The fifth of November.
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.
A long time ago, there was a King of England called King James I.
In the years before James came to the throne, there was much religious strife in England. James’s great-great-uncle, King Henry VIII, created a new religion because the Pope – the leader of the Catholic religion – would not allow Henry to get divorced. The new religion was called the Church of England and Henry forced everyone to join it and he killed many Catholics who refused.
When Henry died, his daughter, Queen Mary, switched everyone back to Catholicism and killed members of the Church of England.
When Mary died, her sister, Queen Elizabeth, switched back again and killed more Catholics including James’s mother Mary, Queen of Scots.
By the time James was crowned King, most people were sick of all the killing and King James promised to allow Catholics to worship as they pleased as long as they were loyal to the country.
Not everyone people was happy with this state of affairs though and some very important people were still suspicious of Catholics and wanted them punished. There were also some very important Catholics who wished that England would return to the Catholic religion. Several of these Catholics got together and plotted to kill the king and put his Catholic daughter on the throne instead.
The plotters were led by Robert Catesby, but the most famous plotter of all was a soldier named Guy Fawkes who was in charge of a plan to blow up the Houses of Parliament, with the King and all of the Lords of England inside.
Guy Fawkes was an expert in explosives. He rented a room underneath the House of Lords and filled it with thirty-six barrels (about a ton) of gunpowder. The plan was set.
Several of the plotters had friends in Parliament and one of them sent an anonymous note to one of the Lords of England warning him to stay away.
they shall receive a terrible blow this Parliament and yet they shall not see who hurts them.
Lord Monteagle passed the note on to the king who ordered the Parliament building to be searched. The king’s men found Guy Fawkes with his thirty-six barrels of gunpowder and arrested him on the spot. Guy Fawkes was tortured to find out the names of the other plotters and eventually they were all captured and were hung, drawn and quartered as a warning to others.
Parliament also passed a law ordering that the plot be commemorated every November 5th and, since that time, the English people have celebrated the discovery of the plot with a bonfire and fireworks. The children of England make a pretend Guy by stuffing old clothes with crumpled up newspapers. In the weeks leading up to the Fifth, children sit on street corners asking for a Penny for the Guy and they use the money to buy fireworks. On the fifth of November, they make a big bonfire with Guy on the top. They burn him so that no one will ever forget that terrible plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament with thirty-six barrels of gunpowder.
Jazz and I made our Guy this year and we are taking him camping in the Santa Cruz mountains where we will make a big bonfire and burn our guy like millions of English children before us.
If you want to learn more about Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot, the BBC made an excellent documentary to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the plot. The documentary, The Gunpowder Plot – Exploding the Legend, tells the whole story of Guy Fawkes, Robert Catesby and the other plotters. Best of all, they build a full size replica of the original House of Lords to show what would have happened if Guy Fawkes had lit the fuse on those thirty-six barrels of gunpowder. You can see the whole documentary on YouTube.