Guy Fawkes' Night

For 20 years now I've had a dream of sailing my own boat off into the sunset.

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Guy Fawkes' Night

Post by Alien_UK » 11-05-2004 03:00 PM

It sounds just like down town Baghdad out side tonight.

"Bonfire Night" or "Guy Fawkes' Night" at first glance seems exactly the same as Hallowe'en, with its bonfires, effigy-burning and general mayhem, but it is a much more recent tradition firmly rooted in fact, not myth and superstition. It is also an entirely secular festival, although religion did play a part in its beginnings.

Guy Fawkes was born in York in 1570, to a Protestant family although his widowed mother married a Catholic and young Guy was educated with Catholic schoolmates. When Guy himself converted is not known, but he served in the Spanish army (then occupying the Netherlands) and adopted the name Guido.

During Guy Fawkes' childhood the Catholic church was systematically oppressed by successive monarchs, children of Henry VIII who broke away from Rome over the Pope's refusal to grant him a divorce. The severity of the persecution varied from monarch to monarch, but when Elizabeth I died childless, James VI of Scotland was invited to take the English throne. James was the son of the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots (imprisoned and eventually executed by order of Elizabeth,) and so it was widely hoped - indeed expected - that he would relax the stringent laws controlling the Catholics and allow them to live and worship in peace. At first it seemed that

the new king would fulfil all their expectations, but change was very little and very slow, so although the majority of the population - Protestant and so unaffected by anti-Catholic laws - welcomed James enthusiastically, a conspiracy to depose the king and set a new, Catholic monarch on the throne began to grow.

Guy Fawkes was drawn into the Plot, masterminded by the fanatical Robert Catesby, in 1604 after meeting up with his old schoolfriends, and together they hatched a plan, not simply to depose King James but to kill him AND his Parliament when they met at the Palace of Westminster. Between them, the plotters managed to collect together 36 barrels of gunpowder and smuggled them into the cellars of one of the shops within the palace precincts, cellars which extended under the House of Lords.

Whether or not the conspirators were betrayed or even "set up" is open to conjecture, but on the night of November 4th Guy Fawkes, whose task it was to lay the powder and light the fuse when the King and Parliament were in place above the following day, was discovered in the cellar with all the incriminating evidence, arrested and taken to the Tower of London. He readily admitted his part in the plot but was tortured to extract the names of the other conspirators from him.

Once they knew that Guy Fawkes had been arrested, the rest of the plotters realised that it was only a matter of time before their names were known and so they fled to Staffordshire in the English Midlands, arriving early on the 7th and taking refuge in Holbeche House. Several of them were injured in an accidental explosion and then the Sheriff of Worcester arrived with armed troops and a further four were killed in the ensuing shoot-out. The survivors all fled but were rounded up and imprisoned in the Tower to be tried for High Treason, although one died in prison before he could be tried.

In January 1606 the surviving eight conspirators were put on trial. All of them pleaded guilty and all were condemned to death. They were hanged, drawn and quartered, the standard punishment for traitors; the four who died at Holbeche were exhumed and their heads were removed and put on public display.

Guy Fawkes Night has been celebrated every year since 1606, when the government proclaimed that it should be an annual celebration. Even though the Puritans banned most public celebrations after the Civil War, they allowed Guy Fawkes Night to continue. Guy Fawkes - or "Bonfire" - night is the most popular and widely celebrated of British secular holidays and has virtually replaced Hallowe'en. Although it is celebrated by government decree, they have so far not seen fit to declare it a public holiday!

Many of the customs of Guy Fawkes night have been carried over from Hallowe'en : the bonfires which are the main characteristic of the celebration are used to burn effigies, called "Guys" although he wasn't burned at the stake. These effigies originally depicted the Pope - another burst of anti-catholic fervour - but now are symbolic and most people think they really do represent Guy Fawkes and his failed attempt to destroy the King and Government.

In the weeks leading up to November 5th, children construct these "guys" out of old clothes etc. and position themselves on street corners, outside shops, pubs etc., begging for "A penny for the Guy, mister?" These "pennies" used to be spent on fireworks for the big day, but now legislation prevents children from buying fireworks themselves. A lot of time and energy is spent in collecting wood and anything combustible to build a bonfire - the bigger the better. In the week before Bonfire Night the Fire Brigade is hard-pressed dealing with out-of-control bonfires which have been set alight prematurely, often in totally unsuitable places.

As soon as it gets dark on November 5th, the festivities begin. Every city, town, village and hamlet in the country will light its bonfires, and there will be tens of thousands of private bonfire parties. Families, friends and neighbours get together and watch the bonfire, the children throw their Guys on and watch them burn, and the sky will be full of bursting fireworks. November nights are cold, often freezing, and so hot food and drink is customary - traditional Bonfire treats include Parkin, particularly in Yorkshire and the north, baked potatoes (delicious if cooked in the embers of the fire), treacle toffee and toffee apples, and drinks of hot soup and cocoa are much appreciated.

The night before Bonfire Night (November 4th) sees Mischief Night, the British equivalent of "trick-or-treating" - minus the treats! On Mischief Night groups of children roam the neighbourhood looking for mischief, playing pranks with no recourse to buying them off with a few sweets! Favourites in my childhood included lifting gates off hinges and re-hanging them the "wrong" way round (a largely obsolete practice as lift-off hinges are fast disappearing), tying door-knockers together with string and the old and tame but (we thought) very amusing pastime of knocking on doors and running away (called, for some reason, "knock-on-ginger.") Garden gnomes would mysteriously move from garden to garden, and later, when we had neighbours who actually HAD cars, we would tie them up with rolls and rolls of toilet paper. Nowadays Mischief Night seems to have been taken over by older youths whose exploits sometimes venture into vandalism and harassment which is no longer so widely tolerated.

:) :) :)

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Post by tiffany » 11-06-2004 03:18 PM

Interesting festival from the UK. It is nice to know the differences that each Country has. Thanks for the ride into the night of Fawkes..

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Post by racehorse » 11-06-2004 07:36 PM

Very Interesting post, Alien_UK. Thanks.

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Post by moonchild2 » 11-14-2004 05:25 PM

Alen_Uk, one the things that I missed most after leaving England many years ago, was Guy Fawkes night. We used to make him out of old clothes and straw and drag him around the neighborhood in a soap box. This was done in the afternoon. After it got dark my Dad would open his box of fireworks and set them off for us. Then we would put our Guy on top of a big bonfire that Dad built in the bottom of our garden, and he would burn. Pretty goulish but it was tradition.

We just had a movie on TV here in Canada about Guy Fawkes. It was very good.

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