Friday, November 5, 2010

Guy Fawkes Day

Surprised aren't you, I bet you thought I was going to blog about another totally obscure holiday that you have never heard of. I would never do such a thing....ahaha, yeah right, you know me so well. Guy Fawkes Day (also known as Gunpowder Day) is not an obscure holiday, well maybe it is outside of Great Britain. But to the Brits it is a day to set off fireworks, have huge bonfires and burn the likeness of a man who lived centuries ago in effigy (what more could you want from a holiday, right)?

A little background on Guy Fawkes, the man, the myth, the legend. Guy Fawkes lived from 1570 to 1606 ( long damn time ago) and was the man who helped plan the Gunpowder Plot (which literally blew up in his face). Guy was a converted Catholic and had fought on the side of Catholic Spain in the 80 years war against the Protestant Dutch, he even went to Spain to seek the countries support in a Catholic rebellion in England but Spain said "Hell to the N-O!". So Fawkes returned to England and was introduced to a man named Robert Catesby who wanted to kill King James the 1st and restore a Catholic Monarch to the throne (the Catholic Monarch being King James's daughter Princess Elizabeth who was 3rd in line for the throne)

The group of Catholic Plotters (two of whom were Robert and Guy) bought the lease to an undercroft (cellar or storage room, sometimes used as stores during the 16th and 17th centuries) directly beneath the House of Lords. They bought the undercroft to store gun powder, loads and loads of the stuff, enough to completely obliterate the House of Lords and most definitely anyone inside it. Of all the men in on the conspiracy, Guy Fawkes was the one chosen to light the fuse on the gun powder and then escape through a tunnel too the Thames. 

Here is where poor Guy gets completely screwed, some of the conspirators who were worried about their fellow Catholics that would be in the House of Lords on that night, wrote them anonymous letters warning them away from the building. One of the men who received a letter was Lord Monteagle, Monteagle in turn showed the letter too King James. King James ordered Sir Thomas Knyvet to search the cellars beneath Parliment, which he did and who should he find leaving the cellars on the night of November 5th, 1606? That's right, poor Guy Fawkes. Upon searching the cellar that Fawkes had left, they discovered a stockpile of Gunpowder hidden beneath piles of firewood.

Fawkes was taken into custody and interrogated, at first he gave the false name of "John Johnson" and stayed incredibly defiant. King James was not amused and on November 6th ordered "John Johnson" to be tortured "lightly at first but more severe if necessary, authorizing the use of the rack" to get Fawkes to give up his co-conspirators. Fawkes was transfered to the Tower of London and the room in which he was interrogated eventually became known as the Guy Fawkes room. Sir William Waad supervised "Johnson's" torture and eventually obtained his confession. On November 7th Fawkes revealed his true identity and told his interrogators that their were 5 people involved in the plot to kill the king. On November 8th he began to tell their names and how they planned to place Princess Elizabeth on the throne. 

Fawkes along with his fellow conspirators were brought to trial and all were found guilty. Their punishment: The condemned will be drawn backwards to his death, by a horse, his head near the ground.  They were to be put to death "halfway between heaven and earth as unworthy of both". Their genitals would be cut off and burnt before their eyes, and their bowels and heart removed. They would then be decapitated, and the dismembered parts of their bodies displayed so that they might become "prey for the fowls of the air". 

On January 31st, 1607 Fawkes was brought to the Old Palace Yard at Westminster and watched as his fellow conspirators were drawn and quartered. Fawkes was the last too stand, he asked forgiveness from the King and State and although weakened by torture, he managed to jump from the gallows and break his neck, avoiding the horrific death that was too befall him. 

The biggest question in regards to Guy Fawkes Day is this: Are we celebrating Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators, for attempting to eliminate religious persecution? Or, are we celebrating the government's successful discovery of the plot, saving many lives? Whose to say really, I do hope you enjoyed todays little history lesson. I'd like to thank Wikipedia for helping me in writing this and allowing me to quote certain parts and too all my mates across the pond, Happy Guy Fawkes Day!


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