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  • Writer's pictureClyve Rose

In Quintum Novembris

Updated: Nov 8, 2023

Remember, remember!

The fifth of November,

The Gunpowder treason and plot;

I know of no reason

Why the Gunpowder treason

Should ever be forgot!

The Fifth of November…a memorable day in history, and much celebrated in Regency England. I mentioned last month that the Georgians didn’t indulge themselves in much ado about Halloween (it’s an old version of a pagan rite after all, and they were a rather church-focused folk), but they certainly marked the occasion of Bonfire Night, or Guy Fawkes Day. The rhyme above is well-known throughout the country. I’ve reproduced the entire poem below.

Remember, remember!

The fifth of November,

The Gunpowder treason and plot;

I know of no reason

Why the Gunpowder treason

Should ever be forgot!

Guy Fawkes and his companions

Did the scheme contrive,

To blow the King and Parliament

All up alive.

Threescore barrels, laid below,

To prove old England's overthrow.

But, by God's providence, him they catch,

With a dark lantern, lighting a match!

A stick and a stake

For King James's sake!

If you won't give me one,

I'll take two,

The better for me,

And the worse for you.

A rope, a rope, to hang the Pope,

A penn'orth of cheese to choke him,

A pint of beer to wash it down,

And a jolly good fire to burn him.

Holloa, boys! holloa, boys! make the bells ring!

Holloa, boys! holloa boys! God save the King!

Hip, hip, hooor-r-r-ray!

It dates from 1605 and was originally penned in Latin by the celebrated poet John Milton. The title of his poem (which is also the title of my post), means 'On the Fifth of November'.

The poem romanticises an infamous moment in English history, when a Catholic gentleman, one Guy Fawkes, attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament, with all the ministers within - not excepting the protestant royal majesty King James I, grandson of King Henry VIII.

It wasn’t the last time furious citizens attempted to curtail the high-handedness of the sitting government. There was another incident in 1820 (detailed in my Regency spy novella The Case at Drury Lane - currently free when you purchase the Regency collection Summer Secrets of the Soho Club).

In addition, the opening scenes of The King’s Mistress take place on Bonfire Night. It’s undercover of the fireworks display on the back lawn that my heroine, lady Lydia Clifton, is able to slip away from the forced marriage she’s expected to undergo, and so meets her newer, more savoury, fate as the lover of the Romany King, Valkin Brishen. Read a free extract here.

How Did the Regency-era folk remember Guy Fawkes?

They burned things - specifically effigies of Fawkes. This tradition still exists in England today. In fact, when I lived there as a child in the 1980s (no, not ancient history, but long ago), we made our own ‘Guys’ from papier mâché and stockings stuffed with balls of newspaper. Our Guys were placed on local community bonfires, and we gathered to watch the fireworks and shiver together at local parks. I’ve no idea if this is still done today, but it remains an enduring memory from my English childhood.

One thing I never saw there were celebrations burning effigies of the pope - though I understand this was actually done in the 1700s too. Don’t forget that the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries saw fierce battles waged for the souls of the English populace. Their Tudor king began a whole new branch of the Christian faith, breaking away from Rome to found the Protestant Church of England. It took a couple of centuries for the furore between Protestants and Catholics to abate.

By the Regency era, Protestants had more political power than Catholics, and more wealth, which is why the Catholic Emancipation Bill had such a rocky ride through parliament in the early 1800s. It was the denial of the rights and privileges of Catholic aristocrats (and their families) that led to the gunpowder plot in the first place - and it seems that the powers that be didn’t learn a lot from that.

By attempting to restrict people’s rights in 1819 (including censoring the press), parliament sowed the seeds for a similar attempt at sedition in 1820. This became known as the Cato Street Conspiracy - a far less well organised plot, involving guns and fists more than barrels of gunpowder.

What does Guy Fawkes Day mean to me, personally?

I no longer live in the UK, so Guy Fawkes Day isn't really a big part of my life now. Fireworks in Australia are almost uniformly banned, except for professional displays and backyard sparklers, so even if I wanted to celebrate it, it's illegal on a small-scale level.

However - it's also Cookie's birthday, and this year my little writing buddy turns 7 years old. So, this post is for him. Happy Birthday, Cookie. May your candle burn bright for many more years to come, little guy.

For those of you who haven't met my boy yet, he's most often seen on my IG and TikTok.

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