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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Happy Guy Fawkes Day! God preserved us from the "secret contrivance and hellish malice of Popish Conspirators"

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
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.)

November 5th is Guy Fawkes Day (wiki) 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.

'The Discovery of the Gunpowder Plot and the
Taking of Guy Fawkes' by Henry Perronet Briggs, circa 1823
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.** 

* 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!" 

The etching of eight of the thirteen conspirators, by Crispijn
 van de Passe. Larger version, and more information, here.
** 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. 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.

At History Today, this article has a comprehensive description of the events, and this one looks at the tradition of cartoons and caricatures inspired by the Gunpowder Plot: Drawing on History: The Gunpowder Plot.

The traditional Guy Fawkes mask was intended to resemble him:

The 2006 movie V for Vendetta, based on the 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: The Conspirators:



BBC Video - The Gunpowder Plot: Treason & Torture:



More: 

More on the history of the Gunpowder Plot and Guy Fawkes here, here and here, and here's the Wikipedia article.



3 Ways to Celebrate Guy Fawkes Day.

Feel free to add more in the comments! Also, this post is based on Ed's Quotation of the Day, only available via email. If you'd like to be added to his list, leave your email address in the comments.

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