Thursday, 5 November 2009

A Dark Lantern

On the 5th November 1605 Guy Fawkes was caught in the cellars of the Houses of Parliament with several dozen barrels of gunpowder. Guy Fawkes was subsequently tried as a traitor with his co-conspirators for plotting against the government. He was tried by Judge Popham who came to London specifically for the trial from his country manor Littlecote House in Hungerford, Gloucestershire. Fawkes was sentenced to death and the form of the execution was one of the most horrendous ever practised (hung ,drawn and quartered) which reflected the serious nature of the crime of treason.

The following year in 1606 it became an annual custom for the King and Parliament to commission a sermon to commemorate the event. Lancelot Andrewes delivered the first of many Gunpowder Plot Sermons. This practice, together with the nursery rhyme, ensured that this crime would never be forgotten! Hence the words " Remember , remember the 5th of November" The poem is sometimes referred to as 'Please to remember the fifth of November'. It serves as a warning to each new generation that treason will never be forgotten. In England the 5th of November is still commemorated each year with fireworks and bonfires culminating with the burning of effigies of Guy Fawkes (the guy). The 'guys' are made by children by filling old clothes with crumpled newspapers to look like a man. Tradition allows British children to display their 'guys' to passers-by and asking for " A penny for the guy".

Mum didn’t like Bonfire Night. It reminded her too much of the War. She had watched and heard too many bombs dropping on Liverpool to enjoy the bangs or seeing the clouds light up with flashes like anti-aircraft fire. Nowadays one is constantly reminded in advance to keep one’s pets in on November 5th but our cats – one lying by the radiator in the lounge and the other on my bed – seem totally oblivious to the sudden noises. Me, I jump every few minutes as another bang scares the daylights out of me.

Everyone in the UK knows the first verse of the rhyme:-
Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder, treason
Should ever be forgot.

But how many know the second and third verses...
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.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, let the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!
And what should we do with him? Burn him!

I was fascinated to see on a programme last night that the very dark lantern which Fawkes held was in the Ashmolean Museum – having been donated to Oxford’s museum by the son of the man who caught Guy Fawkes ‘red-handed’.



  1. I so hope that all is well with you. It seems as if aliments are striking everyone lately! I loved your Halloween post, I have had to do a little catching up reading posts! We also spent a wonderful day with the "little rascals" during the Halloween weekend. Please let us know how you are doing. Well wishes your way my friend.

  2. Interesting. I never quite managed to get whether Fawkes is regarded as villain or hero, the whole thing seems so mixed up somehow. Do today's kids in England who enjoy the "guys" and fires and fireworks etc also understand the story behind?

    In my childhood, here in Sweden, Easter Eve used to be the night for fires and fireworks. Nowadays it's New Years Eve that is the "worst", with fireworks going on all night long.

  3. Guy Fawkes - hero or villain - good question, Monica. I don't think we have ever really worked that out ourselves! There is little doubt that at the time he was a villain - primarily because he was supporting the Roman Catholic cause against the Church of England. However, for the last century or so he has simply been an excuse for a good night out! The guy is burned but I am sure that most folk nowadays would equally happily burn an effigy of their local Member of Parliament.
    We love criticising our government but we get very upset about any attempt to attack it with explosives - democracy will never give in to force of arms.

  4. Thanks for the good wishes, Linda. I'm off to hospital today for an angiogram which may turn into another angioplasty (sticking bits of plastic in the arteries). Quite routine and a chance to catch up on some reading.

  5. Thank you for giving me the history of Guy Fawkes....I always heard of him but didn't know the story behind his this Canadian thanks you for the history lesson.....:-) Hugs

  6. Dear Scriptor,
    Take care and get well soon!
    We'll bethinking about you.
    Canadian Chickadee & English Robin

  7. Thinking of you and hoping all goes well....
    Thank you again for the history lesson!
    I had never known about the I do!

  8. Once again, it is Guy Fawkes, and the sky gets lit, and the animals fear.

    My students ask, What is Guy Fawkes.
    Animal lovers here ask why we in New Zealand celebrate a British day.


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