October 20, 2016

Guy Fawkes Night

Close to midnight on 4th November 1605, an arrest was made in the cellars of the House of Lords. The plot, which had been 18 months in the making, had been designed by a small group of English Catholics who planned to assassinate the Protestant monarch, King James I, and replace him with his daughter, Elizabeth Stuart.

The plotters planned to kill both the King and his government by targeting them during the annual opening of Parliament. Guy Fawkes, the only member of the plot caught red-handed, was discovered alongside 36 barrels of unexploded gunpowder. He was tortured and sentenced to a traitor’s death of being hung, drawn and quartered but fell to his death from the hangman’s scaffolding and broke his neck, thus avoiding his intended gory, tortuous death.

The tradition of lighting bonfires to celebrate the King’s escape began almost immediately – the day after the foiled plot. However, it was not until the 19th century that people began burning effigies of Fawkes on top of bonfires to celebrate the failure of the Gunpowder Plot.

Here in Speaker’s House, we are home to a number of historic artefacts and one interesting piece is that of ‘Guy Fawkes’s Key’. The key dates from the early 17th century and although the actual origin of the key is not entirely known, it was found among to ruins of the old Palace of Westminster after the fire of 1834. It is likely that the key held a ceremonial role during the search of the House of Lords prior to the opening of Parliament. To this day, the Yeomen of the Guard conduct such a search before the Queen’s arrival in Parliament to ensure a modern-day Gunpowder Plot does not occur. Guy Fawkes’s key was presented to Speaker Peel in 1891 and regardless of the accuracy of its story, it is something I am proud to have in Speaker’s House.