…gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder season
Ever should be forgot.”
These are verses from a contemporary song, passed down 400 years and probably still chanted by children, Protestant and Catholic alike, trundling their guys (scarecrow-like effigies to be burnt on bonfires) and collecting money to buy fireworks. “Penny for the guy,” we would say, hopeful of rather more than one penny! We also sang: “Guy Fawkes guy. Stick ‘im up high. Put ‘im on the bonfire.There let ‘im die.”
In New Zealand, November is the beginning of our summer fire season (in very dry years, bans sometimes were in force even earlier) so in many areas, including my hometown, bonfires were not permitted. But we had a Fire Brigade First Officer with wonderful community spirit and he and his firemen would build an enormous bonfire,
with a display platform for fireworks and all the townsfolk would take their fireworks and congregate there. It was a spectacular night and, except for one scary* incident, much safer than many other gatherings.
I don’t think much is taught today in Australian schools about the treason of Fawkes and his compatriots, but it was certainly a part of our curriculum in New Zealand and England fifty years ago. Nowadays a “fun” community event, but it commemorates what would have been a
spectacular “bonfire” indeed if the plot had been carried out.
Bloodthirsty? An unacceptable pursuit for youngsters? Probably, but it was for one night only and, in days when education was only for the rich and powerful, it taught and reinforced a history lesson among poorer people.
And just what was the plot? Briefly, the conspirators wanted to see King James off the English throne and the country returned to Roman Catholicism. Eight men,Thomas Bates, Robert Winter,Christopher Wright,John Wright,Thomas Percy,Guy Fawkes, Robert Catesby and Thomas Winter, rented cellar space beneath the House of Lords and stored 36 barrels (800kgs) of gunpowder there, intending to ignite it during the Opening of Parliament. Oh, yes, that would have been one big bang!
I‘ve given a link to Guy Fawkes and you will find many more on the Wiki page worth the time.
A family had put their box of fireworks in the push-chair (stroller) of their toddler and a stray cracker ignited the whole lot. People thought, at first, that it was a display. But my father, hearing the mother’s screams, realised what had happened and dragged the child out of the stroller, by now a veritable catherine wheel. The physical scars faded with time, but I sometimes wonder how he feels when he hears fireworks.
Footnote: sale of fireworks during summer is banned in Queensland. Damn’ good thing, too, say I!
Second footnote: Guy Fawkes is reckoned by many to have been one of the “good guys” and in his home County, Yorkshire, is still listed in the Top 50. Think on that, politicians!
Monday, 5th. I have just read this over at Bayou Quilts.
It seems appropriate to add this as another footnote. A better approach than gunpowder! Thanks to Jen Clair for the links and to others who also thought it wise and timely.