In the 1960s, we sometimes got a peek into the specifically “English” way of life. In Belfast our “fireworks” night was Halloween but from TV and comics, we learned that Guy Fawkes Night (5th November) was their night…Fireworks and Bonfires.
And it seemed like more fun than our Halloween.
English children made a “guy” (an effigy in old clothes and face mask) and pestered passers-by with shouts of “Penny For the Guy”.
And on Bonfire Night the “guy” was burned.
Our parents and teachers were wary of this “English” fun. We were not to see it as fun.
Rather as one of the last vestiges of virulent English Anti-Catholicism.
The original Guy Fawkes was publicly executed in London in early 1606, for his part in the Gunpowder Plot…the Catholic plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament during its opening by King James I.
James was the unpopular Scottish choice to be King of England (and Scotland). The son of the executed Mary, Queen of Scots, he turned out not to be as sympathetic to England’s recusant Catholics as they had hoped.
And some well placed Catholic gentry in England plotted to kill him.
And it all went wrong. Fawkes was discovered with the gunpowder under the Houses of Parliament and under torture, revealed the names of his co-conspirators…most of whom had already fled London, they were arrested after a siege in the Midlands…one or two dying in the fire-fight.
And after a show-trial, the eight survivors were sentenced to the grisly death of being hanged, drawn and quartered. In fact, Guy Fawkes escaped the most gruesome aspect of his execution by ensuring he broke his own neck on the scaffold.
I have never had much time for English “recusancy” (those aristocratic English families who clung to the old Faith of Our Fathers …as in their hymn).
First of all they were aristocrats and under successive pre-Reformation regimes had a typically superior attitude to the colonisation of Ireland….aided and abetted by their own myth of Laudebiliter the papal bull (“papal bullshit” as Cardinal O’Fiach put it) that Ireland in some way “belongs” to England.
It may seem absurd but a lot of “English” Catholics, still believe that shite. No point mentioning that the Pope who dreamed this up was….er….English (Nicholas Breakspear).
So its all historic isnt it?
Well not quite. It is all surprisingly contemporary.
Guy Fawkes was from Yorkshire. Not actually born a Catholic around 1570….he became converted after the death of his father. And was radicalised to the extent that he went off to fight for (Catholic) Spain against (Protestant) Dutch…16th century religious wars.
The Catholic position then (absurd to Catholic nationalists and catholic democrats in 2013) was that Roman Canon Law trumped the national laws of England.
And young Catholic men …contemporaries of Guy Fawkes…..studied for the priesthood in France and Spain, before returning to England.
The extent to which radical Catholicism in the reign of Elizabeth I and James I was actually benign….peaceable religious men preaching Catholicism and being loyal to the monarch/country or sinister…religiously motivated zealots and terrorists …is too easily glossed over by England’s Catholics.
And please note here that I draw a distinction between “native” English Catholicism and the generations of Irish, Italian, German, Spanish, Philippine, migration which has supplemented.
English Catholicism has endured a fraught relationship with the English State…thru two more centuries before Emancipation in 1829.
But the English hierarchy has trouble with the concept of religious martyrs and political martyrs.
By any reasonable definition, Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators are clearly “terrorists”.
By any reasonable definition, those innocent priests and lay people who died for their faith are victims of anti-Catholicism.
But there is a grey area where foreign educated priests talked of Elizabeth and James as heretics…English Jesuits being particuarly vitriolic.
And there is certainly a cross-over between Religion and Terrorism.
But it could not happen now, in the 21st Century.
Well on 7th July 2005, four young men from Yorkshire planted bombs in London. They killed around fifty people on the London Underground and on a London bus.
Religious fanatics? Yes but Islamic fanatics.
And had they been radicalised by clerics who claim that Sharia (Islamist) Law trumps national laws?
In 1605, the radical Catholic preachers condemned heretics.
In 2013, the radical Islamists talk of infidels.
No Yorkshire man goes to fight in religious wars on the continent like Guy Fawkes did….but they do fight in religious wars in Afghanistan and Somalia.
And no young men from Yorkshire study Theology in a seminary in France or Spain.
But they do learn Theology in a madras in Pakistan.
The story of Guy Fawkes is still very relevant.