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Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot of 1605

Queen Elizabeth I died in 1603 and English Catholics, who had been persecuted under her rule, were convinced that James I would be more tolerant towards the Catholic religion. But they were wrong. James was even more intolerant of the Catholics than Elizabeth had been!

So a small group of plotters (who nowadays would be called terrorists!) decided to blow up Parliament, hoping to kill the king and everyone else inside. The leader of this group was Robert Catesby. The conspirators gained access to the cellars under the House of Lords and hid 36 barrels of gunpowder there.

However, without giving a reason, one of the plotters decided to warn a friend of his, Lord Monteagle, not to go to Parliament on 5th November as there would be “a terrible blow”.

The authorities were suspicious and sent a group of guards into the cellars. Not only did the guards find the gunpowder, but also arrested the man who was to light the fuse - Guy Fawkes.

Under torture, Guy Fawkes revealed the names of the other conspirators. Some of these were shot whilst escaping. Others, including Fawkes, were sent to trial, found guilty of treason, and hung, drawn and quartered. (This was a really cruel and horrible execution, where the person concerned would be hanged; but before dying would see (and feel, I imagine!) their members (pieces of the body) cut off and thrown onto a fire.

King James then ordered that on November 5th the people of England would celebrate his survival with huge bonfires, topped by an effigy of the Pope. The tradition of burning "The Guy" (Guy Fawkes) only came later, as did the fireworks which we set off these days).

In London a few days before Bonfire Night on November 5th you (nowadays sometimes) see groups of children standing, together with bags or sacks tied up with a faces painted on them (supposedly to look like Guy Fawkes) outside Underground stations and at other strategic points. These children traditionally plead to passers-by A Penny for the Guy! (although they probably expect a lot more!). The money they manage to collect, however, is not - as one may like to think - to go to a charity, but is used by the kids simply to buy sweets and chocolates!

Here is a famous rhyme which is (or was) chanted whilst dancing around the bonfires:

"Remember remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.

I see no reason why gunpowder and treason
Should ever be forgot..."