Remember, Remember the Fifth of November

Trip Start Sep 07, 2010
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Trip End Aug 21, 2011


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Flag of United Kingdom  , England,
Friday, November 5, 2010

There's a little blurb in British history when, in 1605, a group of Catholics thought they would assassinate their Protestant King (King James I) and his Parliament by placing barrel upon barrel of gunpowder beneath the undercroft of the Palace of Westminster (Parliament).

The lead conspirator was Robert Catesby who formed a group of thirteen plotters, including the infamous Guy Fawkes.  The team eventually purchased a lease to a room in the undercroft of the Palace of Westminster (though not the current Palace, a previous version).  This undercroft was directly beneath the House of Lords.  It is in this room that Guy Fawkes was in charge of storing the gunpowder that would be lit when King James I and Parliament were above, killing them all.

However, the plan soured when some of the conspirators sent anonymous letters to fellow Catholic members of House of Lords, warning them not to attend the session of Parliament on November 5, 1605.  Upon the night of the 4th, Guy Fawkes was caught leaving the room with the barrels of gunpowder hidden under firewood and coal.  He was immediately arrested and interrogated.

Fawkes was taken to the Tower of London for "interrogation," and in classic 1600’s lingo “interrogation” strictly means “torture.”  Needless to say, all the details of the plot were soon revealed.  As punishment, Fawkes, as well as the other conspirators, was hanged, but it doesn’t end there. They were castrated, had their innards ripped out, and then beheaded.  Lastly, they were “quartered,” meaning that they were chopped into four pieces and the parts were distributed to other parts of the kingdom to be displayed as a warning to others.  Treason holds a hefty sentence.

Today, the 5th of November is a bit of a celebration in which a bonfire is lit and an effigy of Guy Fawkes (though formerly the Pope, since the plot was to be carried out in the name of Catholicism) accompanied with fireworks.  The events include traditional rhymes based on the events that transpired including the most popular one:

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.
Holla boys, Holla boys, let the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!
And what should we do with him? Burn him!

This was also further popularized by the comic book and subsequent movie adaptation of V for Vendetta.  Nerds across American will happily recite this rhyme from memory for you to at any moment to demonstrate their unfathomable coolness.  Also, as my Facebook Feed was littered with statuses quoting this rhyme on the 5th of November, not a single one of them was British.  Whoops.

On Guy Fawkes Night in London, there were many places in which to go to observe fireworks.  I chose to go to Clapham Common in the London Borough of Wandsworth (and also a little of Lambeth) which I wouldn’t have done if I had known that 5 million other people were going to go and jam up the Northern Line of the London Underground for about an hour.  Anyway, I finally managed to reach street level just in time to see the fireworks display.  While I watched the fireworks boom in the air, I had to listen to a pair of Americans behind me criticize it based on the 4th of July celebration they had already seen this year.  They also made the conclusion that Guy Fawkes Night in the UK had about the same meaning as Independence Day in the US.  I’m not sure they were entirely sure of what they were talking about.
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