Reviewing Bonfire Night
Bonfire Night is such a warm and wonderful holiday. Family and friends gather together in the nippy air around a fire and spend the evening eating, laughing and talking. I wanted to make a design special for Bonfire Night. But, it is such a curious holiday to celebrate. Inspired by Guy Fawkes Day, this design highlights a modern perspective on Guy Fawkes Day, as a celebration of daring to challenge the status quo.
Originally, this holiday celebrated the capture, trial and execution of Guy Fawkes for his involvement in the Gunpowder Treason Plot of 1605. The plan to blow up Parliament with King James VI inside of it was foiled by a snitch. But, why were they attempting to blow up Parliament and King James?
King James was the son of Mary Queen Of Scots and Henry VII (King Of England and Lord Of Ireland. This circumstance of birth made him a potential successor to all three thrones. King James started his rule are the ripe old age of 13 months. His mother was forced to abdicate due to all manner of unseemly plots. Power plays ensued and Scotland was governed by no less than four regents until he was finally able to get full control of his government until 1583, five years after he was supposed to have gained control. When the "Virgin Queen" Elizabeth died, James ended up as the King.
James, it would seem, was not at all what people had been hoping for in a king. The conspirators were protesting James VI’s persecution of Catholics. (That was the way things were done back then, now we vote.) And by persecution, I don’t mean the CDC told them to wear a mask and get vaccinated against a plague, I mean people were tortured and executed for practicing Catholicism.
(Interestingly enough, the State Opening of Parliament came later that year because of fear about a plague. What is it with plagues and insurrection? But, I digress.)
Most history book portray Fawkes as a hapless wit who was simply lurking about under Parliament near some explosives. This is far from the truth. Fawkes was a military man, who fought in the Eighty Years War for Spain against the Dutch Republic. He also took up arms for Spain at the Seige Of Calais where Spain succeeded in wresting control of this strategic location from France. At one point, Fawkes even approached King Philip of Spain for support to restore a Catholic monarch to the throne of England. He was declined, politely.) Fawkes had spent years in battle on behalf of Catholicism. The Gunpowder Treason Plot was nothing new or surprising form him. He was an experienced military man.
The plot failed. Guy Fawkes was captured and some of his co-conspirators were all found guilty of high treason and sentenced to death. A fluke prevented him from facing the most grisly and violent execution of being hanged, drawn and quartered. (The details of which I shall spare you.) New laws banned Catholics from voting in elections, practicing law or serving in the military. Little known fact, Catholics were not fully emancipated in England until the 19th century.
After the plot was revealed, Londoners began lighting celebratory bonfires, and in January 1606 an act of Parliament designated November 5 as a day of thanksgiving. So, why would I want to celebrate this intolerable holiday.
The world is changing more and more, as the Global Majority asserts our right to participate in governance and all of the niceties formerly enjoyed only by minority populations, (the super rich and super White.) In this way, many heroes have turned into villains and the villains they persecuted have become heroes.
For Great Britain, Guy Fawkes Day can be perceived in the same way Black Americans use Independence Day to remember American hypocrisy best expressed by Frederick Douglass when he so aptly asked, “What to the slave is the 4th of July?” Now, Guy Fawkes Day is a wonderful way to gather with friends and family around a lovely Autumn bonfire. It is no longer a subliminal message that rebelling against exploitation and oppression will be put down swiftly and viciously.
I read a fascinating Twitter thread the other day by an elder queer woman explaining why she was going to be using queer regardless of how it had been used as a slur in the past. She said, “But, really, all the things we call ourselves have been used as weapons against us…. Everybody who came out before you has taken the rocks and bottles and turned them into shields and wind chimes.” In essence, anything which has been used against you can be transformed into something powerful, resonant and jubilant.
The same message can apply to modern U.K. “Remember, remember the 5th of November” can be used to show it is possible to stand up to the powers that be trying to keep us down. It is our right to resist (peacefully) and it is our duty to revolt against tyranny and persecution. And yes, to this day, we need to remain vigilant about infiltrators lest they sabotage our best laid peaceful plans and turn them into a killing field for the police.