Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Gunpowder, Treason and Plot

November 5th.  Guy Fawkes Night, and although few people build and light their own bonfires these days, choosing instead to attend community events, it is still a night for traditional flames, fireworks and food.  As a boy in rural Worcestershire (and later in the grounds of the vast Victorian rectory to the north of the city) it was a most special evening.  A tall pyre was built and a guy ceremoniously placed on its top.  When the sun had set the match was struck and the flames roared to our satisfaction until the effigy of Guy Fawkes could be seen no more. My father would then take charge of the fireworks, stored for safety’s sake in large biscuit tins (the many-layered assortment kind) and the next half hour would involve rockets, Roman candles, Catherine wheels, odd triangular fireworks that showered red then blue then yellow and finally green sparks.  And lots more rockets – each sent on a specific course:  One to Fishguard, another to Llanelli, and others wherever we had family and friends.  (The fact that they landed in the nearby road was lost on our child-like enthusiasm!)  And finally my mother would appear with hot soup, rolls and sausages which we devoured as the embers of the bonfire died down.

The traditional litany for that evening was:

"Remember remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder, treason
Should ever be forgot..."

But if truth be known that was, like many "traditions", a Victorian creation.  The earliest rhyme that we are aware of dates to 1742 and begins:

Don't you Remember,
The Fifth of November,
'Twas Gunpowder Treason Day,
I let off my gun,
And made' em all run.
And Stole all their Bonfire away.

Hmm.  The Victorians were always the better hymn-writers!

The rituals of Guy Fawkes Night were more than family fun, and more than the commemoration of the foiled attack on the King and Parliament on the 5th of November, 1605.  The historical closeness of it all lay in the fact that the Gunpowder Plot was part-conceived in the parish where my father was the rector.  This was more than history – this was our local history.

I hope that tonight, up and down the land of England, bonfires are lit, fireworks light the eyes of the young, and food is enjoyed.  And people recall their history.  Perhaps they might even like to read the Collect for Deliverance – strangely omitted from Common Worship and other modern liturgies.

O GOD, whose Name is excellent in all the earth, and thy glory above the heavens; who, on this day, didst miraculously preserve our Church and State from the secret contrivance and hellish malice of Popish Conspirators; and on this day also didst begin to give us a mightly Deliverance from the open tyranny and oppression of the same cruel and blood-thirsty enemies; We bless and adore thy glorious Majesty, as for the former, so for this thy later marvellous loving-kindness to our church and Nation, in the preservation of our Religion and Liberties. And we humbly pray that the devout sense of this thy repeated mercy may renew and increase in us a spirit of love and thankfulness to thee its only Author; a spirit of peaceable submission and obedience to our gracious Sovereign N; and a spirit of fervent zeal for our holy Religion, which thou hast so wonderfully rescued, and established a Blessing to us and our posterity. And this we beg for Jesus Christ his sake. Amen.

I wonder why.

No comments:

Post a Comment