Remember, remember the 5th of November

Today is the 404th anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot that shook the English monarchy in 1605.

James I had taken the throne only two years before after the death of the beloved Elizabeth I. Elizabeth had a cult following in England. Known as the “virgin queen,” Elizabeth was elevated to the likes of the holy mother during her reign as the last Tudor monarch. Because of her perpetual virginity she died without an heir leaving the only option for England’s leadership to her distant cousin in Scotland, James.
Because James was new to England and because he had a different style of leadership than Elizabeth did the English people were hesitant to accept him as their monarch. Many felt that he was nothing more than a foreigner and an outsider. They did not want him in charge.
The other huge issue was religion. England split between Catholics and Protestants when Henry VIII (Elizabeth’s father) decided to break from the Catholic Church and Rome in order to divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, in order to marry Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn.
England bounced back and forth between Catholic and Protestant based on rulers. Henry VIII persecuted Catholics while Mary I killed many Protestants earning her the name “Bloody Mary.” When Elizabeth took the throne she was tolerant of BOTH ideologies and England eventually set into a state of religious peace.
When James came into power he was steadfastly Protestant and began to place restrictions on Catholics and their ability to worship. This was the basis of the gunpowder plot–Catholics in England plotted to blow up Parliament, assassinate the King and abduct his children.
The conspirators, the most famous being Guy Fawkes, were eventually discovered, tried and executed.
As a result James I became increasingly paranoid around his subjects and began to rule with a sort of tyrannical iron fist that left his reign in the midst of controversy with the English people. Also, the plot only drove James to actively persecute Catholics in England granting him comparisons to his cousin Mary Tudor.
Because of the plot it took the Catholics another 200 years to earn emancipation from persecution.
While Nov. 5 used to be widely celebrated in England and its said that back in 1605 when the conspirators were caught the streets were filled with festivities and Protestant celebrations the plot and the holiday have gone by the wayside–now only popularized by the film and graphic novel V for Vendetta. And even this pop culture reference doesn’t fully explain the intricacies of the plot.
This is only a short overview in what I’ve learned from researching for my thesis on historical references in Shakespeare. Macbeth has blatantly obvious allusions to the plot. It’s a fascinating subject that Wikipedia doesn’t do justice to, so check it out.
The Gunpowder Plot by Hugh Ross Williamson is a fantastic book about the subject.
There’s your history lesson for the day…enjoy.
Remember remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder, treason
Should ever be forgot…

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