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The Fifth of November,
Gunpowder treason and plot;
For I see no reason
Why Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
Every year on November 5th, Brits light bonfires and set off fireworks to remember their good luck in stumbling upon Guy Fawkes just before he attempted to blow up Parliament in 1605. Fawkes and his 12 co-conspirators plotted to assassinate King James I over increasingly repressive moves against Catholics.
The anti-papacy sentiment began under Queen Elizabeth I after she was excommunicated in 1570. Soon priests were being executed, Catholics were forbidden from performing Mass, and began fleeing the country. When James I ascended to the throne, Catholics hoped that the repression would end. Unfortunately for them, the king instead declared Catholicism a superstition. Fawkes, a devout Catholic, had had enough, and decided to kill the king, the Prince of Wales, and members of the House of Commons and the House of Lordsby detonating 36 barrels of gunpowder smuggled into the building’s cellar. Word leaked, and Fawkes was arrested, tortured, and executed.
In celebration of the revealed Gunpowder Plot as it was known, people began lighting bonfires and burning the conspirators in effigy. In January of 1606, Parliament declared November 5 a national day of thanksgiving, and a holiday was born. The grandeur of the plot struck such a chord with the monarchy, that to this day sentries search the cellars of Parliament before the seated regent enters the building. And, even though he wasn’t the ringleader (that dubious honor fell to Robert Catesby), Guy Fawkes, with his tall hat, mustache and Van Dyke, became the face, an image so powerful, that masks of him have come to represent the anti-authority hacker collective Anonymous.
Guy Fawke’s Day, or Bonfire Night, is traditional throughout the UK, but in Lewes the celebration reaches new heights.