When I say a plot, it wasn't just a plot: Guy Fawkes, an ex-soldier who'd been put in charge of the carrying out the attack, had got as far as stashing thirty six barrels of gunpowder, enough to blow the whole place sky-high, in the cellars.
And, when I say the Houses of Parliament, it wasn't just the Houses of Parliament he was planning to blow up because he was going to light the fuse during the the opening ceremony. This would have killed King James of Scotland and England, most of his nearest relatives, all members of the Privy Council, all senior judges, most of the aristocracy, all bishops, and all elected members of the House of Commons.
That's without thinking about the pages, lawyers, officials, cooks and trumpeters who attend such occasions.
Those of the King's family who weren't in the building were unlikely to have fared very well, either. No decision seems to have been taken on the fate of the young princes Henry and Charles, but their sister Elizabeth was to be installed as a puppet Queen.
What was the plot (it's known as the Gunpowder Plot) all about? Well, then as now, politics and religion were an explosive mix. In the case of the Gunpowder Plot the authorities were trying to balance the desirability of freedom of conscience with the rule of law; maintaining what they thought of as truth with not prosecuting others doing the same thing from a different prospective; trying to prevent acts of terrorism while maintaining friendly relations with nearby countries with large armies.
Sometimes the authorities got it horribly wrong by accident, and sometimes they were basically horrible on purpose.
Anyway, enough of the history lesson. What do people actually remember of all this?
Well, November 5th is the English Firework Night, when much gunpowder is exploded and many effigies burned; other than that there's just this rhyme, which is chanted triumphantly at this time of year by English children, even those who care nothing about politics or the theory of religion - which is practically all of them.
Remember, remember, the fifth of November
With gunpowder, treason and plot
I see no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.
photomontage November 5 2007 by Billy Hicks
Word To Use Today: treason. This word comes from the Latin trāditiō, which means handing-over. It's the same word, pleasingly, as gave us the word tradition.
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