Sunday, November 06, 2005

Guy Fawkes Day

In my previous rant I had argued for allowing fireworks, however this does not mean I support Guy Fawkes Day. I find it truely sickening in this day and age that we openly celebrate the torture and execution of a man. I realize that this has been a tradition for 400 years, however I view this as extremely barbaric.

For my readers who are not from Britain let me explain who Guy Fawkes is, what the gunpowder plot was, and what it has to do with Guy Fawkes Day/Bonfire night.

Back in the 1500's a pope decreed that no Roman Catholic should swear allegiance to a ruler who was not a Roman Catholic him/herself. This is technicly treason and under British law carried the punishment of being hung, drawn and quartered. Queen Elizabeth I decided that instead of applying that sentence would merely fine the catholics who refused to swear allegiance, and it essentially became percieved as a tax for being catholic.

After Qeen Elizabeth's death Jame I took the throne, for the firest few years he suspended the "Tax", but after some pressure reintroduced it, this upset some catholic nobles who the conspired to blow up the parliament buildings.

A small group took shape, under the leadership of Robert Catesby. Catesby felt that violent action was warranted. Indeed, the thing to do was to blow up the Houses of Parliament. In doing so, they would kill the King, maybe even the Prince of Wales, and the Members of Parliament who were making life difficult for the Catholics. Today these conspirators would be known as extremists, or terrorists.
But as the group worked on the plot, it became clear that innocent people would be hurt or killed in the attack, including some people who even fought for more rights for Catholics. Some of the plotters started having second thoughts. It is said that one of the group members even sent an anonymous letter warning his friend, Lord Monteagle, to stay away from the Parliament on November 5th.
The warning letter reached the King, and the King's forces made plans to stop the conspirators.
Guy Fawkes who was in the cellar of the parliament with the 36 barrels of gunpowder when the authorities stormed it in the early hours of November 5th, was caught, tortured and executed by being Hung Drawn and Quartered on 31 January 1606 at the very place he was trying to destroy. It has been suggested that Guy Fawkes being caught at the last minute was an early example of "spin" and that they authorities were aware of the plot well in advance, but thought that catching him "in the act" would seam more profound.

Even for the period which was notoriously unstable, the Gunpowder Plot struck a very profound chord for the people of England. In fact, even today, the reigning monarch only enters the Parliament once a year, on what is called "the State Opening of Parliament". Prior to the Opening, and according to custom, the Yeomen of the Guard search the cellars of the Palace of Westminster. Nowadays, the Queen and Parliament still observe this tradition.
On the very night that the Gunpowder Plot was foiled, on November 5th, 1605, bonfires were set alight to celebrate the safety of the King. Since then, November 5th has become known as Bonfire Night. The event is commemorated every year with fireworks and burning effigies of Guy Fawkes on a bonfire.

Some of the English have been known to wonder, in a tongue in cheek kind of way, whether they are celebrating Fawkes' Execution, or for his attempt to destroy the government. Posted by Picasa


Lex said...

One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter!

Shelly1990UK said...

That might be true, but as I understand it the "tax" only applied to the wealthy and so he didn't even represent the majority of Catholics.