Friday, November 05, 2010

Remember, Remember, the Fifth of November!

Originally posted November 5, 2007

November 5th is Bonfire night, a British celebration remembering the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. A group of English Roman Catholics organized and came up with a plan to destroy tyrannical rule by King James I of England and the Protestant Aristocracy. Guy Fawkes was the man chosen to blow up the Palace of Westminster [or the Houses of Parliament] but he was caught before this happened. After being tortured, he and other conspirators were found guilty of treason, they were hung, drawn and quartered. Apparently Fawkes escaped the hanging by getting free and jumping from the scaffolding and broke his neck. After that, he was still drawn and quartered.

It's not all doom and gloom for Guy Fawkes. He is credited with being “the only man to ever enter parliament with honourable intentions.” In 2002 he was 30th in the “100 Greatest Britons” and on the list of the 50 greatest people from Yorkshire.

Recently the festivities have made their way into popular culture beyond the British Isles. Two examples are a movie and book. The beginning of the movie V for Vendetta has an old rhyme that is often used to recall this incident. The full poem isn’t normally used, just the first bit, and sometime the second. When you read it you'll know why, it’s very inflammatory and no longer has a purpose. The cutie, who grew up knowing the first two verses, never knew the last until we saw it noted at a Tower of London exhibition. So here it is in it’s entirety:

Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
should ever be forgot.

Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes,'twas his intent
to blow up the King and the Parliament.
Three score barrels of powder below,
Poor old England to overthrow:
By God's providence he was catch'd
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, make the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!
Hip hip hoorah!

A penny loaf to feed the Pope.
A farthing o' cheese to choke him.
A pint of beer to rinse it down.
A faggot of sticks to burn him.
Burn him in a tub of tar.
Burn him like a blazing star.
Burn his body from his head.
Then we'll say ol' Pope is dead.
Hip hip hoorah!
Hip hip hoorah!

There's another appearance of the Guy Fawkes Day celebrations found in the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. A muggle weatherman is reporting shooting stars are being seen all over Britain, and speculates some people are celebrating Bonfire Night a week early. Instead, it’s the wizarding world celebrating the disappearance of Lord Voldemort. And don’t forget Albus Dumbledor’s pet phoenix is called Fawkes.

So how does one celebrate Bonfire Night? Well, on the Fifth of November, once the sun has sunk, the bonfires, big and small, are lit in fields up and down the country. The guy is on the pyre before it’s set on fire and everyone stands around watching it burn. In northern England, Yorkshire, they have baked potatoes, parkin [a ginger cake with black treacle, or molasses], toffee apples, roasted chestnuts, beer and much more are all consumed in the cold damp air, long in to the night.

The “guy” plays a big part in the celebrations. Up until recent times, kids used to take the days leading up to Bonfire Night and make an effigy of Guy Fawkes, carry or wheel him around the neighborhood, knock on doors or ask people walking around for “a penny for the guy.” They’d spout off what they knew about the Gunpowder Plot, maybe sing a rhyme, and be rewarded with money. They used to spend it on fireworks but later it went toward sweets during the night.

Yes, we’ll be having a fire in the backyard with friends, a few pints, and some Oatmeal Parkin.

This month we give thanks and celebrate with our family, why not expand it further and immerse yourself in history, plots of murder, treason and more. Make some parkin, a cup of tea, and watch V for Vendetta.

Enjoy your Bonfire Night!


Maria Zannini said...

I never knew this! Thanks for the history lesson.

Tilly Greene said...

I didn't until I moved there, then I married a Brit, and now freeze my tush off on the 5th for him :-)