Throughout the United Kingdom, November 5 is Guy Fawkes' Day, the day in 1605 when a conspiracy by Fawkes and other Catholics to blow up the English Parliament and assassinate King James I was uncovered. While James I had promised toleration for Catholics, political pressures compelled him to continue the policies of Queen Elizabeth I. Fawkes and his coconspirators began stockpiling gunpowder to place underneath the Parliament building, in what is known as the Gunpowder Plot.
After the conspirators were put to death (by hanging, drawing, and quartering), some of King James' government ministers attempted to implicate the Catholic Church, and the two Jesuit priests who had heard the conspirators' last Confessions were arrested. Both priests, however, refused to break the seal of the confessional, and one, Father Garnett, paid with his life. Meanwhile, the government of James I increased the persecution of Catholics, and Guy Fawkes' Day became a legal holiday, celebrated with fireworks, bonfires, and the burning of effigies of Guy Fawkes and, often, the pope.
The legal holiday was repealed in 1859, and, in recent years, popular celebration of Guy Fawkes' Day has begun to wane, though fireworks are still fairly common. But one poem about the Gunpowder Plot took on the nature of a nursery rhyme, and it's unlikely ever to pass out of the popular imagination:
Remember, remember the fifth of November,
The gunpowder, treason and plot,
I know of no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.
More on Guy Fawkes' Day and the Gunpowder Plot:
- Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 (from About.com European History)
- Was the Gunpowder Plot Terrorism? (from About.com European History)
- Guy Fawkes or Bonfire Night - What's It About and Where to Find Celebrations (from About.com United Kingdom Travel)
- Commemorate Guy Fawkes at the Royal Gunpowder Mills (from About.com United Kingdom Travel)
- Bonfire Night Food - Guy Fawkes Night UK (from About.com British & Irish Food)
- Guy Fawkes Day Coloring Page (from About.com Homeschooling)