The Evangelical Universalist Forum

What d'ya think of Guy Fawkes Night?

Since Halloween - big in the USA but not in Britain - has been cause for much discussion here, I wonder what our cousins on the other side of the pond make of Guy Fawkes Night. Can a universalist participate in good conscience? Your starter for ten - and it’s coming up tomorrow night :confused:

I’ll start off for ten, even though you already know my two-cents.:slight_smile:

Guy Fawkes Night is not so popular over here. I will surely hear “Remember, remember the fifth of November” tomorrow, but that is largely because of the popularization of Guy Fawkes due to the movie, V for Vendetta (which I’ve never seen). It’s not due to historical knowledge or traditional customs.

I did not hear about Guy Fawkes Night until I was a junior in high school, actually. That is the year American students take “British Literature” in my school district. My teacher, an anglophile to the highest degree, told us about “the gunpowder treason and plot.”

Perhaps Guy Fawkes night is more popular in other parts on the States. My area has a high, high concentration of those with German ancestry, so we celebrate random German things. We hold “Oktoberfests” throughout autumn, with lots of strudel and schnitzel and other delicious things that make me gladly celebrate my German-ness. :laughing: Cincinnati, Ohio actually has the second largest Oktoberfest in the world, second only to the one in Berlin. We also have lots of families (my own included!) who put pickle ornaments in their Christmas trees. :laughing: So perhaps in an area where the population comes from predominately British heritage, they put a little more oomph in remembering the Fifth of November.

But Happy Guy Fawkes Day (or Guy Fawkes Day Eve, I suppose) to you, Uncle Prof, and all my other British cousins. :smiley:


Hi Dick,
Loved the film “Starter for Ten” with James McAvoy! :smiley: Especially loved the soundtrack with Kate Bush, The Cure, The Psychedelic Furs, Motorhead etc. Really took me back to that time and when I was that age (it’s set in 1985 so… :wink: )

As far as Guy Fawkes night goes, I knew very little about it until my very recent research on Wikipedia. Didn’t know it was apparently celebrated as “Pope day” here in North America until the time of the American Revolution. One historian, Alfred Young felt that… “Pope Day provided the ‘scaffolding, symbolism, and leadership’ for resistance to the Stamp Act in 1764-1765, forgoing previous gang rivalries in favour of unified resistance to Britain.” In 1775 George Washington had this to say:

And so, the beginning of the end of “Pope Day” in America…

It sounds like the anti-Catholic spirit of Guy Fawkes day has dissipated over time in the UK. If it has, indeed, lost all political and religious meaning, then it’s probably a harmless enough event. What do Catholics in the UK feel about the celebration these days? It does sound like it might be kind of fun and a bit wacky in some locales as I learned that “in Ottery St Mary men chase each other through the streets with lit tar barrels.” :smiley: Do the men chasing each other have lit tar barrels or are the lit tar barrels simply on the streets?


I’d never heard of it until I read your post 5 minutes ago and Googled it. :blush: Apparently I haven’t thought much of it.

Hmm… so if the plotters had been successful then the Authorized KJV may have been the Authorized KCV ? :wink:

I’ve never heard of it outside of an occasional mention in British literature (usually involving some escapade of kids and firecrackers) so it’s not popular in any of the areas I’ve lived in. I remember one incident from a Captain Marryat book where a cruel teacher had confiscated all the boys’ firecrackers and cancelled their half-holiday. If memory serves, the boys attempt at vengeance accidentally blew up the school and injured the teacher. :open_mouth: That’s about all I know about the holiday. :wink:


Here we go then boys and girls -

When we celebrate Guy Fawkes Night now it’s just an excuse to party with fireworks and indulge in our very own British Heritage theme park. It doesn’t mean anything more than this anymore. Its’ great fun with a bit of grim, and bloody history lurking in the wings.
Catholic kids join in the fun and there is absolutely no association between it and older anti-Catholic traditions. And monarchists and republicans all join in the fun too. And yes they do get up to some really whacky things in some parts of the country including stuff with barrels of pitch and the like (although I don’t know the details).

Here’s a little bit of English history for you

When the Plotters made their attempt to blow up Parliament in full session with the King (James I) present in 1605, England was basically a Protestant country with a Catholic minority in it (and the Protestantism was a liberal compromise – a sort of Reformed Catholicism). Catholics in Elizabeth’s I reign – the previous monarch - had only come under persecution when the Pope declared her fair game for Catholic assassins (and there were many attempts on her life) and when the King of Spain attempted his invasion. They had not been persecuted because of their religion. And the majority English Catholics were happy to be loyal subjects of the realm and the terrorist sonly gave then a bad name.

