkes Night, also called Bonfire Night or Firecracker Night, on the evening on November 5. Compulsory until 1859, Bonfire Night was one of the holidays observed in the Regency.
Guy Fawkes Night marks the failure of the Gunpowder Plot of November 5, 1605. On that night, King James I was present in Parliament when a group of Catholic conspirators, including Guy Fawkes, were caught with barrels of gunpowder in the basement of the building.
This foiled attempt to blow up Parliament and assassinate the king was a reaction to the persecution of Catholics under James I.
Anti-Catholic sentiment ran high at the time, and the Gunpowder Plot served to increase a hatred of Catholics that lasted over two hundred years. Parliament passed punitive laws that remained on the books well into Victorian times, although restrictions had eased somewhat by the Regency. For example, in the Regency, Catholics could serve as officers in the Army and Navy, where a hundred years earlier, they could not. They were allowed to attend classes in the universities, but were denied degrees. A Catholic peer could not sit in the House of Lords until 1870.
Festivities include shooting off firecrackers and burning a "guy", an effigy of Guy Fawkes, on a bonfire. Since Nov. 5 coincides with the end of the harvest, Guy Fawkes Day contains some elements of harvest festivals. The firecrackers are probably a reference to gunpowder, but bonfires are a feature of Samhain, the ancient festival celebrated on October 31 and which is the precursor to modern Halloween. As the Samhain bonfires scare away specters and goblins, the burning of the guy symbolizes the defeat of the treachery of the Gunpowder Plot.
Some superstitions remain. One states that Parliament will not open on November 5, although the 1957 session, at least, did. And superstitious or not, the Yeoman of the Guard does a traditional search of the Parliament basements in one of the ceremonies before each session begins.
Thank you all,
Pictures from wikipedia. Top image is an etching of Guy Fawkes Night on Windsor Commons, 1776