Today in Terrorism: 5 November 1605, Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot

More than four centuries ago, a bunch of English Catholics planted explosives in Parliament to kill King James I.

More than four centuries ago, a bunch of English Catholics planted explosives in Parliament to kill King James I

The word ‘terrorism’ is everywhere these days. It is next to impossible to read a news article online or watch a broadcast without at least one story that has something to do with terrorism. Most likely it is an attack in countries such as Afghanistan, or Iraq, or Somalia, or Nigeria, although it is occasionally closer to home as in Europe or where I am in North America.

In light of the ubiquity of the term would you be surprised to learn that the word only entered the English language in 1795? It came via French and was a reference to the ‘Reign of Terror’ of France’s revolution. Oddly enough, the acts of violence perpetrated during those tumultuous times would probably not qualify as terrorism under most definitions I am familiar with today. Nevertheless, there you have it.

Interestingly, today’s featured act of terrorism predates the existence of the word in English but actually took place in England and would, had there been an actual term and legislation covering terrorism back then, have been a real terrorist act!

Image result for guy fawkes
Guy Fawkes discovered in the nick of time! (Photo: Public Domain)

On November 5, 1605 Guy Fawkes and a band of co-conspirators engaged in what has since been labelled the Gunpowder Plot, at attempt to kill King James I and end the persecution of Roman Catholics by the English government. The hapless Mr. Fawkes was discovered lurking in a cellar under the English Parliament building and thirty-six barrels of gunpowder were found.

Fawkes was taken into custody and tortured, revealing he was a participant in an English Catholic conspiracy to annihilate England’s Protestant government and replace it with Catholic leadership.

Guy Fawkes day

November 5 is now known as Guy Fawkes day/night and is celebrated as people light bonfires and burn effigies of Fawkes (who escaped the noose by jumping from a ladder on his way up the gallows, breaking his neck). The terrorist group Anonymous has adopted the Guy Fawkes mask as one of its symbols.

Had the conspirators been successful it would have definitely been an act of terrorism. Recall that terrorism is a serious act of violence carried out for ideological, political or religious reasons. Hell, the Gunpowder Plot had all three motives!

There is a nursery rhyme that has been around since the 17th century in England. One version goes:

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

Nor should we ever forget any other terrorism plot. After all you cannot stop what you fail to understand.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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