Today in History: November 5

Remember, remember, the 5th of November
The Gunpowder Treason and plot;
I see of no reason why Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
—English Nursery Rhyme, author unknown

Today marks the 406th anniversary of the discovery and arrest of Guy Fawkes, one of several conspirators against King James I of England, who was found guarding three dozen kegs of gunpowder under the House of Lords. Under torture, he confessed that there was a plot, known to this day as the Gunpowder Plot, to overthrow the king.

In a Mary Poppins novel from 1943, P.L. Travers wrote about Fawkes: “The plot was discovered, however, before any damage was done. The only result was that King James and his Parliament went on living but Guy Fawkes, poor man, did not. He was executed with the other conspirators. Nevertheless, it is Guy Fawkes who is remembered today and King James who is forgotten. For since that time, the Fifth of November in England, like the Fourth of July in America, has been devoted to Fireworks.”

Under torture, Fawkes was unyielding. At one point he is quoted as declaring, “A desperate disease requires a dangerous remedy,” and that this was why he and his fellow conspirators wanted to blow up the government. They were each executed in January 1606.

In his great book The English and Their History (2014), Robert Tombs writes: “The government did not use this plot to begin a general persecution. It died encourage, and indeed required, pubic rejoicing at the failure of the plot, and this became over the centuries England’s only real, and certainly most enjoyable, national day.”

Along with fireworks and bonfires, one of the hallmarks of “Guy Fawkes Day” has long been the wearing of mustachioed masks (above) that serve as caricatures of the mustachioed Guy Fawkes. The masks, and the sentiment behind what Fawkes is said to have declared—”A desperate disease requires a dangerous remedy”—have in recent years become an inspiration for many around the world, some of whom are indeed fighting for a “dangerous remedy” and others who merely say that they are. (I suppose I fall in the latter category rather than the first, as I only write and have not yet put action behind the words.)

* * * *
Presidents of the United States elected on November 5: Ulysses Grant (1872), Woodrow Wilson (1912), Franklin Roosevelt (1940), Richard Nixon (1968).

* * * *
“This is the end of me … I cannot live up to it.”—Sinclair Lewis, 86 years ago today, upon learning he was the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. The Nobel committee cited “his vigorous and graphic art of description and his ability to create, with wit and humor, new types of characters,” and paid special attention to his novel Babbitt.

* * * *
Former Iraq dictator Saddam Hussein was convicted of crimes against humanity and sentenced to death 10 years ago today.

* * * *
Art Tatum died 60 years ago today. Mr. Tatum:

Lionel Trilling died on this date in 1975. Fred MacMurray died 25 years ago today. Robert Maxwell died 25 years ago today. Sir Isaiah Berlin died on this date in 1997. Jill Clayburgh died in 2010 on this date.

* * * *
Gram Parsons was born 70 years ago today.

* * * *
Elke Sommer is 76. Art Garfunkel is 75. Sam Shepard is 73. Peter Noone is 69. Bill Walton is 64. Joyce Maynard is 63. Robert Patrick is 58. Bryan Adams is 57. Tilda Swinton is 56. Famke Janssen is 52. Ryan Adams is 42.

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One comment

  1. s1ngal · November 5, 2016

    Really?? Every word of it??? “In his great book The English and Their History (2014), Robert Tombs writes…”


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