Saturday, November 05, 2011

Bonfire Night

On this day in 1605, thirteen young men planned to blow up the Houses of Parliament. Among them was Guy Fawkes, Britain's most notorious traitor. On the night of November 5th, throughout Britain, the capture of Guy Fawkes is commemorated with bonfires and fireworks, potatoes baked in the ashes, Parkin (recipe following) and by burning an effigy of the Guy. Children have always delighted in reciting this jingle:
I've included the story of this event in English history for you to read. When you have read it, you might want to play this amusing game, provided by the BBC:

After Queen Elizabeth I died in 1603, English Catholics who had been persecuted under her rule had hoped that her successor, James I, would be more tolerant of their religion. James I had, after all, had a Catholic mother. Unfortunately, James did not turn out to be more tolerant than Elizabeth and a number of young men, 13 to be exact, decided that violent action was the answer.
A small group took shape, under the leadership of Robert Catesby. Catesby felt that violent action was warranted. Indeed, the thing to do was to blow up the Houses of Parliament. In doing so, they would kill the King, maybe even the Prince of Wales, and the Members of Parliament who were making life difficult for the Catholics. Today these conspirators would be known as extremists, or terrorists.
To carry out their plan, the conspirators got hold of 36 barrels of gunpowder - and stored them in a cellar, just under the House of Lords.
But as the group worked on the plot, it became clear that innocent people would be hurt or killed in the attack, including some people who even fought for more rights for Catholics. Some of the plotters started having second thoughts. One of the group members even sent an anonymous letter warning his friend, Lord Monteagle, to stay away from the Parliament on November 5th.
The warning letter reached the King, and the King's forces made plans to stop the conspirators.
Guy Fawkes, who was in the cellar of the parliament with the 36 barrels of gunpowder when the authorities stormed it in the early hours of November 5th, was caught, tortured and executed.
It's unclear if the conspirators would ever have been able to pull off their plan to blow up the Parliament even if they had not been betrayed. Some have suggested that the gunpowder itself was so old as to be useless. Since Guy Fawkes and the other conspirators got caught before trying to ignite the powder, we'll never know for certain.
Even for the period which was notoriously unstable, the Gunpowder Plot struck a very profound chord for the people of England. In fact, even today, the reigning monarch only enters the Parliament once a year, on what is called "the State Opening of Parliament". Prior to the Opening, and according to custom, the Yeomen of the Guard search the cellars of the Palace of Westminster. Nowadays, the Queen and Parliament still observe this tradition.
On the very night that the Gunpowder Plot was foiled, on November 5th, 1605, bonfires were set alight to celebrate the safety of the King. Since then, November 5th has become known as Bonfire Night. The event is commemorated every year with fireworks and burning effigies of Guy Fawkes on a bonfire.

Yorkshire Parkin
  • 350g/12oz medium oatmeal
  • 175g/6oz self-raising flour
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 175g/6oz soft brown sugar
  • 175g/6oz butter
  • 250g/9fl oz golden syrup
  • 50g/2oz black treacle (if you can't find these syrups in your area, just sub dark molasses for both)
  • 2 free-range eggs
  • 110ml/4oz milk
  1. Preheat the oven to 150C/300F/Gas 2 and line a small, deep baking tray with parchment paper. Combine the oatmeal, flour and ginger in a large mixing bowl.
  2. Melt the sugar, butter, syrup and treacle in a bowl in the microwave or in a saucepan over a low heat. Pour the melted ingredients into the flour with the eggs and milk and stir well.
  3. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking tray.
  4. Bake for 45 minutes until golden brown, but still soft and sticky on top. Reduce the oven to 130C/250F/Gas 1 and bake for a further 30 minutes until firm to the touch.
  5. Allow to cool, before tightly wrapping in cling film. Store for at least three to five days to mature.
 And just in case you haven't had enough of Fawkes, here is a totally accurate pretty good completely daft  re-enactment of the events:


    Nan said...

    Hello! I didn't see an email address for you anywhere but wanted to thank you for your visit to my blog! We did, indeed, have a wonderful day in Chicago! Such a fun place! Thanks again for visit!


    Heather said...

    The strange movie V for Vendetta that came out several years back introduced me to this tale from British history. Sadly, I'd never learned about it in any history class. How interesting that the guards still search the cellars before the Queen enters Parliament!


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