Remember Remember the 5th of November!

A contemporary engraving of eight of the thirteen conspirators, by Crispijn van de Passe
A contemporary engraving of eight of the conspirators, by Crispijn van de Passe

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.

Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t’was his intent
To blow up the King and Parli’ment.
Three-score barrels of powder below
To prove old England’s overthrow;

By God’s providence he was catch’d
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, let the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!*

Today Brits celebrate James I’s narrow escape from assassination in November 1605. It was on the night of the 4th/5th November 1605 that Guy Fawkes was caught red-handed in the cellars beneath Westminster with 36 barrels of gunpowder. He and his fellow Catholic conspirators had planned to blow up the House of Lords at the opening of Parliament on the 5th November, to assassinate King James I and to replace him with his daughter, nine year-old Princess Elizabeth, as a Catholic queen. Although this happened in the reign of James I, it had its origins in that of Elizabeth I – see The Gunpowder Plot for more on this.

On 5th November 1605, Londoners were encouraged to celebrate the King’s narrow escape by lighting bonfires around the city, and it is that celebration that is remembered in the UK every year on 5th November, along with the fireworks which have their origins in Guy Fawkes’ gunpowder. In fact, this celebration to give thanks for the deliverance of the King was made compulsory in the United Kingdom until 1859.

Some people will have a bonfire and fireworks in their backgarden, some will go to organised fireworks displays and still others will see processions like the one in Lewes in Sussex, which is said to be the biggest bonfire night celebration in the world. My husband had family in Lewes so we saw this procession on a few occasions and it is amazing. Here is a video of it for you:

You can find out more about the 1605 plot in my article 5 November – Remembering the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.

Did you know that it was actually Robert Catesby who was behind the plot, not Guy Fawkes? You can read more about Catebsy in my article on his death – click here.

* or Queen as we say now due to Elizabeth II being our monarch.

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9 thoughts on “Remember Remember the 5th of November!”
  1. This si the version I know..

    Remember, remember!
    The fifth of November,
    The Gunpowder treason and plot;
    I know of no reason
    Why the Gunpowder treason
    Should ever be forgot!
    Guy Fawkes and his companions
    Did the scheme contrive,
    To blow the King and Parliament
    All up alive.
    Threescore barrels, laid below,
    To prove old England’s overthrow.
    But, by God’s providence, him they catch,
    With a dark lantern, lighting a match!
    A stick and a stake
    For King James’s sake!
    If you won’t give me one,
    I’ll take two,
    The better for me,
    And the worse for you.
    A rope, a rope, to hang the Pope,
    A penn’orth of cheese to choke him,
    A pint of beer to wash it down,
    And a jolly good fire to burn him.
    Holloa, boys! holloa, boys! make the bells ring!
    Holloa, boys! holloa boys! God save the King!
    Hip, hip, hooor-r-r-ray!

  2. I’m reading Jessie Childs’ “God’s Traitors: Terror and Faith in Elizabethan England.” I don’t condone terrorist acts, but understand that passions do drive men to drastic action. But I must ask, how do Catholics in England respond to this celebration? Is it viewed more as the saving of the King and government and not as an act against Reformists?

    1. I don’t think people even think of the religious side of Bonfire Night any more, it’s just seen as a time to have fun and to see beautiful firework displays. In all the time I lived in the UK (35 years), I never heard anyone talk about the religious side apart from telling the story of the conspiracy.

      1. That’s interesting. I probably wouldn’t have though anything about it except for reading Child’s book.

        1. I suppose it’s the same with most things, the real story tends to get forgotten and people just enjoy them as celebrations. The book’s brilliant, isn’t it?

  3. I have been watching the recent BBC 2 drama documentary 5/11 The Greatest Terror Plot based on the actual words of the victims of King James and the freedom fighters themselves. I noted your comment Claire on that no-one thinks about the religious side of the argument, and that is a good thing, but in Lewes they still burn effigies of the Pope and Faulkes so there the image is very much alive. I also remember them being asked about this by Anne Wibbercombe in her series on the Reformation; and they were very vague about why they still do it; claiming it is only symbolic today, but I have to say she did not agree with them, and having witnessed this spectacle first hand, neither do I. Why do such a thing if not to upset people? It may appear symbolic, but to a lot of Catholics it is as if we are still being persecuted, even though now it is illegal for us to be treated this way.

