Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t'was his intent
To blow up the King and Parliament.
Three-score barrels of gunpowder below
To prove old England's overthrow;
By God's providence he was catch'd
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, let the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!
- Traditional English children's rhyme for Guy Fawkes Day*
O God, whose name is excellent in all the earth, and thy glory above the heavens; who on this day didst miraculously preserve our Church and State from the secret contrivance and hellish malice of Popish Conspirators; and on this day also didst begin to give us a mighty deliverance from the open tyranny and oppression of the same cruel and blood-thirsty enemies...
- The Book of Common Prayer (1771 Cambridge version) (opening passage of "A Form of Prayer and Thanksgiving, to be used yearly upon the fifth day of November; for the happy Deliverance of King JAMES I, and the Three Estates of England, from the most traitorous and bloody intended Massacre by Gunpowder..." This section, added in 1662, was removed only in 1859.)
A religious fanatic feels persecuted, goes overseas to fight for his God and then returns to attempt a bloody act of terrorism. Next week, as Britons celebrate the capture of Guy Fawkes, a Catholic jihadist, under the Houses of Parliament in 1605, they might reflect how dismally modern the Gunpowder Plot and Europe's wars of religion might seem.
- The Economist, London, 3 November 2007 (lead editorial, "The new wars of religion")
Today is Guy Fawkes Day in England, an unofficial holiday commemorating the failure of the so-called "Gunpowder Plot" on this date in 1605. A conspiracy of disgruntled English Catholics under the leadership of one Robert Catesby had succeeded in planting a large quantity of gunpowder in the cellar of the House of Lords with the intention of blowing up Parliament on its opening day, when King James I would have been present. After one of the plotters warned a relative to stay away from Parliament that day, the scheme was discovered, and one of the key conspirators, Guy Fawkes, was essentially caught in the act. All the plotters were apprehended and executed savagely, but the Gunpowder Plot had the unfortunate effect of perpetuating a deep distrust of "popery" and Roman Catholicism in England for centuries. (Catholics were barred from serving in Parliament for 224 years.) Today, the occasion is celebrated with bonfires, fireworks, and the construction of effigies of Guy Fawkes, carried about by bands of children begging "a penny for the Guy" from all they encounter.**
French journalist Octave Mirbeau (1850-1917) wrote in 1894,
"The greatest danger of bombs is in the explosion of stupidity that they provoke."
* N.B. An additional verse, rather scurrilous, and thus less often sung, goes:
"A penny loaf to feed the Pope
A farthing o' cheese to choke him.
A pint of beer to rinse it down,
A faggot of sticks to burn him.
Burn him in a tub of tar,
Burn him like a blazing star.
Burn his body from his head,
Then we'll say ol' Pope is dead.
Hip hip hoorah!
Hip hip hip hoorah!"
** Curiously, Guy Fawkes Day - called "Pope Day" - was the only English holiday permitted in Puritan New England, and effigies of Fawkes, the pope, and the devil were carried in procession, burned, and dismembered. Because of the violence it provoked, the custom was forbidden by the Massachusetts Legislature in 1752.
The traditional Guy Fawkes mask was intended to resemble him:
The 2006 movie V for Vendetta, based on a comic book series written by Alan Moore and illustrated by David Lloyd, popularized a stylized Guy Fawkes mask. In the movie, V is a freedom fighter attempting to start a revolution against the fascist regime. The mask has since become associated with the group Anonymous.
BBC Video - The Gunpowder Plot: Treason & Torture:
Originally, an effigy of the pope was burned for festivities. After George Washington publicly denounced the holiday as offensive to Canadian Catholic allies, the tradition died altogether in the Americas, while the effigy of Fawkes became the main one burned in England.
Feel free to add more in the comments!
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