Thursday, November 05, 2009

Happy Guy Fawkes Day!

On November 5, 1605, Guy Fawkes and a group of collaborators planned to ignite a large quantity of gunpowder beneath the halls of Parliament at a time when King James I was speaking there. The plot was foiled, Fawkes was tortured and slated for execution (but jumped to his death, thereby avoiding the "being drawn and quartered" portion of his sentence), and the identified co-conspirators were all killed one way or another.

In due course, rhymes about the day sprang up, as they are wont to do. At the end of this post, one of the most popular versions of the full rhyme that was traditionally chanted by children in the street as they collected up firewood, coins and more in anticipation of the large bonfire, at which (initially) the Pope and/or the Devil were hanged in effigy (in Protestant England during the 16th century, the Pope and the Devil were largely considered close consorts). In later years, once it was legit to be Roman Catholic again, they took to hanging Guy Fawkes in effigy. These days, it's not just Fawkes, but also unpopular leaders from around the globe, who are hanged in effigy and/or set alight by the bonfire.

Little-known fact that I've dug up during my research for the Jane Austen biography in verse on which I'm working: Jane Austen and her sister Cassandra were both in Lyme Regis when a large portion of the town caught on fire in November of 1803 as a result of a Guy Fawkes celebration gone awry.

And now, the rhyme, plus a link to the Parliamentary Archives from 2005 (the 400th anniversary of the plot), where you can click on a button to hear schoolchildren chanting the rhyme below in eerie unison.

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 catched
With a darkened lantern and burning match.
So, holler boys, holler boys, Let the bells ring.
Holler boys, holler boys, God save the king!

Here's the link to the page on Parliament's site where you can play a recording of schoolchildren reciting the chant. (Creepy!)

I hope those of you in the U.K. enjoy your bonfires and fireworks!

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