Today is the 5th of November. And to Americans, this is just another day. In England, today is a day to celebrate! And to light bonfires and fireworks! And for remembrance.
Today’s post is about history of today and the history leading up to today. First, let’s first go through some historical perspective on monarchies and the messes they created along the way.
Henry VIII is known for a couple of things:
1) having six wives
2) creating the Church of England (the separation from the Roman Catholic Church is called the Reformation) – he declared himself the Supreme Head of the Church in 1534. This is where the title “Your Majesty” originates.
3) having an awful temperament and beheading anyone that upset him – this list of people include wife #2 (Anne Boleyn) and wife #5 (Catherine Howard). Anyone who publicly disagreed with the Church of England was executed as well.
4) he was King of both England and Ireland
5) he had three children, two daughters and a son – interestingly, all of them became the King or the Queen of England
Henry VIII and his first wife (Catherine of Aragon, who was the widow of his older brother Arthur) had one child whose name was Mary (later becoming Queen Mary I, but popularly called Bloody Mary). After being married to Catherine of Aragon for 18 years, Henry VIII decided that it was bad luck to have married his brother’s widow; this luck was clearly the reason for not having more children, particularly a son as an heir to the throne. Therefore, he divorced and annulled his marriage to Catherine of Aragon in order to marry wife #2 – Anne Boleyn. Anne would later gave birth to Elizabeth (later becoming Queen Elizabeth I). He beheaded Anne and married wife #3 – Jane Seymour; she died shortly after giving birth to Henry VIII’s only male heir, Edward (later becoming King Edward I). Wife #4 was Anne of Cleves. Henry VIII and Anne Cleves were divorced after only being married for six months. Wife #5 was Catherine Howard – she was executed, and wife #6 was Catherine Parr. Catherine Parr outlived the King and later remarried again (for the fourth time). However, Catherine Parr convinced Henry VIII to pass the Third Succession Act in 1543, which would restore the line of succession to the throne to both of his daughters.
After King Henry VIII died, his only son, Edward, became the next monarch of England and Ireland under the title King Edward VI. Edward VI was a Protestant king at the ripe age of 9. Succession became a big issue in England because he was really sick. Many wanted to keep Mary (King Henry’s first child) off of the throne because she was Catholic; others claimed that both Mary and Elizabeth were illegitimate for the throne, even though the Third Succession Act of 1543 named Mary as the next heir.
Four days after Edward VI died, Lady Jane Grey was proclaimed Queen of England (and Ireland). She was Edward’s cousin – King Henry VIII’s niece and the next heir to the throne (if you thought Mary and Elizabeth were illegitimate). Lady Jane Grey was proclaimed Queen by the Duke of Northumberland (John Dudley). John Dudley was the head of King Edward I’s government and happened to be Lady Jane Grey’s father-in-law. Coincidence? I think not. Now, if I was Mary or Elizabeth (Henry VIII’s daughters), I would have been angered by this. Mary made a counterclaim saying that she was the rightful heir of the throne, which gained a lot of support. Lady Jane Grey was executed after being Britain’s first Queen Regent (her reign of only 9 days is the shortest reign in British history).
Queen Mary I was crowned in July of 1553. Just as a reminder, she was Catholic and was the first child of King Henry VIII (and wife #1 – Catherine of Aragon). However, after her parent’s marriage was annulled, she was stripped of her title, declared illegitimate, and expelled from the court, which mostly likely made her very resentful towards Protestants. However, because of her mistreatment, Mary I had huge support as Queen initially, but it was short-lived. Her marriage to the future King of Spain (Phillip II) was very unpopular to the English. And she became a tyrant, burning hundreds of religious dissenters (non-Catholics) at the stake, which earned her the popular nickname of Bloody Mary. Mary and Phillip were childless; therefore when Mary passed away, the crown succeed to her Protestant half-sister Elizabeth.
Elizabeth was the second child of Henry VIII (and wife #2 – Anne Boleyn). She reigned for forty years and restored a lot of peace to the country. The Protestant Church of England had been created by her father and continued by her half-brother Edward I. However, her half-sister Bloody Mary attempted to restore Catholism to England and did it in a not-so-nice way. Queen Elizabeth I rejected the extremes of both Protestant and Catholic religions; she favored a more moderate Protestant religion with some Catholic traditions. For whatever reason, she never married and declared herself married to England. She is well known for this and for the resurgence of literacy and exploration under her reign as Queen.
