Thursday, 5 November 2015

Bonfire Night

Anonymous with Guy Fawkes masks at Scientology...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Guy Fawkes converted to Catholicism following his Protestant mother's remarriage to a Catholic gentleman. He was likely 'radicalised' during his time at school, his stepfather and various senior figures at the school being recusants - Catholics who refused, illegally, to join Church of England services. The law was passed in the reign of Elizabeth 1, whose dad invented the Church of England so he could marry loads of birds and have them killed off.

Fawkes travelled to Spain to fight for the Catholic King Phillip III, a seventeenth century version of nipping off to join ISIS, I suppose. On his return, he encountered a group of like-minded activists led by landed Catholic called Robert Catesby. By no means the last person in Britain to want to do this, Catesby had a plan for blowing up the Houses of Parliament. A cellar was procured and rented underneath the houses and a number of barrels of gunpowder laid down there waiting for Parliament to sit in July 1605. Delayed by the plague, it eventually was to open on the 5th of November.

In the early hours of the 5th, a search of the cellars beneath Parliament took place, sparked by an anonymous warning given to Catholic peer William Parker. This wasn't a terribly good idea as Parker was busily trying to ingratiate himself with the King and expiate the stain of his Catholicism in a pretty Protestant polity.

Fawkes was discovered, packet of Swan Vestas in hand. He was systematically tortured, James apparently impressed by his stoicism. It's not known quite how the torture progressed, although the rack and thumb screws were involved. Neither are particularly pleasant experiences. The rack is used to stretch a man, tethered by the hands and feet to rollers which are used to pull him apart. Thumb screws are simply a wee vice, oddly reminiscent of early printing presses, which is used to crush the thumbs. The C17th lexicon of torture is clearly much greater than that, and Fawkes probably took a pretty comprehensive tour around it, breaking and confessing all - including his co-conspirators' names, over the 72 hours or so he was tortured. His signature on his confession is a barely legible scrawl.

He was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. This is not generally considered to be pleasant. Fawkes escaped the worst of his painful death when his neck broke on hanging, likely because the hangman had messed up the 'drop'.

The event was commemorated annually all over Britain by the lighting of bonfires to celebrate Parliament's survival. I know, it's odd, isn't it? Some bright person came up with the idea of adding an effigy of the Pope to the fire, although this later became generally accepted as an effigy of Guy Fawkes himself. The event quickly became an excuse for the setting off of fireworks and so it was, when I was a kid. Bonfire night was a much-anticipated event on the calender when my dad used to take me to the local NewsConTob and pretend he wasn't having as much fun as I was pointing to small packets, tubes, wraps and twists of colourfully-wrapped explosive and shouting, 'That one!' as we selected our fireworks from the array set out before us. Later on we were relegated to having to buy pre-packed boxes of display fireworks as part of a range of increasingly restrictive laws governing the sale and use of fireworks and the thrill was, essentially, gone.

The publication of A Decent Bomber today was, sadly, not a brilliantly orchestrated stunt to coincide with the anniversary of Fawkes and his early act of sectarian terrorism to protest a sectarian oppressor. It was purely a fluke.

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