Thursday, 4 November 2010

Remember, Remember...

Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot…

Halloween might be over but millions of people will be celebrating this weekend. There will be fireworks displays in most of the parks and open spaces up and down the breadth of Britain as we celebrate Guy Fawkes Night, also known as Bonfire night. It’s a night with sparklers, sugary food such as toffee apples, candy floss and warming drinks like Irish coffee and hot chocolate. Children get to stay up late and play with sparklers. It’s a lot of fun and while many people have their own celebration in their garden with friends and family, most people will head to a local display and mingle with other people who live in the same area.

Why do we celebrate the fifth of November like this?

On the fifth of November 1605 a group of conspirators attempted to kill the king, James I of England (James VI of Scotland) by placing gunpowder in the basement of the Houses of Parliament. The idea was to blow the building up the next day and kill the king and a large number of his strongest supporters in one fell swoop. Luckily, they failed. The plot was revealed and the conspirators were captured (most of them!) including a lowly watchman who has subsequently had the day named him – Guy Fawkes. It does seem a little strange to think that so many people celebrate the seat of government NOT blowing up by pretending to blow it up and burn effigies of one of the conspirators!

In V for Vendetta, Parliament was blown up at the climax of the film - we celebrate this not happening in 1605!

I did a little research for this post and found out that one of the reasons Guy Fawkes Night is still celebrated is that for a long time it was illegal not to celebrate it in Britain. In 1606 a law was passed that the commemorating of the plot's failure would be annual event. This act was repealed over 150 years ago in 1859, but the celebrations still continue to this day.

I realised I’ve simplified the background a bit, but I want to celebrate an occasion that is as unique to Britain (and other Commonwealth countries!) as 4th of July is to the US. Now I want to try to find a book related to this event…the best I could get was a scene in Karen Chance’s Curse the Dawn (Cassandra Palmer 4) where Cassie ends up in the cellars at Westminster surrounded by barrels of gun powder…

Do you celebrate Guy Fawkes Night? How? And does anyone know of any other books where the fifth of November is celebrated…?


  1. I haven't come across other books that celebrate it to my memory... hmm... I did love V for Vendetta. Great film. Oh, and I saw a Guy Fawkes mask during the sanity rally in Washington before our recent elections. Even if it was more about the movie... at least he has some sort of presence in the US. ;)

  2. Antonia Fraser's "The Gunpowder Plot" is really good if you like straight history. It's got lots of detail but there's also a nice writing style.

    And I love Bonfire Night! I'm not going to a firework display or even having any of my own this year, but I will be sure to at least wave a sparkler around!

  3. There are a lot of books on Guido Fawkes. The best books are by Antonia Fraser, THE GUNPOWDER PLOT, Terror & faith in 1605. The book is fast moving and is historically accurate. There's everything in there to make a hollywood blockbuster, intrigue, treason, a horse chase, a gun battle all topped off with a grisly end.

    Pity For the Guy by Paul Davis, another really well written book. Flows very well. Really interesting book.

    Guy Fawkes, Guido Fawkes or John Johnsson is regarded as England's first religious terrorist, or religious freedom fighter. He is also the most famous but not the main player of the band of men who tried to bring down the british monarchy. If you ask most british people about November 5, not many can tell you the story. it's now faded into history, instead they believe its some form of night of pagan pageantry.

    The truth of the matter is that Nov 5 celebrates the survival of the Monarchy from a Catholic terrorist plot. If you look deeper into the story, the men were brave, Guy Fawkes was tortured for 3 days on the rack in the tower of London before he broke. All were tried, convicted, then hung drawn and quartered by the state.