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Guy Fawkes' Night celebrations at Windsor Castle, 1776

Guy Fawkes Night celebrations at Windsor Castle, 1776

Tonight in England is Guy Fawkes Night. It’s one of the island’s more unusual holidays, in that it commemorates that time in 1605 when a group of Catholic terrorists plotted to blow up the House of Lords on November 5, thus killing King James I and (hopefully) returning the country to Catholic rule. It didn’t work out so well. Fawkes and his other conspirators were discovered, convicted, and drawn and quartered. The king instituted laws restricting Catholics’ rights that wouldn’t be revoked for two centuries.

Ever since then, Fawkes has been burned in effigy on this day in a nighttime celebration that includes fireworks, general Halloween-esque revelry, and readings of this verse:

Remember, remember!
The fifth of November…

In the United States, Guy Fawkes Night was celebrated as Pope’s Day. That is, until George Washington was annoyed enough by the anti-Catholic songs his troops were singing—at a time when he was trying to secure French-Catholic support for an invasion of Quebec—that he banned it in 1775. For some years afterward, the celebrations were switched over to burn another despised traitor in effigy: Benedict Arnold.

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