Archive for the ‘The story of Bonfire Night’ Category
Bit of a joke poster for the 5th November gunpowder plot. Was it an inside job? Quite possibly, it has been suggested by a few conspiracy theorists that the whole plot was an inside job by the govenrment to convince King James that the Catholics could not be trusted. Seems like a strange stunt but consider the following points:
Robert Cecil, the Earl of Salisbury and James’ right hand man hated Catholics and saw them as real trouble makers. Cecil was worried that King James would go softly on them during his reign and this irked him to say the least. Cecil wanted Catholicism out of England altogether, the steps that King James were taking to expel priests was not enough for him.
It is well known (amongst those who know) that James was very scared of meeting a violent end. Growing up in Scotland his life had been full of dangers; he was even kidnapped as a young boy. Cecil knew this and it’s possible he thought that by getting James to believe they had tried to blow him up would turn him against them for good.
36 barrels of gunpowder is a lot of powder. In those days the government tightly controlled all the gunpowder in Britain, so how did Guy Fawkes and co. get a hold of that much? Did they have a contact inside parliament?
Why would a bunch of Catholics be allowed to rent a house so close to the Houses of parliament or a cellar right underneath it? Seems a bit unlikely in those troubled times.
Why search the parliament cellars on that night, for the first time in British history? What would inspire such a search? Convenient, almost too convenient.
Why did the soldier who shot Robert Catesby and Thomas Percy at the shootout at Holbeach House receive such a large pension (allegedly 10p a day for life) as a reward? Surely these men would have been better taken alive so they could squeal on their co conspirators.
All intriguing and thought provoking arguments, however, just like any good conspiracy there are counter arguments just as powerful. We will attack them in reverse order. Just to be different.
The soldier had bravely fought and risked life and limb for his King and country, of course he was due a good pension. Although 10p a day seems a bit meagre by today’s standards it was a lot back then.
The cellars were most likely searched because of Lord Monteagles letter. “What’s that?” I hear you say. I’m glad you asked.
During the preparation, several of the conspirators had been concerned about fellow Catholics who would be present on the appointed day, and inevitably killed. One conspirator, Francis Tresham – who had been introduced to the plot as he was a wealthy Catholic, and could provide money and weapons – is suspected of writing the anonymous letter of warning to Lord Monteagle, a prominent Catholic and Tresham’s own Brother-in-law. Monteagle received the letter on Friday October 26, at his house in Hoxton:
My lord out of the love I bear to some of youre frends I have a care of your preseruasion therefore I would advise you as you tender your life to devise some excuse to shift of your attendance at this parliament for god and man hath concurred to punish the wickedness of this time and think not slightly of this advertisement but retire youre self into youre control where you may expect the event in saftey for though there be no appearance of any stir yet I say they shall receive a terrible blow this parliament and yet they shall not see who hurts them this councel is not to be condemned because it may do you good and can do you no harm for the danger is passed as soon as you have burnt the letter and I hope god will give you the grace to make good use of it to whose holy protection I commend you.
Monteagle had the note read aloud, possibly in an attempt to warn the plotters the secret was out, and promptly handed it over to Robert Cecil who was the 1st Earl of Salisbury and the Secretary of State. The other conspirators learned of the letter the following day but resolved to go ahead with their plan after Fawkes inspected the undercroft and found that nothing had been touched.
So, it seems from this that it was this letter from the traitor to the plot, Francis Tresham, that in the end tipped off big Cecil and foiled the plan.
The plotters would all have been using fake names and concealed their true identities, indeed we know that Guy Fawkes was under the assumed alias “John Johnson” which is the lazy and quickly thought up fake name a young miscreant might give when inadvertently having his collar felt by the rozzers today.
“My name, erm, John”
“Erm, John Johnson?”
Furthermore Thomas Percy had contacts in the parliament and these were almost certainly used in obtaining the rented property for their devious scheme.
36 barrels of gunpowder is a lot of powder, but come on, anything can be obtained if you know the right people and have the hard cash. Guy Fawkes knew a lot of military types from his days in the Spanish army so this would have been a very easy obstacle for them.
So if it was a big conspiracy, why did Fawkes not crack under torture and spill the beans? He was famously tough to interrogate (like Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon) in fact the only one who cracked and talked was Thomas Winter and he made no mention of a double conspiracy. They all knew they would be executed one way or the other so why not snitch at this point as there was nothing left to lose.
The other little unanswered question here is Francis Tresham.
He was the man who wrote the letter to Lord Monteagle and also the one man who was not killed or hanged with the others. He was locked in the Tower of London and allegeldly died from taking poison on the 23rd December 1605. Where did he get the poison from? Did someone want him silenced? Was he poisoned at all or did he abscond in secret out of the country for his part in helping the government?
