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Archive for November, 2007

Bonfire Night. Why Do We Celebrate A Lose Lose Event?

Posted by DeadAnarchistPhil on November 5, 2007

“Remember remember the fifth of November!” goes the old saying. The saying has been said ever since the 1605 Gunpowder plot or the powder puff as it was known at the time. I was talking to a Canadian friend of mine on messenger last week, it was Halloween actually, and we ended up talking about trick or treaters. Anyway… I brought up what some kids in the U.K do on the fifth of November called “Guying” to commemorate the foiling of the Gunpowder plot. By the way for my non-UK readers and friends “Guying” is where you create an effigy of a Guy Fawkes (I’ll be telling you who he is in a moment) and take it around and ask “Penny for the Guy?”, it’s sort of like trick or treating. At the end of Bonfire night they burn the guy on top of a fire and set off lots of fire works.

In 1604 a plot was hatched to kill King James the 1st of England, most of his family and the Aristocracy in one fell swoop! The scheme was hatched by Robert Catesby to return England back to Catholicism and install James’s daughter Princess Elizabeth as a Catholic ruler. The idea was to pack as much Gunpowder under the Palace of Westminster as possible and kill all the Royal family and Aristocracy, except for the Royal children who would be kidnaped to inherit the Crown and rule as Catholics. Guy Fawkes, along with other co-conspirators, were the people in charge of storing the gunpowder in a cellar under the House Of Lords. During this time some of the conspirators were concerned about some Catholics who would be in the Palace Of Westminster when the gunpowder went off. So one of the conspirators told Lord Monteagle, a prominent Catholic, not to go to Parliament on the day. Lord Monteagle then handed this written warning over to the secretary of state. On this tip-off Guy Fawkes was found guarding a pile of faggots not far from where the gunpowder was stored. On his arrest he was found with a watch, matches and touch-paper. He also admitted (apparently) upon his arrest that his intention was to kill the King!

Hearing the plot had been foiled the co-conspirators fled. Many of them were caught but Robert Catesby was killed in a shoot out in Staffordshire. As for Guy Fawkes, he was tortured, badly! But contrary to how many people think he died I was surprised to read what happened. He was tortured and then sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. That means  hanged till you are almost dead (that must be sedation post medieval style?), disembowelled and have your genitals burned and cut open in front of you, then dragged through the streets. But, he cheated the executioner… as he was about to be hung he jumped off the gallows and broke his neck! His friend and partner in crime Robert Keyes tried the same thing but failed… you just know the executioner went to town on him afterwards don’t you? Another thing that actually surprised me was that Nov 5th was a national holiday till 1859.

Now you know the story I’ll tell you why I’m a spoil sport and don’t celebrate it and why I aint out at the party my mam and sisters have gone to while I’m writing this blog. I know what you’re thinking, and it’s not because you think I’m a republican… because I’m not one of them. As with many holidays, the real meaning has gone out of it. It’s not about celebrating that we’re still a protestant country or the Catholic plotters failed, no, it’s about treacle toffee, fire works, bonfires, toffee apples, a pint and burning an effigy stuffed full of news paper! So as usual the Brits turn it in to an excuse for a piss up like every other holiday! So it doesn’t have the same meaning it once had but… when you ask people why the do it, it’s usually “Well everyone else does” or “Because of Guy Fawkes saving us” Granted some people aren’t that stupid but you get the idea. I don’t personally celebrate it because of the reasons behind it. If you look at what happened and what would have happened the people lost either way. Because Guy and his cohorts didn’t succeed we were still stuck with the Royal family and the Aristocracy for another 350 or so years of the protestant religion and minority rule! If you flip it around so that Guy Fawkes and the plotters won we would have been stuck with the Catholic religion and 350 years of a Catholic Aristocracy. So you see either way we were going to lose. I don’t like to celebrate the fact were screwed over or going to be screwed… even if the rest of population thinks it’s great.

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