“Remember, Remember, the Fifth of November…”: Guy Fawkes Day

Remember, remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder treason and plot
We see no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

English children’s chant when collecting money for fireworks
on Guy Fawkes Day
Guy Fawkes Day celebrates the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot, in which a group of conspirators aimed to restore Catholic rule to England by assassinating King James I and members of Parliament via gunpowder explosion. The celebration is named for the man in possession of kegs of gunpowder when he was arrested shortly after midnight on November 5. The trial for this now infamous act of high treason quickly followed the torture of the conspirators, whose conviction was a foregone conclusion despite pleas of not guilty. The executions were, by statute, quite grisly. Guy Fawkes Day is still marked in the United Kingdom with bonfires and fireworks.

At present, sentences for treason are no longer so gruesome, but still very serious. For their crime today, Fawkes and his co-conspirators would face up to life in prison. (Treason Act, 1998, c. 146, § 1.) In the United States, however, a defendant can still be sentenced to death. (18 U.S.C. § 2381 (2006.)