    The documentary really reveals how dangerous and how far reaching the plot was, inside the government itself; into the royal bodygard, into the house itself; and the immediate group of five had already been involved in an even more foolish act, the Essex rebellion, although calling it a rebellion is a stretch of the imagination, since less than 200 horsemen were involved; the populace who did get involved broke into a brewary and got no further. Essex was a peacock who found himself denied the power that he sought, and it was probably inevitable that he would take advantage of Elizabeth’s love; and use it as an excuse to go too far. But these passionate and ambitious young men had trusted in his promises and become involved in his foolish coupe in London; I suppose that they were lucky to have been fined and inprisoned. But now they were at it again, this time with much more audacity than before. They also felt deceived and betrayed by the Scots King James who had promised ease of the anti Catholic laws but had reversed that with decrees that would have seen all of the Catholics in England forced abroad or fined or in prison.

    Catesby was also a fanatic and there appears to have been a growing anti Scots feeling in England (so what eles is new) especially in the capital. The positions of government and in court had all been taken by Scots and this is believed to have played some part in the growing discontent this idealistic group expressed in formulating this plot. Catesby came up with a plot that had it succeeded would have destroyed the Jacobean government completely. The chaos that they hoped would follow would allow them to start again and to make Princess Elizabeth the head of a puppet government. The second stage was also to encourage a popular rising in the Catholic heartlands, midlands and the rest of the country. They were too idealistic to realise that most Catholics did not want another failed popular rising. They were impatient and loyal, fanatical and Catesby certainly could brook no delay or common sense pleas to call it off even after Faulkes was taken.

    It was shere luck that Faulkes was taken and thanks to a mysterious letter warning Lord Monteagle (although its authenticity is questioned) that caused the King to order the cellars to be just before midnight on 4th November, hours before its success would have been assured. The luck of the King held in the finding of Faulkes in the rooms that he had rented in the cellars under the Parlaiment House and his torture revealled the truth of the matter. But Falkes did not break for some days and the others tried to carry out the second part of the plan regardless. At the House at Ashby St Ledger in the midlands, the others were taken or killed. Thomas Winters very detailed and long willing confession gives us the entire story of the plot, its inception, who was involved and who was not and how it was carried out. It was what the documentary was partly based on and is a fantastic social document that reveals the truth and the scale of the plot and the plotters motives.

    Robert Catesby was the true brains behind the gunpowder terror and was killed in the raid on his home, which is why he gets forgotten, he died a heroic death, being shot in a blaze of glory, while Faulkes and others suffered a notorious death in January 1606 of hanging drawing and quartering, the full sentence for treason. Guy Faulkes for certain suffered the full range of torture as ordered by the King for he could hardly sign his name to his supposed confession, his fingers were so mangled by the irons and the rack.

    The executions in January were not the end of the regimes revenge; many other innocent people were rounded up and imprisoned, some innocent people were even executed or died in prison. Some women who had hidden some of the priests who were wrongly accused of being involved were also imprisoned, one was crushed to death because she refused to plead, just as Blessed Margaret Clitherow had done in York. Jane Huddleton was also a young mother in her early thirties. Mary Ward, who later became known for her refounding of convents in York and a known scholar was also one of those placed in the Tower for several years. The fall out of the plot was another 200 years plus of law backed persecution for Catholics.

    Had it succeeded, though England would have been left in chaos and who knows what the future would have been? I have also read the book above and the book by Antonia Frazer which I also recommend on the plot.

    1. The Lewes Bonfire Night celebrations do involve burning Guy Fawkes, as many bonfire night celebrations do (Penny for the Guy and all that) and they burn an effigy of Pope Paul V, who was Pope at the time of the plot in 1605. But I have never got the feeling that they are intending to be anti-Catholic and I’ve never heard of them burning an effigy of the present Pope. The town suffered in Mary’s reign with 17 Protestants being burned at the stake there and I have heard that burning the Pope is to do with that, it is historical rather than religiously motivated. As Anyanka points out, it is traditional for them to burn effigies of political personalities – Vladimir Putin was one this year. They don’t pick on Catholic personalities. Burning effigies is seen as a symbol of protest.

      Here, in my village, an effigy of a hanging Judas is burned every Easter on top of a huge tree. There is never any malice intended by it, it is a tradition that dates back hundreds of years and which the village keeps alive.

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