Who could forget the 5th of November?

“Remember, remember, the 5th of November, the gunpowder treason and plot. I know of no reason why gunpowder treason should ever be forgot.”

Was this really a terrorist attack? Of course it was. If you think that terrorists have existed only in modern times you are mistaken. You might think that compared to the horror of today’s world terrorism, the event in 1605 was small potatoes when a group of Roman Catholics planned to assassinate a member of the British monarchy. They felt this act was justified. After all, they had been banned from the country or murdered because of their religion.

But, like most historical events, you have to delve back into the reasons why such law-abiding citizens would rise up against a king.

We all know that years before it was Henry VIII who caused a lot of heads to roll, literally, but he went a bit too far blaming the pope and Catholicism for not allowing him to divorce a wife who could not give him a son. It seems this spoiled and selfish man would do anything to keep his heritage intact. He tore down all the monasteries and murdered the priests, who were, in those days, the good folk who provided food for the poor and educated the general populace in ways of the church. Then, the power-hungry King Henry had the audacity to presume that he would be head of the church and decide that England would be a Protestant nation, just to get back at the pope! It was an act that changed the course of British history.

For years, Catholics went through hell, losing their lands, their money, persecuted for no reason other than wanting to pray in their own churches. King James had lied during his coronation speech. He’d told them Catholics could worship as they pleased. He had no intention of keeping that promise. That’s when a wealthy group of Catholic men got together in secret and began to plan the king’s murder at the opening of Parliament on Nov. 5, 1605. Alas, someone in the group got cold feet at the last minute and informed the king of the impending threat.

You may have heard that Guy Fawkes was the instigator of the plot, but he wasn’t. He was merely a pawn in the arrangement, hired because he was a military man and knew all about gunpowder. Poor Guy was discovered with a lighted match in his hand. All the members of the group were hanged, drawn and quartered. Treason to the crown.

This act of terrorism has been written about for the last 400 years, and the British have “celebrated” with fireworks and bonfires on Nov. 5 each year on the same scale as our July 4. Now you know.

Angela Ewing lives in Brookings. Her novel, “The Gunpowder Conspiracy,” is available at Bloomsbury Books in Ashland and on She can be reached at


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