Remember, Remember the Fifth of November
The fifth of November is a date that resonates through history, immortalized in the famous rhyme: “Remember, remember, the fifth of November, Gunpowder treason and plot.” This cryptic verse refers to the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, a pivotal event in English history. The story behind this date is rich with intrigue, political unrest, and a failed attempt to alter the course of history.
In the early 17th century, tensions ran high between Catholics and Protestants in England. James I, a Protestant king, succeeded Elizabeth I, and Catholics faced increased persecution. A group of conspirators, led by Robert Catesby, devised a plan to assassinate the king and restore Catholic rule. The plan involved smuggling explosives, primarily gunpowder, into the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament on November 5, 1605.
The plot, however, was thwarted when an anonymous letter reached authorities, leading to a search of the Parliament building. Guy Fawkes, one of the conspirators, was discovered guarding the barrels of gunpowder. His arrest on the night of November 4 – 5, 1605, prevented the catastrophic explosion that could have altered the course of English history.
In the aftermath of the failed Gunpowder Plot, the public rejoiced in the safety of the king and the government. November 5th became a day of national thanksgiving, marked by the ringing of church bells and bonfires. The tradition of lighting bonfires on this day gradually evolved into elaborate firework displays and the burning of effigies, often symbolizing Guy Fawkes.
Guy Fawkes Night, also known as Bonfire Night, became an annual event, and the rhyme “Remember, remember…” became a popular mnemonic device to ensure that the memory of the plot would not fade with time.
Over the centuries, the legacy of the Gunpowder Plot and the fifth of November has endured in British culture. The story has been immortalized in literature, theatre, and film, with one of the most iconic representations being the mask of Guy Fawkes in Alan Moore’s graphic novel “V for Vendetta” and its film adaptation. The mask has been adopted as a symbol of protest and dissent, particularly by the hacker collective Anonymous.
The fifth of November stands as a reminder of a critical juncture in English history, where the attempt to change the political landscape through violent means was thwarted. Today, the day is celebrated with fireworks and bonfires, not just in the United Kingdom but also in parts of the former British Empire. The rhyme continues to echo through the centuries, ensuring that the tale of the Gunpowder Plot and the fifth of November remains an indelible part of cultural memory.