Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Guy Named Fawkes

Last Thursday was Guy Fawkes Day here in the UK. It is their version of the Fourth of July. The daylight hours did not show too much evidence of the national holiday but when the sun went down the sky lit up! Fireworks burst into the air from every corner of my neighborhood. This went on for hours and hours, well in to the night. My bedroom window overlooks the grassy quad between the backs of residential buildings and there were pods of sparkling parties going on for ages in there. And as I watched the display coming from my immediate neighbors in the ‘backyard’, there were dozens more fireworks bursting in the night sky that had been launched from the front side of the nearby buildings. The noise was incredible as it echoed off the stone Victorian structures that comprise my surrounding area. It sounded like we were under attack!

So who is Guy Fawkes and what is the UK celebrating, my American friends might ask. Well… As you may know from history classes in school or maybe the television series ‘The Tudors’, King Henry VIII of England broke with the Catholic Church during his reign in order to get rid of his first wife and marry his girlfriend. Seems the Pope was not going to grant an annulment and never would sanction a divorce, being Catholic and all. During the Reformation as it is called, Henry established the Protestant Church of England and declared himself the head honcho. This started a Catholic versus Protestant conflict that still has ramifications to this very day. After Henry died his Protestant son Edward took the throne but he was sick and didn’t last long. Next was his first daughter by his first marriage, the Catholic Mary I. Naturally, this thrilled the Catholics and upset the Protestants. Then, after Mary died, Henry’s second daughter from his second marriage the Protestant Elizabeth I came to the throne. She ruled for a really long time but since she never had any kids when she died they had to find somebody from the royal bloodlines to take the job. The task fell to the Protestant James VI of Scotland who became James I of England. He was already King in Scotland and now he was to be King in England as well. This is where Guy Fawkes and his crew come in. They were Catholic and were against having a Protestant King and country so; they hatched a plan called the Gunpowder Plot. On November 5, 1605 they were going to blow up Parliament and King James using twenty barrels of gunpowder. But here’s the rub; on November 4th Guy Fawkes got busted. In custody he was tortured and forced to give the names of his accomplices. Guy and his co-conspirators were executed on February 1, 1606. Now every year on the 5th of November the UK celebrates the spoiling of the Gunpowder Plot and the downfall of Guy Fawkes and his team. This holiday is especially big in Scotland because James I was after all a Scot, indeed the King of Scotland! So in celebration of Parliament and James not being torched, they try to set the neighborhood ablaze instead. Good times! Seriously though, the fireworks were lovely, for the first three hours at least.

Next Thursday is graduation. Finally! The official ceremony that brings this crazy adventure to a formal close. I’m looking to wrap up my blog after graduation but don’t worry, I’ll give a full report on the ceremony and festivities before I do!

Take care my friends!

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