The Fifth of November

Remember, remember the fifth of November,

gunpowder, treason and plot.

I see no reason why the gunpowder treason

should ever be forgot!

-British Nursery Rhyme

Anonymous, an internet protest group posted a video on YouTube earlier this week warning Zynga and Facebook of an attack on November 5th. Their main protest is against social game servicer Zynga that recently downsized its workforce by five percent because of poor quarterly performance. Facebook is caught up the crossfire for being the hosting platform for Zynga.

The date of the cyber attack is probably not a coincidence as it falls on Guy Fawkes Day (also known as Guy Fawkes Night, Bonfire Night, and Firework Night) in remembrance of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. Through the past few years, Anonymous strongly associated itself with the Guy Fawkes image. Many of its members appear at various protests donning the Guy Fawkes mask that was popularized by the 2005 film, V for Vendetta. It has been a little over four centuries since the original November 5th Gunpowder Plot, and the use of Guy Fawkes as a cultural icon is a departure from its origins.

The Gunpowder Plot took place in London in 1605 when a small group of English Catholics led by Robert Catesby planned the blowing up of the House of Lords during the State Opening of England’s Parliament on November 5th. After years of religious prosecution under Queen Elizabeth I, English Catholics were hopeful that King James I of England and VI of Scotland would be more tolerant because his mother, Mary, Queen of Scots, was Catholic. King James was tolerant at first, as long as Catholics did not cause trouble. But after multiple failed plots against the church and monarchy, he denounced the Catholic Church and religious prosecution resumed.

In 1604 the planning of the Gunpowder Plot began. The group’s main target was King James, but also included members of the Privy Council, legal system, Protestant aristocracy, House of Commons, close relatives, and bishops of the Church of England. If successful, Catesby and the other plotters planned on kidnapping Princess Elizabeth, daughter of King James, and install her as the Catholic Queen.

The plot was eventually foiled when the authorities received an anonymous tip. Search began late at night on November 4th, and ended when Guy Fawkes was found guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder right below the House of Lords. The other conspirators fled London, but one was shot during an ensuing battle and eight others including Fawkes were eventually sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered.

During the next assembly in the House of Lords in January 1606, the Observance of 5th November Act 1605 was passed. The day was observed annually up until 1859 with church bells, sermons, bonfires, and fireworks in celebration of the Gunpowder Plot being thwarted. Children traditionally made effigies of Fawkes made out of old clothes and stuffed with straw or newspaper. These “guys” were touted around town to collect money for fireworks, and later burned in a bonfire at the end of the celebration. Because of this, an oddly dressed person was called “guy” in the 19th century, which ultimately morphed in the current usage of the word for any male.

In the present, Guy Fawkes has come to be a symbol for anti-establishment movements. However, Guy Fawkes Day was originally started to dissuade dissent and to remember the stymied treason –the opposite of what popular American culture thinks it is about.

For further information on Guy Fawkes Day and the Gunpowder Plot:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/flash/0,5860,1605605,00.html

http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1856603,00.html

http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/civil_war_revolution/gunpowder_robinson_01.shtml

http://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/evolutionofparliament/parliamentaryauthority/the-gunpowder-plot-of-1605/

by World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh Intern Natalia Mitsui

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