Remember, remember the fifth of November!

This was a cry to make sure that no-one in 17th century Britain forgot the dastardly plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament on the 5th of November 1605.  I write this post to the sound of fireworks in the normally quiet evening of Auckland’s North Shore. So why should we remember and what relevance, if any, is there today over 400 years later?

I have a particular interest in Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot through sharing a common ancestor; one John Fawkes of Farnley in Yorkshire, who died in 1496.  He was the great-great grandfather of Guy Fawkes, the Conspirator.  I am a direct descendant of the elder son, Nicholas Fawkes; in contrast to Guy Fawkes whose lineage is from the younger son.  For those not familiar with the traditions of the English gentry, younger sons were well down the pecking order with a limited choice of army, church or the colonies as a way of earning their keep.

It is somewhat ironic that the family motto of the Fawkes of Farnley is “a deo et rege” – or “for God and King”. This touches on one of the most sensitive and important issues that Queen Elizabeth I and then King James I had to contend with.  Could the English Catholics be trusted and how could they be loyal subjects of the Queen (or later the King) whilst at the same time being loyal Catholics with allegiance to the Pope in Rome?

Alice Hogge in her book “God’s Secret Angels” write a very insightful account of the events leading up to the Gunpowder Plot. The Book Description by HarperCollins refers to the Gunpowder Plotters as a “small group of terrorists”. Whether they were  terrorists of misguided freedom fighters is a matter of opinion and it depends on your perspective.  The label you care to apply is is not that relevant.

What is very relevant is the comparison between England in the early 1600’s and Britain, the US and other countries in the aftermath of September 11.   Alice Hogge shows the frightening parallels in her “Author’s Note (pages 396-398):  torture warrants, indefinite detention without trial and the acceptance of evidence obtained through torture.  She also draws parallels between the plight of English Catholics in the 1600’s and British Muslims today.  How can then be both Muslim and loyal British citizens and how can they prove their loyalty?

Parliament under Queen Elizabeth I forced Catholics to sign an Oath of Allegiance.  Their objection was “how can a man truly swear he abjures a position he never held?’ I should add that women were also obliged to sign and some of them went to a painful death for refusing to do so.  We run the risk of marginalising those who are different and excluding them from society. Furthermore by putting them under constant suspicion and expecting them to constantly prove their loyalty, we give them grounds for feeling insecure and help those who wish to radicalise these minorities.

Having a brown skin can often be grounds for suspicion.  I can vouch for this from my wife’s experiences as an ethnic Indian born in South Africa.  She has lost count of the number of times she has been subject to “random” searches in her frequent international travels.

We should all be aware of our prejudices and be on our guard against those who would condemn people just because of perceived differences. We should not simply tolerate diversity, we should celebrate it with gusto.  Happy Diwali 2010!

Simon Fawkes
Business to Markets Ltd

PS My favourite quip about Guy Fawkes is “the only man to enter Parliament with honest intentions”.

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2 Responses

  1. 'Remember, remember the fifth of November'…

    Bonfires and elaborate firework displays will be started across England tonight to commemorate one of the most notorious terrorist plots in British history. Known as the “Gunpowder Plot,” Nov. 5, 1605 marks the day that a former soldier Guy …

  2. Simon this is so fascinating! I’m sure it is especially interesting for you with the family lineage. I have just spent the last few months devouring books about Elizabethan England. Elizabeth was quite moderate and tolerant of Catholics and didn’t retaliate to the religious burnings that were carried out under her sister Mary’s reign (Bloody Mary). She made it compulsory for people to go to church, and was happy to allow Catholics to pay the fine and continue to hold Mass at home. That is my understanding from my reading anyway. Keep up the great Blog – it’s delightful to see someone Blogging about how history can teach us about our lives today. Cheers, Philippa Weaver

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