It is almost certain the big Cecil was at it somehow although exactly how we will never know; in fact all of these questions perhaps will never be answered. One thing that is for sure that the arguments over the conspiracy will rage on and continue to keep us entertained for many years to come.
For more information on the history of the Gunpowder Plot and the events that led up to it visit the Epic Fireworks Learning Centre.
As the nights draw in, a small band of mischief-makers prepare for an annual night of mayhem. Mischief Night is their chance to let loose and cause a little bit of chaos.
Depending on where you live, it lands sometime around Halloween and Bonfire Night. And opinions vary on whether it is a chance for harmless fun or an excuse for anti-social behaviour.
Like many native traditions, its exact origins are unknown, but Mischief Night is thought to date from the 1700s when a custom of Lawless Hours or Days prevailed in Britain.
“These were times when normal laws were suspended and tricks could be played ranging from throwing cabbage stalks at people, to the swapping of shopkeeper’s signs and gates,” says Simon Costin, Director of the Museum of British Folklore.
Go back to the 1950s it was largely an age of innocence. So the sorts of pranks were the kind of things that make modern people smile
It was not until the 1830s that Mischief Night itself appears on record, held on 30 April. Today, however, it is an autumnal occasion. Some are adamant it is 4 November, while for others it will always be the night before Halloween.
Many believe this discrepancy lies with its connection to Halloween, which was held over several days after Britain switched from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar in 1752.
“We removed 11 days to adjust, which means some places observed the old dates for things like Christmas and Halloween and some observed the new,” says Professor Stephen Sayers of Leeds Metropolitan University.
“Halloween, Bonfire Night, trick or treating and Mischief Night are all part and parcel of what used to be one festival.”
Since the 1950s, Mischief Night appears to have died out in all areas of the UK except northern England, and it is not at all clear why.
What is known is that it was exported to the United States, and recently re-imported as trick or treat, now popular across the UK.
“It may well be that the North has disconnected from the South which has been far more in tune with modernity,” says Mr Sayers.
“We tend to think of Britain as all behaving as if it’s one thing, but there are vast sections that still observe old customs that have largely died out elsewhere.”
Some of the more traditional pranks might have disappeared, but there is no evidence that Mischief Night itself is going the same way.
Online chat rooms prove it is alive and well. “Put peanut butter under the door handles of people’s cars so they’ll get it all in their fingers,” suggests one mischief-maker.
Such is the resilience of pranksters that some police forces put on extra patrols. The crack-down has become a week-long operation, because what started as one night of minor mayhem has morphed into a week or so of mayhem.
“Arrests go up around Mischief Night, we get a bit of a spike around those 10 days,” says Ch Insp Mark Khan from North Yorkshire Police. “The catalyst seems to be as soon as the clocks fall back, obviously it gets darker earlier and kids are out.”
Some believe we are becoming less tolerant of what is essentially harmless fun, but others think it is becoming more vicious. Traditionally mischief-makers stole gates or knocked on doors then ran away.
“Go back to the 1950s, it was largely an age of innocence,” says Mr Sayers. “So the sorts of pranks were the kind of things that make modern people smile.”
Nowadays, you are more likely to be covered in batter or have a firework pushed through the letter box.
So at this time of year, supermarkets ban the sale of flour and eggs to under-16s. And, contrary to the popular belief that on Mischief Night you are immune from prosecution, police will take action.
“They commit some kind of criminal damage or public order offence, and the next thing is they’re in trouble with the law and they get some kind of caution,” says Ch Insp Khan.
Some argue Mischief Night is a necessary evil. It allows people to experiment with behaviour that would normally be socially unacceptable. Social psychologists call it “psycho-social moratoria.”
“It means a time when the normal rules don’t apply,” says Mr Sayers. “A good example would be the office Christmas party, where all the guzzlings and flirtations you can get away with to an extent. Try that in the middle of June and you would be shown the door.”
It could be that Mischief Night allows people the opportunity to thumb their nose at authority in a way that is socially controlled, he adds.
So, far from being discouraged, some argue Mischief Night should be embraced.
“We [humans] are a set of contradictions sometimes charged with passion, sometimes charged with a darker nature that we need to express in some way,” says Mr Sayers.
“Anyone can be aggressive, but it’s skilled to be aggressive in a way that is socially acceptable and physically and morally and spiritually uplifting and, most of all, good fun.”
A FEAST of firework action is promised this weekend at the Royal Gunpowder Mills.
The Waltham Abbey venue is holding its first ever public firework display for its Guy Fawkes Experience event.
Kicking off at 11am on Saturday and Sunday, the event begins with a performance of the Gunpowder Plot staged by local actors and there will also be a 17th century food-tasting experience.
The main attraction fireworks display will take place from 4.45pm onwards on both days.
The Sunday event will also see a plaque unveiled by actor Timothy West in recognition of the site’s contribution to transport heritage.