Guy Fawkes Day – Remember remember the fifth of November

November 5, 2018 |

The whole Guy Fawkes story and its consequences is so compelling that it often inspires me to break policy and write on a non legal subject.

For starters there is the wonderful ditty/ poem or piece of doggerel:

Remember, remember!
The fifth of November,
The Gunpowder treason and plot;
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!
Guy Fawkes and his companions
Did the scheme contrive,
To blow the King and Parliament
All up alive.
Threescore barrels, laid below,
To prove old England’s overthrow.
But, by God’s providence, him they catch,
With a dark lantern, lighting a match!
A stick and a stake
For King James’s sake!
If you won’t give me one,
I’ll take two,
The better for me,
And the worse for you.
A rope, a rope, to hang the Pope,
A penn’orth of cheese to choke him,
A pint of beer to wash it down,
And a jolly good fire to burn him.
Holloa, boys! holloa, boys! make the bells ring!
Holloa, boys! holloa boys! God save the King!
Hip, hip, hooor-r-r-ray!

The background and history of the plot is amply summarised in Guy Fawkes Day: A Brief History.  The plot was appalling in its aim: to blow up both houses of Parliament,  King James and his son.  The plotters then hoped to replace the King James with a monarch who would not oppress the Catholics of England.  As with many extreme political acts it is often more interesting and useful to review the background.  England in 1605 was a difficult place to be a Catholic. The religion was suppressed and its adherents were persecuted.  King James was as cunning and duplicitous politician as the monarchy had produced.  Hopes that Queen Elizabeths repression would ease were not dashed with James’ continuation of the persecution. Not that James was a fervent Protestant (notwithstanding the King James bible).  Ruling for 57 years, 23 years as king of England and Ireland, in very difficult times was an extraordinary achievement.  He was ruthless and duplicitous who could be thoughtful and intelligent as well as foolish and impulsive.  He may have treated Catholics appallingly, as well as not a few others including Sir Walter Raleigh, but he kept England out of the Thirty Years War.

The Guy Fawkes plot highlights that the persecuted may reach for extreme measures when there appears to be no other option.  That is particularly so when one is fed false hope of a change. The desire for vengeance redoubles then.

It also highlights the thankfully difficult task to keep such a plan secret.  Loose lips as often give the authorities the break they need.

One other thing that all should ponder is that where laws are enacted to oppress and marginalise one or other group in society the vitally important concept of the rule of law has less relevance.  The law can become part of the problem.

Fortunately England rose above the brutality, injustice and venality of the Jacobean period and eventually emancipated the Catholics and later the Jews in England.

It does make one grateful for the time in which we live.

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