I’m always intrigued by the truth behind the stories we come to know from early childhood; clearly there is always embellishment en route, but all the greatest stories, even if fantastically re-told, have a basis in fact. The stories of the Old Testament Bible spring to mind here.
You don’t need to look far these days to find a bit more flesh to add onto the bones of this particular legendary tale. For a start, the original celebration was actually passed in to law by James I – the King who wasn’t in the end blown up on the night; he adapted it from an existing custom which celebrated the accession of monarchs with nationwide bonfires, and made it an annual event held on the day “she should have blown”, November 5th. That law was actually only repealed in 1859, but after 250 years plus, it had become part of the very fabric of the beginning of Winter.
And then of course there is Guy himself; Catholic agitator who fought for the Spanish Army in the Netherlands, he found himself in the cellars of Parliament the night before the planned explosion by dint of the fact he was the explosion guy. He had learnt all about munitions on the continent under the command of Archduke Albert of Austria. Whilst he was one of the original conspirators, it was essentially one Sir Robert Catesby who cooked up the whole idea of blowing up Parliament and the Protestant King with it. The plan was simple – sort of – once James was dead, he would be replaced with his daughter who they planned to kidnap and then marry her into a noble Catholic family and England would once again be ruled by a Pope friendly monarch. What could possibly go wrong?
Guy’s role was more the safe pair of hired Catholic hands who knew which end of a fuse to light. But as he was caught with the match in those safe hands hiding out amongst the barrels of powder, the plot is most closely associated with him and so now essentially bears his name.
Hard to know whether Sir Robert will be spinning in his grave about the injustice of that or not.
So when you watch old Guy burning atop the bonfire, as the fireworks whizz and bang around you, spare a thought for Guy’s co-conspirators. They may all have met with grizzly ends, but they don’t get their names in lights 4 centuries on. But then again, perhaps they would see that as a good thing.
And here’s a delicious mulled cyder recipe to keep you warm on the night: Mulled Cyder