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Last week, I talked about stories (in a variety of media) set in Cambridge. Sim reviewed the film Victoria & Abdul. Tina reviewed a chilling British mystery, The Facts of Life and Death. Jean reviewed three books for us: the classic Gothic The Castle of Wolfenbach, Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology, and the intriguing My Real Children.

I have a bit of a fascination with Guy Fawkes Night, although I have no idea why. It seems like I’ve always known about the bonfires in England and this poem:

Remember, remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason, why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

Monteagle letter

The famous Monteagle letter, a vaguely worded warning that provided just enough clues to reveal the plot.

As I’m typing this, I think maybe my father quoted that poem now and then — presumably on the fifth of November. I’ll have to ask my brother if he has any memory of that.

Of course, that just brings up another question — why would a farm boy from Indiana have that bit of verse in his repertoire? Is it one that used to appear in English literature text books, a poem that would hold some appeal for boys to memorize, back in the days when students were expected to memorize a few things during their school career?

My familiarity with the history of the attempt to blow up Parliament and King James (VI of Scotland, I of England) was pretty fuzzy until I read Faith and Treason by Antonia Fraser a few years ago. I got a refresher, recently, by watching the mini-series Gunpowder, Treason, and Plot on Netflix, originally shown on BBC Two in 2004.

The mini-series has two episodes, the first focused on Mary, Queen of Scots, and the second on her son King James (VI, I). Mary was played by Clémence Poésy who I loved in The Tunnel. James was played by Robert Carlyle who I loved to hate in Once Upon a Time.

Do you remember the Gunpowder Plot on the fifth of November?


Preparing the Bonfire #BriFri — 6 Comments

  1. I am not as familiar with it as I’d like to be but we watch V for Vendetta each year on November. Afterwards it always gets us talking and we read about the bonfires, parties and what’s behind it. I didn’t know about that Netflicks show but I am interested. I like Robert Carlyle too.

  2. I do remember that bit of poetry from Dad, at the breakfast table once, probably around this time of year when that date was mentioned. I think it amused him that it’s bad poetry, doggerel at least in the sense that poor grammar is used, on the final word, to make the meter and rhyme work.

    Besides school, it’s my understanding that children were expected to do something entertaining at social gatherings, (adults too in the years before radio) and if the choices were to sing, dance, or recite a memorized poem, well, that last one would have appealed to our introverted dad, who had a strong speaking voice but a tin ear.

  3. I too remember this poem. Sadly, I can’t remember where or when. I know I will share it with my family this year on the fifth of November.

  4. Pingback: Visiting England in Fiction #BriFri – Joy's Book Blog

  5. It’s interesting you should know that old rhyme – I hope you find out how it came to you. Antonia Fraser’s book is quite the best on the subject I’ve ever read – very balanced – unlike the drama ‘Gunpowder’ that’s on BBC TV over here at the moment, which whilst playing up the fact that Roman Catholics were treated abominably, ignores the fact that these guys were terrorists. Hope you like the piece about Ashby St Ledgers.

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