The Fifth of November,
Gunpowder treason plot.
I see no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.
In 1605, a group of English Roman Catholic conspirators were discovered to have stored some 1,800 pounds of gunpowder in a cellar under the House of Lords in the British Houses of Parliament. The idea was to wipe out King James I of England (VI of Scotland), his family, and most of the aristocracy (the Lords) by putting a match to the whole thing during the State Opening of Parliament.
One of the conspirators, however, was concerned that some of those who would be blown up were Catholics and wrote a letter of warning to Lord Monteagle. On November 5, 1605, the cellars were raided, and Guy Fawkes was discovered and arrested. Under torture, he revealed the names of his co-conspirators, who were rounded up or killed trying to evade capture. In January 1606, Fawkes and a number of the others were tried and found guilty of treason. They were hanged, drawn, and quartered.
Guy Fawkes and the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 are remembered every November 5 in England with fireworks and bonfires on which effigies of Guy Fawkes are burned (gruesome entertainment for children, when you think about it). One of the best parts was tucking potatoes at the base of the bonfire to bake in the embers. By the time the fireworks were over, the potatoes were cooked. The skins were charred and you always burned your fingers, but no baked potatoes have ever tasted as good as those.
In the days leading up to the 5th children used, when I was growing up, to haul the effigies around on makeshift carts or pushchairs (strollers), chanting, “Penny for the guy,” and collecting money for fireworks. I don’t know if they still do.