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Remember, Remember the Fifth of November

fifth

Thomas Cadwell watched as the children danced around the bonfire, singing:

A penny loaf to feed the Pope.
A farthing o’ cheese to choke him.
A pint of beer to rinse it down.
A fagot of sticks to burn him.

He marked the fifth of November — as all in England did — though it was a strange kind of celebration. Cadwell was old enough to actually remember the events they all sang about.

He had been just a boy, no more than five or six, visiting relatives for the opening of the parliament in London, and the celebrations that would accompany the long-awaited event.

Burn him in a tub of tar.
Burn him like a blazing star.

Back then England had been partly Catholic.

Burn his body from his head.
Then we’ll say ol’ Pope is dead.
Hip hip hoorah!
Hip hip hoorah!

Cadwell remembered the day. The crowds had been rowdy with excitement, and surrounded the Houses of Parliament. His family couldn’t get very close, even though they were hoping to see the King.

It ended up saving his life.

The explosion had been spectacular: When the gunpowder went off, the House of Lords was reduced to rubble, killing King James and many nobles instantly. Everyone within 100 yards of the building was killed — the crowds outside, the Commons, all of the Lords — and the stained glass in Westminster Abbey shattered like the uneasy peace between Catholics and Protestants.

But the carnage was not over.

It came to light that the catastrophe was a Catholic conspiracy; the plotters tried to set Princess Elizabeth, James’s eldest daughter, on the throne. But England was having none of it. Catholics were rooted out and slaughtered, though some were allowed to convert to the Church of England.

Thomas had been one of those. In 1605 he’d only been six — younger even than the new King, Henry — and the mob that hunted down his Catholic family showed him mercy.

But not his father or mother, his brother or sisters.

Remember, remember the fifth of November,
The gunpowder, treason and plot,
I see of no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

He knew the children dancing around the flames could not remember what happened, so he was not angry with them for starting to sing the song again, dancing now with even more fervor. Since that day, Parliament had never met again, and the King’s power in Great Britain was absolute.

A tear ran down his face, and Thomas looked away, as the children continued dancing, and singing as the flames licked the darkening sky.

A papist plot of great extent,
Blew up the King and the Parliament.
Three score barrels of powder below,
Poor old England to overthrow:

By God’s providence they were catch’d
The Catholic treason was o’ermatched.

Holloa boys, holloa boys, make the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!
Hip hip hoorah!

Inspired by: The Gunpowder Plot | Bonfire pic by Dan Taylor. Originally published in 2006.

2 Comments

  1. […] The History Carnival No 43 is now up at Axis of Evel Knievel. My eye was particularly caught by some alternative history – what would have happened had the Gunpowder Plot succeeded, and a spectacularly entertaining and probably time-wasting online source, Kirby’s Wonderful and Scientific Museum: or Magazine of Remarkable Characters; Including all the Curiosities of Nature and Art from the Remotest Period to the Present Time, Drawn from Every Authentic Source. […]

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