An often vilified would-be terrorist of British history, Guy Fawkes was foiled on November 5th, 1605, yet his attempt to do away with the government embodies the righteous principle of rebellion from a notoriously corrupt and abusive government that has risen to power.
English Catholics who had been persecuted under the rule of Queen Elizabeth I had hoped that her successor, James I, would be more tolerant of their religion because he had had a Catholic mother.
James did not turn out to be more tolerant and within two years, 13 young men decided that violent action was necessary.
A small group took shape, under the leadership of Robert Catesby. Catesby plotted to blow up the Houses of Parliament, hoping to kill the King, the Prince of Wales, and lawmakers who were making life difficult for Catholics.
To carry out their plan, the conspirators — who would today be known as either terrorists or freedom-fighting avengers — got hold of 36 barrels of gunpowder – and stored them in a cellar, just under the House of Lords.
One of the plotters having second thoughts about innocent people who would be hurt or killed, sent an anonymous letter warning Lord Monteagle, who sought more rights for Catholics, to stay away from the Palace of Westminster on Nov. 5.
The warning letter reached the King and royal forces stopped the conspiracy.
Guy Fawkes, who was in the cellar of the building with the 36 barrels of gunpowder when the authorities stormed it in the early hours of Nov. 5, was caught, tortured and executed.
The Gunpowder Plot struck such a very profound chord for the people of England that even today, the reigning monarch only enters the Palace of Westminster once a year, on what is called “the State Opening of Parliament.”
Prior to the monarch’s arrival, according to custom, the Yeomen of the Guard search the cellars. Nowadays, the Queen and Parliament still observe this tradition.
On the very night that the Gunpowder Plot was foiled, on Nov. 5, 1605, bonfires were set alight to celebrate the safety of the King.
Since then, Nov. 5 is known as Bonfire Night and commemorated every year with fireworks and burning effigies of Guy Fawkes on a bonfire.
Some of the English have been known to wonder, in a tongue in cheek kind of way, whether they are celebrating Fawkes’ execution or honoring his attempt to do away with the government.
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