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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


Lindsay Townsend said...

Excellent blog, Linda!

In Yorkshire where I live children used to go 'chumping' - gathering firewood for the bongfire - in the week before Bonfire Night. Also go round with a stuffed item usually with a turnip head, asking 'penny for the guy'.

Linda Banche said...

Hi Lindsay, thanks. Nice to hear about the customs. Maybe next time I'll have a list of customs. Some of them were probably also done in the Regency.

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Joyce Moore said...

Linda: What an interesting blog. I had heard of Guy Fawkes, but never knew what it meant or what it referred to. Thanks for enlightening me! We never know what little gem will find its way into our next story!

LK Hunsaker said...

Linda, I had read this history before but forgot the details. There's an important lesson there none of us should forget.

Thanks for sharing it.

Linda Banche said...

Hi Joyce, thanks. True, the more we know, the more we can put into our stories!

LK, you're right. Both the cause and the reaction should be remembered.

Linore said...

Concise and clear description, Linda, and I love the top illustration. Thanks for posting about this day, which often has many in the US wondering what it's all about; Now we know!

Linda Banche said...

Hi Linore, thanks. True, I never knew what Guy Fawkes Night was, either, until I started writing Regency.

Donna Hatch said...

Great posting on something that I knew very little about! You learn something new every day...

Linda Banche said...

Hi Donna, thanks. I didn't know much about Guy Fawkes Day, either, until I started researching it. Always something new to learn.