Remember remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason, why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.
So what is Bonfire Night all about? Is this great British festival a celebration of the saving of a way of life, or is it merely a smoke screen for something more sinister?
Guy Fawkes Night should perhaps be known as Robert Catesby Night as he planned the whole thing. But then it doesn’t have quite the same ring to it does it? And was it a plot that went wrong, or a plan the King knew about and who used it against the Roman Catholics of 17th Century England?
What made Guy Fawkes do it? Was he a product of a neglected childhood or simply a born terrorist and extremist, a Bin Laden of the 17th Century?
In the same year that Guy was born in 1570, Elizabeth 1st was excommunicated by the Catholic Church. Then when Guy was just 8 years old, his father died. By the time he was 16, Guy was a convert to Catholicism. At 23 years old, he left England to fight for Spain, the year was 1593.
In 1603, Elizabeth I died without an heir. James I (son of Mary Queen of Scots) enforced heavy fines on Catholics who failed to attend Protestant church services.
Guy asked King Phillip II of Spain to invade England in support of the Catholics. But he was too busy fighting his own wars.
By 1604 Robert Catesby had planned the Gunpowder Plot enlisting Guy, Thomas Percy, John Wright and Thomas Wintour. Their plan was to assassinate the King and his government, make James’ daughter, Elizabeth, queen and then marry her to a Catholic nobleman.
During the weeks leading up to the 5th, 36 barrels of gunpowder were put in place. The assassination was planned for the day of the State Opening of Parliament.
Guy was in charge of executing the plan due to his military background and explosives knowledge. It was a simple plan that would have a devastating effect. Blow up the Houses of Parliament, taking with it royalty, nobles and government.
But one of the plotters, Francis Tresham warned his brother-in-law, Lord Monteagle not to attend the Opening. This letter was unsigned, vague and held no identifying marks. It was received by Monteagle on 26 October.
The plotters found out the next day that the letter had been received, but continued with their plan, in the belief that their detailed plans had not been disclosed. Guy Fawkes himself checked the cellars and confirmed nothing had been disturbed and so was sure their secret was safe. All of the plotters except Guy left London and waited for news of success.
But on the morning of 5 November 1605 the Secretary of State instructed that the cellars should be searched. Guy was found ready to light the gunpowder.
But how did the Secretary of State know to look in the cellars on that particular day? Had one of the plotters betrayed his fellow conspirators in the hope that they would be pardoned – the turncoat, Francis Tresham?
But what if the whole event had been known all along by the King and the letter was merely a fabrication made up by the King’s men? How could they have known precisely where to find Guy Fawkes? Did King James and his government allow the plan to go this far with the intention of exposing the intended atrocity, to show just how far the Catholics were prepared to go to get what they wanted?
Guy was arrested and King James instructed the torture should be minimal to begin with and only increased if no information was forthcoming. Guy was war hardened and it took nearly four days of increasingly brutal torture, before he would disclose the names of his six conspirators.
On 31 January 1606, the plotters were executed in the most gruesome form possible, hung drawn and quartered in the Garden of St Paul’s Cathedral. Although it is said that even in his debilitated state, Guy refused to give them the satisfaction of seeing his execution and he jumped from the scaffold, breaking his neck.
In recognition of the deliverance of the King, until 1859 when the law was repealed, King James I made it compulsory for everyone to celebrate the date of 5 November.