i Editor's Letter: The gunpowder


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The Independent Online


They say that Guy Fawkes (1570 –1606) was the only man ever to enter Parliament with honest intentions.

Given the low esteem in which our politicians are held, one can see why this quotation is popular. The rhyme is better known: “Remember, remember, the fifth of November – gunpowder, treason and plot. I see no reason why gunpowder, treason should ever be forgot”.

Of course, the gunpowder, treason and plot bit has largely been forgotten in favour of fireworks, barbecue and bonfire. So, it’s worth reminding ourselves this is a wonderfully  eccentric celebration, and that the man we commemorate was a (failed) terrorist. Guy Fawkes was a Catholic convert who had sought support in Spain (unsuccessfully) for a Catholic rebellion in England.

He then met a Robert Catesby who was planning to assassinate King James I in favour of a Catholic monarch. The chosen method was to blow up Parliament. Fawkes’ job was to guard the gunpowder stored in vaults under the Palace of Westminster.

However – possibly because fellow Catholics were warned to stay away that night – the plot was uncovered. Fawkes was captured on 5 November 1605 and tortured, eventually revealing the names of his co-conspirators. He was due to be hung in January 1606, but jumped from the scaffold, breaking his neck. Through the centuries, the heart of Guy Fawkes’ night has been a bonfire on which a Fawkes effigy was burned.

This has been supplanted as the main attraction by the accompanying fireworks display and the guy has become a contemporary bogeyman. Expect to see a few bankers this year, alongside David Cameron and Wayne Rooney. Whether you go to a public display or a private garden, spare Fawkes the terrorist a thought. Stay safe, look after your pets, and have a great night.