James 1 had succeeded the childless Elizabeth. Because his mother was the Catholic Mary Queen f Scots the Catholics hoped for preferment. However, James was raised a strict Calvinist after John Knox’s school. He was known as the ‘wisest fool in Christendom’ for being both pretentious and an idiot. For example he was obsessed with witchcraft and had written a learned book on it -‘Demonology’. In Scotland many thousands of witches were tortured and burned during the same period when only three hundred were ever killed in England – and none of them tortured here and death was by hanging only. James was basically laughed at when he tired to introduce his obsessions into England. He was also a man of incredible arrogance – and insisted on being addressed as the Anointed one of God (and addressed as ‘Most Dread Sovereign’ in the preface to the KJV).

However there was no popular support for the plotters. If they had killed the King and all of the Lords and Commoners they would have created a situation of anarchy in which sectarian massacres would have taken place on a massive scale and England would have been embroiled in the same terrible religious wars that tore Europe to pieces .

James would have liked to rule as a tyrant – but could not because the monarchy did not have absolute power. In the Middle Ages we had a line of French Kings who also had vast lands in France. This eventfully resulted in war between the English French Kings and their French Royal cousins. The English French Kings eventually lost the war – which curtailed their power drastically and lead to the beginnings of democracy in England after a terrible civil war. The actual French Kings became so powerful that they became real tyrants. So in this situation if the plotters had succeeded apart from the prospect of bloodletting and anarchy, England could have ended up with a French Catholic tyrant as King ruling as an absolute monarch 9rhater than King Charles with his KCV). And the absolute power of the French King would have been further increased. And if that had been the case the American war of Independence would have been a very bloody and horrible affair too. IT wasn’t actually that bad – because Britain was a democracy and only part of Parliament – the Tories – supported the war. The Whigs and the Radicals did not support the war because they saw it as an act of Tyranny. Brits today see it as a stupid war rather than any source of grievance.

The Gunpowder Plotters were desperados. Guido Fawkes was the fall guy (forgive the pun) caught with the taper in his hand. The other plotters lead by one Robert Catesby ended up having a shoot out with the Kings militia somewhere in the Midlands. They were so desperate that they had got their own powder wet while riding hard on horseback, tired to dry it in front of the log fire in the house, and blew themselves up! Their only achievement was to increase anti-Catholic feelings and to put off Catholic emancipation here by at least a hundred years.

It is true that at first the effigy burned on November the 5th was not of Guy Fawkes but of the Pope. I think this practice persisted in Calvinist Northern Ireland until recent times. But I’m happy to say the anti Catholic context has completely died out in the mainland – and I hope it is well and truly on its way out in Northern Ireland.

Blessings (and raise a glass to poor old Guy the fall guy :laughing: )


As a boy, we used to have great fun with crackers. A great favorite was to use a cigarette as a wick and plant “penny bungers” (the size of a fat sausage) in the school toilets. I also made a shotgun from a metal bicycle pump and a specially crafted gun stock, and would use penny bungers to blast rocks through a 44 gallon drum up the back yard behind the shed.

Of course, some odious official then decided to ban cracker night. I can’t imagine why.

I don’t know much about it, but I know that V For Vendetta was a great movie, and you should all check it out :slight_smile:"

I posted about it a bit here on my Movies thread:

Steve -

Here’s the Tar Barrels of Ottery St Mary’s Race – I guess this were originally part of the All Hallows Revels until transferred to 5th November after 1605.

Here’s the Chester Cheese race – another ancient custom originally part of the local Shrovetide revels in the middle ages

Good old fashioned fun!

Sonia - aren’t you sorry you asked that question? :laughing: (Oh and it’s not a holiday as such - it’s just a night we celebrate - and there are big public fireworks displays the weekend after November 5th if it does not fall at the weekend. It is basically Halloween transferee by Royal decree to November 5th after 1605 and with a distinctive gunpowder theme)

Dan I loved the KCV joke :laughing:

Allan you were a little rascal :laughing:

Matt you watch as many films as I read books :laughing:

Kate thanks, happy November 5th to you too and too all everywhere -
(And this one 's grim)

Remember -

Guy Fawkes went to the Houses of Parliament
Gunpowder, tinder for it was his intent
To blow up the Houses the Houses of Parliament
Bang Bang Bang
Fa la la dow a dickie
Bang Bang Bang :laughing:


Who knew you guys had so much fun over there? We’re way too sophisticated over here on this side of the pond for that sort of shenanigans – more’s the pity! :laughing: Alas, that sort of thing takes hold best in small towns where people have lived in the same town for generations, I suppose. We haven’t got many of those left. :frowning: But I had a blast watching your videos. Thanks! :smiley:

Love, Cindy

As I kid I used to absolutely love Bonfire Night. You could get these brilliant fireworks called jumping jacks which were basically bangers which jumped around on the ground - and seemed to follow you around! Plus you could get simple bangers - I guess our American friends would call these cherry bombs, although ours were not as powerful, I don’t think.

