Now just what is an explanation of the Gunpowder Plot doing on a Tudor blog? Head honcho Guy Fawkes and his crew were aiming for James VI, the Stuart successor to Elizabeth I (the last Tudor monarch). So what’s the connection?
Even after all that breaking-from-Rome stuff brought on by Henry VIII, there was a lot of Catholic vs. Protestant bad blood going on in England. But even after Liz I was cold and in her tomb in Westminster Abbey, English Catholics were still carrying a wee bit of a grudge for the mistreatment they suffered during her reign.
At first they thought that James VI would be the answer to their very long Latin prayers. After all, his mother was Mary, Queen of Scots, who lost her head over her Catholic beliefs. And his wife, Anne of Denmark, was Catholic as well. However, the king turned out to be less and less sympathetic of the Pope’s followers in his country, and royally ticked them off as a result.
A revolt had begun, quietly. After more than a year and a half of holding meetings and discussing their plan, the six men who masterminded the plot to overthrow the government had their day. One of them, Guido “Guy” Fawkes had planted explosives under the House of Lords, and took charge of this plan to blow the king and the mostly-Protestant government to bits at the State Opening of Parliament on November 5, 1605. The plot was discovered in the nick of time, and the conspirators were hanged, drawn, and quartered. So much for all that planning!
The very next year, Parliament decided to make an annual celebration out of the non-event that the government had survived, and Guy Fawkes Day was born. Also called Bonfire Night, it’s a huge national celebration in England to this day, packed with parties, bonfires, and fireworks.
A very popular rhyme (familiar to those who’ve either studied British history or have seen “V for Vendetta”) is helpful for remembering the date and the details:
“Remember, remember, the 5th of November / Gunpowder, treason, and plot / We see no reason why gunpowder treason should ever be forgot!”
Some revellers today say they are actually celebrating the fact that a select few back in 1605 had the stones to challenge the government at all …an interesting take on this popular autumn holiday.