Remember remember, the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder, Treason and Plot.
I know of know reason the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
Why remember the 5th of November? Who does? Do you?
Dear RebeLowellians —
The Fifth of November is a very special day indeed for Lowell House. It marks the day a Catholic conspirator who went by the name Guy (or Guido) Fawkes was caught, sometime around midnight, on November 5th, 1605, guarding a supply of no fewer than thirty-six barrels of gunpowder in a storeroom in Westminster Abbey. His plan was to blow the whole place, Westminster, Parliament, King James, Queen Anne, his sons, and the members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, sky high. The 19th century illustrator George Cruikshank imagined it looked something like this:
“Thirty-six barrels of gunpowder” doesn’t register too clearly to our 21st century ears, since most of us have long since stopped doing business in barrels (except Stein Club), and fewer still of us have recently singed our beards firing an arquebus. Lucky for you, I just read a book about it:
In 2003, the Institute of Physics in London asked scientists at the University of Aberystwyth Centre for Explosion Studies to estimate the probably effects of detonating thirty-six barrels of gun powder. Th exercise, as the scientists made clear, had to be an approximate one. Translating thirty-six barrels of gunpowder into an exact weight is difficult, as is making any definite comparison between seventeenth-century gunpowder and modern explosives. The Aberystwyth team estimated that the amount of explosives would be about 5,000lb, and decided, admittedly constructing a worst-case scenario, to assume that the gunpowder used by the plotters would have a force equivalent to that of TNT. On this basis, they calculated that Fawkes, if successful in his mission, would have caused structural damage within a radius of 500 yards. All buildings within forty yards would have been destroyed, roofs and walls within a 100-yard radius would have collapsed, and even at 900 yards some windows would have been broken. The Palace of Westminster, Westminster Hall, Westminster Abbey, and the surrounding streets would have been obliterated. (Sharpe, 7)
This is what a radius of 500 yard radius looks like (green circle):
Guido Fawkes was a tall, powerfully built man who was, by all accounts, a gentleman. He had served as a gentleman-ranker in the Catholic counter-reformation armies attempting to squash the Protestant Dutch rebels in the Netherlands. He was liked by everyone for his intelligence, his bravery, his loyalty to his friends, and he was known in particular for his artistic expertise with the medium of gunpowder. And he was upset as all getup with the Protestant (Anglican) oppression of Catholics in England. But why would he do this unspeakable act? What oppression was he facing? Who are the good guys in this early act of terrorism?
To get answers to these questions, you can come talk to me this Saturday, November 5th, 6pm at the JCR.
There we will watch a movie made 400 years after the event itself ~~ V for Vendetta (2005) ~~ in celebration of Guy Fawkes Day.
Among other things, V for Vendetta
stars Lowell’s own Natalie Portman
, and features prominently Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture
The sixteenth (and the coming seventeenth) century had been an incredibly bloody one for all of Europe. The schism between Christian Catholicism and Christian Protestantism was a battle over power and souls. The Catholic Church was a colossal international superpower, it’s authority rested in the Pope, but it’s armies were The Catholic Church had basically scared the hell out of protestants all over Europe, in particular in England. Notable events in recent memory:
1555-1558, over the course of 3 years, Mary Tudor burns nearly 300 protestant heretics at the stake. Dies young.
1558 — Elizabeth I, Protestant, becomes Queen.
1569 — Mary Queen of Scotts incites a massive Catholic Rebellion known as the “Northern Rising.”
1570 — The Pope excommunicates Elizabeth I, effectively giving her subjects the right rebel against her authority.
1572, Henri of Navarre murdered. This is followed by the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre where many, many (thousands) of Hugonauts were murdered.
1575 — Spanish Treasury goes bankrupt, Spanish troops pillage across Europe.
1588 — Spanish (Catholic) Armada meets its doom on the English coasts.
In short, Elizabeth I and all of English Protestantism were terrified of the Catholic Church, and not without basis. Elizabeth responds with many, many repressive taxes on Catholics.
1559 Act of Supremacy and Act of Uniformity, basically a tax on being Catholic.
1562-3 A Fine imposed for upholding the authority of the Pope.
1575 — restrictions on civil liberties of Catholics and a census for Catholics only.
1581 — huge fine if you miss four successive Protestant Sunday services.
1586 — Effectively allowed the government to seize Catholic property.
1593 — Catholics must stay within 5 miles of their homes
By 1603, when Elizabeth died and James I took the throne, Catholics in England had experienced nearly forty years of outrageous oppression. Which is why Guy Fawkes, merely one man in a team of 13, felt it right and just to dig a tunnel under parliament, fill it with gunpowder, and blow the whole thing up. Until,of course, the lot of them realized they could just rent a room in Westminster and fill that up, which removes the whole problem of digging a tunnel.
Unfortunately for them, one of their number ratted them out and James I lived another day.