Gunpowder, treason, and woodcuts

Perhaps the best-remembered event of the English Reformation, with the yearly reminder encoded in the exhortation to ‘Remember, remember the fifth of November,’ a rhyme that dates from at least the mid-eighteenth century, the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 was an effort by a small network of Catholic conspirators to detonate a large quantity of gunpowder laid in under the House of Lords. The plot was discovered several days in advance of the 5 November meeting of Parliament, and Fawkes was apprehended in the course of a search of Westminster in the early hours of the fifth. The memory of the event—the one that didn’t happen and the one that did—now serves to inflame anarchist fantasies and nationalist paranoia alike, and every year across England celebrations of ‘Bonfire Night’ on 5 November range from the anodyne or parodic to the chillingly earnest. The quintessence of cruelty is a bombastic anti-Catholic verse narration of the plot, accompanied by an evocative and entertaining set of woodcut illustrations like the one pictured here, where a caricatured Fawkes does a singularly poor job of sneaking into the cellar to light the fuse, and is handily prevented. BW

John Vicars, November the 5. 1605. The quintessence of cruelty, or, master-peice [sic] of treachery, the popish pouder-plot, invented by hellish-malice, prevented by heavenly-mercy. Truly related, and from the Latine of the learned, religious, and reverend Dr. Herring, translated and very much dilated (London: G.M for R. Hatford, 1641).

CUL: Peterborough.F.5.12

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