Meanwhile, the following was happening in Scotland
(warning: the following information is very heavy because of all of the people named Mary or James):
1. King Henry VIII’s sister (Margaret Tudor) married King James IV of Scotland (reigned 1488-1513); they had a son (King James V of Scotland, reigned 1513-1542).
King James V married Mary of Guise had a daughter named Mary; she became Queen of Scotland (reigned 1542-1567 better known as Mary Queen of Scots). And because it becomes important later, Mary Queen of Scots was Catholic.
2. After King James IV of Scotland passed away, Margaret Tudor married Archibald Douglas. They had a daughter named Mary. Just joking! – they named her Margaret [Douglas].
Margaret Douglas married Matthew Stuart and they had a son named Henry Stuart, whose title was [English Catholic] Lord Darnley.
Henry Stuart (Lord Darnley) should not be confused with the third husband of his grandmother (Margaret Tudor) – his name was Henry Stewart.
3. Mary (as in, Mary Queen of Scots) married her cousin Henry Stuart (Lord Darnley) and they had a son, James (he would later become King. Twice.) Due to Henry Stuart (Lord Darnley)’s mysterious death and Mary Queen of Scots subsequent marriage to James Hepburn (Protestant Earl of Bothwell), a civil war broke out in Scotland. Mary Queen of Scots’s side lost this war. She was imprisoned and forced to abdicate the throne to her son (James) who was named King James VI of Scotland at the age of 1 and was brought up as a member of the Protestant Church of Scotland.
4. After breaking free from Scottish imprisonment, Mary Queen of Scots eventually fled to England to seek the mercy of Queen Elizabeth after that whole mess. Mary Queen of Scots was then imprisoned in England for 19 years under Queen Elizabeth’s rule – until Elizabeth had Mary Queen of Scots beheaded.
5. James VI of Scotland (son of Mary Queen of Scots and Henry Stuart (Lord Darnely)) and was the great-grandson of King Henry VII of England. He supported Queen Elizabeth I against (Catholic) France and Spain. Technically, Queen Elizabeth I of England (and Ireland) was King James VI of Scotland’s godmother. Because of all of this, it does seem fitting that when Queen Elizabeth I passed away (childless), she named James VI of Scotland the King of England/Ireland. Therefore, he is known as James VI of Scotland and King James I of England and Ireland – or for clarification James I/VI. This is where England, Ireland, and Scotland come together for the first time under one crown (the Union of Crowns).
Now all of that history leads to the history of today – the 5th of November!
The Gunpowder Plot of 1605 was devised to restore civic rights to Roman Catholics in England. A group of Catholic extremists planned to wipe out King James I/VI and his Protestant Parliament, then put one of his children on the throne as a puppet supporting Catholic causes. The Gunpowder Plot’s explosive expert was named Guy Fawkes. There were 36 barrels of gunpowder were planted under the House of Parliament. Because a Catholic Parliament member was advised to not attend Parliament on the night of November 4, suspicion caused guards to investigate. They found the explosives being guarded by Fawkes, who was arrested and tortured until he named the other conspirators. They were sentenced to be hung, drawn, and quartered. (Ew.)
In the aftermath of the failed conspiracy to assassinate the King James I/VI, his council allowed the public to celebrate his King’s survival by lighting bonfires. The following year, the Observance of the 5th November Act was passed, which suggested that the king’s apparent deliverance by divine intervention deserved official and public recognition. For a long time, there was a long history of anti-Catholic sentiment, which was expressed and prominently displayed on November 5 by burning effigies of Guy Fawkes in bonfires. The modern November 5 celebrations are now mostly ran by volunteers and paid for by local charities or with paid admission and controlled access to spectators.
Tonight, we walked to a nearby park (Midsummer Common) where there was a fireworks show and a large bonfire along with carnival rides. There were volunteers maintaining the bonfire and other volunteers holding buckets for donations to cover the costs of the celebrations. For me on this November 5, I remember that lighting a giant bonfire and setting off fireworks have a deep footed history and are tradition in the UK. However, more importantly, I remember that hate, crime, and inequality are still present in the world, but unnecessarily so. We all have a responsibility to be a part of a movement to change the world that we live in today to be more peaceful, respectful, and tolerant one.