Sadly these fun little items have long been banned by the health and safety Gestapo, along with clackers, C-4 plastic explosive, enriched Plutonium thermonuclear devices and all those other things we played with in blissful ignorance of the dangers they posed. (Seriously, those clackers were bloody lethal!)

The tradition of ‘penny for the guy’ seems to have died a death too. Mainly, I suspect, because it was basically an excuse for oiks to beg money aggressively off little old ladies. Plus the guys were always rubbish.

Then when I grew up and learned about this poor bugger Guy Fawkes who we used to merrily burn in effigy every year it was a bit of an eye opener. He wasn’t even the leader of the Gunpowder Plot (that was Robert Catesby), and he suffered horrifically for his part in the failed assassination of James 1st. Google him and check out the facsimile of his signature before and after torture and you’ll see what I mean.

Fortunately for him he managed to avoid being emasculated and disembowelled before being beheaded by jumping from the scaffold and breaking his neck. His fellow conspirators weren’t so lucky :frowning: .

It seems extraordinary to us nowadays that denominational disagreements ran so deep then that people were prepared to commit regicide, or die themselves, just to get their lot into power. And it seems even stranger to me that five hundred years later we still - albeit only very tangentially - mark the death of this ‘Catholic traitor’ in Britain.

It’s a funny old world, eh?

Yes Cindy we have some good old fashioned fun over here.
Hi Johnny –

People aren’t celebrating the death of a Catholic traitor anymore. They just aren’t - the meaning of things changes with time. Guy has become a figure of myth – kids’ wear Guy Fawkes masks now like they wear Halloween masks in the USA. In a way he’s got some of the lovable rebel archetype about him now. I think I wore a Guy Fawkes mask once – and it didn’t turn me into a traitor or a terrorist.

I first heard the full story of Guy Fawkes when I was about nine I think. Well it wasn’t about religious intolerance – as you show - it was about power politics and the stakes were hugely high. I’ve suggested above that if the plotters had succeeded there would have been terrible massacre and bloodletting in the land and very likely the Catholic King of France would have taken advantage, invaded and ruled as a tyrant setting up the inquisition here. I think that’s a correct assessment. So it wasn’t simply about people having religious disagreements – religion and politics were inextricably linked at the time. And I reflect, thank God we have separated Church and State in the Western world today in our own different ways. Render unto Caesar…

But power and the abuses and uses of power are still part of our funny old world I guess - so I don’t close the book.

Guido Fawkes was the fall guy – there is one theory that he was actually set up. Who knows – but you are correct he was obviously tortured terribly. Funnily enough in England alone at the time torture was forbidden in most cases – it was outlawed in Magna Carter -whereas on the continent it was simply meted out as part of the punishment. The exception was with those involved in acts of treachery. They were tortured to extract information. Guido was the first plotter captured – he was tortured to get him to reveal the whereabouts of the other plotters. It didn’t work actually – he didn’t spill the beans. IT was a horrifying story to hear as a boy but it made me think about torture and the rights of prisoners etc at a young age. So I’m not unhappy I heard it. This sir a cruel world and I’m part of it.

Robert Catesby was lucky enough to get himself shot trying to escape. Some of the other plotters were severely wounded when they tried to dry out their wet powder shot in front of a fire so they could fire back at the Kings men who assailed them in a farm house. Guido was lucky that he died quickly before being cut down. The others were killed in a slow and unspeakable manner – which Kings at the time saw as a sort of parable of how God will treat rebels on the last day – except that the torture will never end. Again it was disturbing to find these things out. But I’m glad I did.
But I also remember cups of hot tomato soup in a cold night. Letting off bangers, Catherine wheels and Roman Candles and rockets spangling the sky, writing your name out in sparklers – all the stuff kids still do, although the fireworks are a lot safer now which is good

When I was young kids made a real effort to produce good Guys – and I don’t’ remember the harassed old ladies. There were great ones on display; it was at a time when most people had little disposable income. But I know that the practice went downhill quickly over a few years when people became better off and consumerism became rife.

So Bonfire night for me was form early years also a time of reflection on cruelty and intolerance and on terrorism and violence as well as begin the Brit version of the festival of lights as the darkness comes in. I’ve no problems with this. It adds complexity and riches to the night.
People aren’t celebrating the death of a Catholic – and the plotters died horrible and indefensible deaths in a barbarous age. But they weren’t little innocents. I feel most sorry for all of the Catholics who suffered because of them – especially Father Garnet who only heard their confusions.
He was a fine man and lost his life because of their recklessness.

