Catholics had been terribly persecuted under the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. When she died in 1603, some hoped that the new king, James I, would be more tolerant of Roman Catholicism in England. He was not. A group of young men led by Robert Catesby decided that violent action would help the situation.
Guy Fawkes was one of thirteen conspirators who planned to blow up Parliament and the king on November 5, 1605. They managed to store 36 barrels of gunpowder in the cellars of Parliament. The scheme became known as the Gunpowder Plot later. As the plan came together, some of the conspirators realized many innocent people would be wounded or killed and they began to have second thoughts. One conspirator sent a letter to Lord Monteagle to stay away from the House of Lords on the 5th of November.
The warning reached the king whose forces took swift action. Early on the 5th, they stormed the cellars and caught Guy Fawkes with the explosives. He was later tortured and executed.
News spread quickly and many bonfires were lit that evening in London to celebrate the safety of the king. Hence the night is known as Bonfire Night and is commemorated with fireworks, food, and fires. On the grim side, children often burn "the guy," a small figure made out of old clothes, papier mache, and whatever else is handy. It is supposed to represent Guy Fawkes. Yikes!
During the week before November 5, they go on the street with their "guy" and beg "a penny for the Guy?" which money is supposed to go toward fireworks. We haven't seen this in practice, though I can certainly imagine kids wanting to buy fireworks. They've been on sale for a couple of weeks all over the place, including the local grocery stores (one had a "buy one, get one free" sale!). The Fourth of July is similar in the United States, though American have to stay up much later for it to be dark enough for the full visual effect of the fireworks.
Some fireworks were going off tonight (November 4), maybe as practice. We'll attend some events tomorrow and report back. I'm just glad that they'll have fireworks for the eve of my birthday, another event that we will report on!
Also interesting: Gunpowder Plot Game. Try to foil Guy Fawkes!
And the famous nursery rhyme for British children:
Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder treason and plot.
We see no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!
Guy Fawkes, guy, t'was his intent
To blow up king and parliament.
Three score barrels were laid below
To prove old England's overthrow.
By god's mercy he was catch'd
With a darkened lantern and burning match.
So, holler boys, holler boys, Let the bells ring.
Holler boys, holler boys, God save the king.
And what shall we do with him?