November. Synonymous with frosty mornings; bonfires, sparklers, fireworks, mittens and the rhyme ‘remember remember the 5th of November…’ But do we know the rest of it?
“Remember, remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason, why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes, guy, t’was his intent
To blow up king and parliament.
Three score barrels were laid below
To prove old England’s overthrow.
By God’s mercy he was catch’d
With a darkened lantern and burning match.
So, holler boys, holler boys, Let the bells ring.
Holler boys, holler boys, God save the king.
And what shall we do with him?
When read in its entirety, the poem serves as more of a reminder about why we celebrate this date.
After the death of Elizabeth I, Catholics were hopeful that her successor, James I, would return England to a Catholic nation. His mother, Mary Queen of Scots had been a devout Catholic and after surviving the Protestant reign of Gloriana, many believed he would return the country to one faithful to the Papacy once again. There were several reasons that led the Catholic minority to believe that James would be tolerant towards them. First, his wife, Anne of Denmark, had converted to Catholicism, so many hoped that in respect for her James would end the persecution against those faithful to the pope. Secondly, James promoted himself as a peacemaker, thus in a time of heightened religious tension it was hoped that he would create a peaceful England where Catholics could worship freely. However, this appeared to be a fruitless desire as James was staunchly Protestant.
Several Catholic plots against the crown hardened James’ resolve against the Catholics. The Bye Plot of 1603 was attempted by Roman Catholic Priests and Puritans who wished to kidnap the king and force a repeal of legislation hostile toward Catholicism. The Main Plot, on the other hand, aimed at the removal of the king in order to replace him with cousin, Arabella Stuart. Although failed, these plots demonstrated the frustrated, desperate and deeply strained religious tension in England at the start of James’ reign.
It was James’ failure to negotiate Catholic concessions in a peace treaty with Spain that spurred Robert Catesby into action. He, along with a group of Catholic men from the Midlands, plotted to blow up the king, the House of Lords and the House of Commons during the ceremonial opening of Parliament. It was planned that Thomas Percy would use his familial links to grant the other men access to the building in order to plant the gunpowder. After they had destroyed Parliament, they were to kidnap the king’s daughter Elizabeth, who would have been staying elsewhere.
The opening of Parliament was finally set for 5th November 1604 by which time all the barrels of gunpowder had been placed. However, on 26th October a letter was sent to Lord Monteagle telling him to find an excuse not to attend this Parliament sitting as God has planned to punish the wickedness that sat inside. This was immediately passed on to the king’s trusted minister, Robert Cecil, Lord of Salisbury. A thorough search of Parliament ensued and Guy Fawkes was discovered watching over 36 barrels of gunpowder. Once the other conspirators realised their plot had been discovered, they fled to the Midlands in an attempt to rally other Catholics into rebellion. Any support they had soon depleted and warrants were issued for their arrest. Several members were shot, including Catesby and Percy and the others were taken to London.
The poem that we remember in part to this day, serves as a reminder that treason shall never be forgotten. In many parts of the country, effigies of Guy Fawkes are still placed atop a bonfire to be burnt.
Remember remember, the 5th of November…