All the best


Hi Johnny – I mean I guess if you want to ponder it for serious lessons that the past might yield there are parallels with today. At the time of the plot Calvinism, Lutheranism, and Catholicism basically worked on a theocratic model. They were not denominations in a plural society. They were magisteriums, and within their jurisdiction you had to belong to their Church and you had to subscribe to their beliefs down to the last jot and tittle – or you got killed. In England the settlement was more liberal – you ah dot go to Church but no one pressed you on your actual beliefs. So people who were basically Calvinist, Catholic or Lutheran or other in persuasion could live unhindered as long as they went to Church on Sunday as an expression of loyalty to the Crown. SO it was the beginnings of the liberal separation of Church and State.
If you want an equivalent today – and this equivalence is often drawn – we have resurgent theocratic Islamism within sizable Muslim populations in the UK. Funny old world but it’s very similar to Catholics in Guy Fawkes day. Many Muslims like the Catholics in Jacobean England are only too happy with the freedoms they enjoy and to be part of a liberal Christian based culture, and simply want to get on with their lives and worship as they wish. A minority (albeit not a tiny minority) want a theocracy in the UK.

It’s the same dilemma – how do you keep the dangerous minority in check without being repressive towards the loyal majority or dealing with the theocratic minority in ways that bring us down to their level and enlist the sympathies of the law abiding majority? Simples … unfortunately not.

Hi Dick, my dear old thing

Thanks for your thoughts on this one - germane, interesting, informative, challenging - as I would expect :smiley: .

I don’t want to be pedantic, but I didn’t say we “celebrate” the death of a Catholic traitor. My observation was more along the lines that we still ‘mark’ or observe an occasion which originally celebrated the death of a Catholic traitor. (Assuming, of course, that you see Guy Fawkes as a traitor :wink: ,)

You’re right that Guy Fawkes has morphed into a mythical figure. And of course, probably 90% of people who go to watch firework displays on 5th November have no knowledge of who he was or what he died trying to achieve.

No, my point - poorly articulated - was more about how a very specific, religious ‘festival’ has evolved into a purely secular occasion, while yet retaining some vaguely historical trappings and attendant significance.



:smiley: Sorry to be grumpy Johnny -

Well if secularisation means that we no longer need sacred scapegoats - and I think that’s part of it - perhaps that’s how these things of grim origin evolve in this way. I actually no longer see burning of effigies of Guy much in evidence these days - and that is all to the good I think. And I never hear of burning effigies of the Pope which was the original practice.

Kids running around in Guy Fawkes masks seems far healthier to me. Safe fireworks are a real blessings too - the level of unnecessary injury was awful when I was a boy.But I do think it’s good that now the historical story is openly discussed in all of its awfulness and not with an anti Catholic bias - in the media and in schools. T.S. Elliot once said something about ‘A people without a history cannot be redeemed in history’ and he also said ‘we cannot revive old factions’ (thank God).


Dick :slight_smile:

When I was at school we used to sing a song that went -

Build a bonfire, build a bonfire
Put the teachers on the top
Put the prefects in the middle
And burn the blinking lot -

I think that’s why Guy the rebel appeals to kids :laughing:

We used to call them “bungers” as kids. That’s because some Poms pronounce Bang as Bung. So I’d say “That bunger went bang!” You’d say, “Thart bunger went bung.”

We were quite oblivious to this. The only ones terrorized were the poor dogs, who used to bark and tremble and howl piteously.

That made me smile, in a sad sort of way.

Oh dear - here I go again with the dyslexic malaprops :laughing:

I think thart I’ll have bunggers and mash for tea tonight :laughing:

True, and true. Although what you increasingly get these days is the burning of effigies of unpopular people - Piers Morgan, David Cameron, the bloke off the Go Compare adverts :wink: . No, actually, you just don’t really get effigy burning at all, mostly. It’s purely a fireworks display organised by the local Rotary Club :slight_smile: .

As for the real sectarian history and meaning of ‘Guy Fawkes Night’, that’s gone completely, yes. But there remains a sort of ‘cultural trace memory’ of it - that’s what I was getting at.

Pip Pip


Well we have to deal with the cultural trace memory of it by remembering it properly. The myth is one thing - what actually happened is another. And we have he sources to do a pretty good reconstruction and interpretation of those events - the sources are not thin on the ground.

And we can learn from it - I hope. One of the reasons I’m cautiously optimistic that one day British Muslims will be as integrated as British Catholics and British Presbyterians are today is because I know the sources from the time of Magisterial Christianity fairly well. People may say that the Bible is not like the Koran - but if you see the selection of texts that they used from the OT merged with NT apocalyptic that the magisterial Christians used to justify their pretentions to theocracy and the need for religious persecution and even genocide you’ll see I’ve grounds to be hopeful about British Muslims (at least cautiously).

But hey Simon Cowell and Piers Morgan - build a bonfire :laughing:

Ah, so these two are disliked cross-continentally? :laughing: