But there was a time when tonight would have been the most exciting night of autumn!
Guy Fawkes Night!
"Who-what Night?" you ask...
The night named after the treasonable activities of GUY FAWKES (1570 - 1606), a member of a group of English Roman Catholics who, in 1605, sought to carry out the Gunpowder Plot: a daring and dastardly attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament, kill King James I of England and end Protestant rule.
I remember a time when every child knew by heart the rhyme...
Click to enlarge
For anyone who has forgotten, doesn't know or who lives in a country where this day is not the subject of special commemoration, here is all you need to know about it, courtesy of Wikipedia and some of the artists who created so many memorable images for those gems of my '60s childhood, Look and Learn and Treasure (any excuse to mention them again!):
Guy Fawkes (right) was probably placed in charge of executing the Gunpowder Plot because of his military and explosives experience. The plot, masterminded by Robert Catesby, was an attempt by a group of English conspirators to kill King James I of England, his family, and most of the aristocracy by blowing up the House of Lords in the Palace of Westminster during the State Opening of Parliament.So, now you know (or know a bit of it: corrections and further background are provided by Boll Weavil in the Thoughts/Comments section, below); and that is why, when we were kids, we used to make a 'Guy' (a kind of scarecrow figure to top off our November 5th bonfires) and tout him around the streets begging - in a fashion not unlike today's Trick-or-Treaters!
The plot itself may have been occasioned by the realization by English Protestant authorities and Roman Catholic recusants that Spain was in far too much debt and was fighting too many wars to assist English Roman Catholics. Any possibility of toleration by the State was removed at the Hampton Court conference in 1604 when James I attacked both extreme Puritans and Catholics.
The plotters realized that no outside help would be forthcoming unless they took action themselves. Fawkes and the other conspirators rented a cellar beneath the House of Lords having first tried to dig a tunnel under the building. This would have proved difficult, because they would have had to dispose of the dirt and debris. By March 1605, they had hidden 1800 pounds (36 barrels, or 800kgs) of gunpowder in the cellar.
A few of the conspirators were concerned, however, about fellow Catholics who would have been present at Parliament during the opening. One of the conspirators wrote a warning letter to Lord Monteagle, who received it on 26 October. The conspirators became aware of the letter the following day, but they resolved to continue the plot after Fawkes had confirmed that nothing had been touched in the cellar.
Lord Monteagle had been made suspicious, however, and the letter was sent to the Secretary of State, who initiated a search of the vaults beneath the House of Lords in the early morning of 5 November. Peter Heywood, a resident of Heywood, Lancashire, was reputedly the man who snatched the torch from Guy Fawkes’s hand as he was about to light the fuse to detonate the gunpowder.
Fawkes was tortured over the next few days, after the King granted special permission to do so. James directed that the torture should be gentle at first, and then more severe. Sir William Wade, Lieutenant of the Tower of London at this time, supervised the torture and obtained Fawkes's confession.
For three or four days Fawkes said nothing, let alone divulge the names of his co-conspirators. Only when he found out that they had proclaimed themselves by appearing in arms did he succumb. The torture only revealed the names of those conspirators who were already dead or whose names were known to the authorities. Some had fled to Dunchurch, Warwickshire, where they were killed or captured.
On 31 January, Fawkes and a number of others implicated in the conspiracy were tried in Westminster Hall. After being found guilty, they were taken to Old Palace Yard in Westminster and St Paul's Yard, where they were hanged, drawn, and quartered. Fawkes, however, managed to avoid the worst of this execution by jumping from the scaffold where he was supposed to be hanged, breaking his neck before he could be drawn and quartered.
"A penny for the guy..." we'd cry, any earnings ostensibly intended for the purchase of fireworks, but doubtless often diverted into the purchase of sweets -- or even ciggies!
Anyway, if you haven't already done so and tonight's the night for "Oooo-ing" and "Ahhh-ing" at the sparkle, dazzle, whiz and fizz of Roman Candles, Silver Fountains, Mines of Serpents and Retro-Sky-Rockets --- have fun and take care...
And keep those pets (particularly the elephants) safe indoors!
Images: Portrait of Guy Fawkes: artist not known; Look & Learn and Treasure artwork by Ron Embleton, Clive Uptton, Harold McCready © Look and Learn, 2007