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.
So begins the poem commemorating Guy Fawkes Day, when the common folk of England celebrate – or used to anyway when history and religion were more to the fore in people’s minds – the foiling of the ‘Gunpowder Plot’ of 1605, when a group of Catholic conspirators planned to blow up the Parliament building with all the lords and legislators inside:
The short poem ends as follows:
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!
The king in question was James I of England (and the VI of Scotland), the staunchly Protestant son of the lovely and Catholic Mary Queen of Scots, taken from his mother as an infant and raised in the ‘Reformed’ religion. Mary had sought refuge with her cousin Queen Elizabeth in England, after her own overthrow, but ‘Good Queen Bess’ had had her beheaded, after a controversial conspiracy was discovered. James did nothing to help his Mum. The injustice Mary’s beheading on trumped-up charges, along with devotion to the one, holy, Roman, Catholic, Apostolic Faith, was still fresh in minds of those who held to the ‘old religion’. So, blow the whole lot of the usurpers to kingdom come.
Some of the conspirators developed qualms of conscience – since a few of said legislators about to be blown to British bits were, after all, Catholic – and one of them sent a letter of warning. The King’s Men searched under the building, and discovered 36 barrels of gunpowder in an unused, subterranean room, guarded by a certain Guy Fawkes, a staunchly Catholic soldier-at-arms who had helped mastermind the whole fiasco, ready to light the fuse and escape by swimming across the Thames.
All rather daring, and it would make a grand film; but, as much as I love a good adventure story, likely immoral. Guy, a robust man of red hair and commanding mien, but who in all probability looked little like the ‘masks’ seen in such Hollywood swill as ‘V for Vendetta’, was duly tortured, eventually confessed, and, as the story goes, implicated others. He was of course sentenced to death, but, as witnesses account, avoided the horror of being ‘hung and drawn’ by falling (or some say, jumping) off the scaffold and breaking his neck.
Requiescat in pace.
To this day, effigies of ‘Guy Fawkes’ are burned across what used to be the British empire, calling to mind the triumph and glories of Protestant England, and the downfall of obscurantist and seditionist ‘Papism’. Or something like that.
The truth of the whole Guy Fawkes affair, as is usually the case with historical events presented from one side’s perspective, is far more complex, with religion is those days tied up so closely with politics, allegiances, culture, wars, with the fate of peoples and whole nations hanging in the balance. The ‘Reformation’ more or less destroyed what we know as mediaeval and merrie Catholic England, by practices often too gruesome to describe, in an age in some ways more brutal, or, I should qualify, more externally brutal, than ours; the stakes were high.
And as evidence of deep duplicity, fraud and outright totalitarian methods in our own government come to the fore, we too might be questioning our own allegiance to the ‘state’, and how far resistance is required, hopefully passive and peaceful, but much depends on how far they push the populum. The ‘COPP’ meeting of world leaders in Glasgow to fight ‘climate change’ wants to bring us all back to the stone age, except, of course, said world leaders, who will live high off the hog. Joe Biden just returned from Rome with an 85 car motorcade in tow, each petrol-guzzling limousine and hum-vee flown over on a jet. So much for carbon footprints.
We should also think, and think deeply, as did Saint John Henry Newman, about what religion we adopt, for that which is, as Saint Thomas says, the ‘master of our affections’ will colour and motivate everything else we do, and will determine our ultimate eternal destiny. Newman saw that ‘Protestantism’ leads inevitably to secularism and religious indifference, and finally to strife and chaos.
And, while we’re on the way there, we should also ponder how religion shapes our society, for it will, for good or ill. Only the ‘one, true religion’ can fully instantiate the common good, and lead not only to a fulfilled life, but to a prosperous and cohesive nation.