What brought about this intense disdain for the King. The Catholic's had been persecuted under the rule of Queen Elizabeth I. When she died in 1603 they had hoped that her successor King James I would be more tolerant of their beliefs and religion. Much to their dismay he was not, so 13 men set out to end his life in order to replace him with a Catholic head of state. Robert Catesby was the ringleader of the conspirators, and it was his belief that if they could blow up the King, the Prince of Wales, and the House of Parliament that their persecution would end. Therefore, he decided violent action was necessary and was prepared to fight for their cause.
The group of men somehow acquired 36 barrels of gunpowder and stored them under the House of Lords. Unbeknownst to them, the gunpowder was old and useless. It was placed there however with malice intent. A few days before Guy Fawkes was going to ignite it, some of the members developed a conscience. Feeling overwhelmed about the death of innocent people, one of the members sent an anonymous letter to his friend Lord Monteagle warning him to avoid the house on November 5th. The King received a tip about the letter and waited for the perpetrator to make his move. Early that morning Guy Fawkes was caught red handed in his attempt to light the gunpowder.
In light of the fact that this plot could have very easily had a different ending, the monarch does not take it lightly to this day. Only once a year does the reigning monarch enter the Parliament and that is on a special occasion known as "the State Opening of Parliament." Still today, it is customary for the Yeomen of the Guard to search the cellar of the Place of Westminster prior to the Queen and Parliament's entrance.
Historically, the observance of the day began with the preaching of sermons. They would ring the church bells for all to hear. At night, they would build bonfires to celebrate the occasion. Controversial marriages between Royalty and the fictitious conspiracy Popish Plot of 1679 increased the popularity of the holiday celebration. It became less of a celebration of thanksgiving for the survival of a monarch, and more of an anti-Papist sentiment. By 1850 Catholic hierarchy was restored, however, Anti-Catholic sentiments was still prevalent. Effigies of the new Catholic Archbishop and of the Pope were burned.
Across England, Wales, and Scotland celebrations are still held. The date of the festivities have mostly been moved to the weekend. Instead of the traditional bonfire, although some are still lit, fireworks light the skies. Traditionally, an effigy representing Guy Fawkes, and sometimes the Pope is burned in a bonfire, however, this part of the celebration has begun to fade. In its place, the modern day commercialized Halloween is intermingling with the historical traditions of the original Guy Fawkes Night. The American impact has swept across the Atlantic and it's influences have forever changed a tradition. A famous nursery rhyme was written about the famous plot and it goes like this:
"Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder treason and plot.
We see no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!
Guy Fawkes, guy, t'was his intent
To blow up king and parliament.
Three score barrels were laid below
To prove old England's overthrow.
By god's mercy he was catch'd
With a darkened lantern and burning match.
So, holler boys, holler boys, Let the bells ring.
Holler boys, holler boys, God save the king.
And what shall we do with him?
Burn him! "
Just an added note, if you are going to have a bonfire in Portsmouth, Middletown, or Newport a mandatory burning permit is required. You will have to get the permit prior to setting the bonfire, and on the day the bonfire will be set, the fire chief has to come out an inspect before it will be issued to you. They inspect the distance of the fires from certain structures and the weather forcast for the event. The permit is only good for one occassion. Not obtaining the necessary permit prior to celebrating the holiday can cost you a fine, or 10 days in jail. Be safe, and have a happy holiday.ã