Remember, remember, the fifth of November…

A 1605 engraving by Crispijn van de Passe the Elder, depicting eight of the thirteen Gunpowder plot conspirators, including Guy Fawkes which realised £700 at Toovey’s

As Bonfire Night approaches many of us are looking forward to the spectacle of sparkling light, whizzes, pops and bangs, drifting smoke and the smell of gunpowder on a cold, still November night. But amidst our excitement it is easy to forget that fireworks on Bonfire Night commemorate a particularly bloody and turbulent time in our island’s history.

The Gunpowder Plot of 1605 was an attempt by provincial, English Roman Catholics to blow up the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament, in order to assassinate James I of England (VI of Scotland) and install his nine-year-old daughter, Princess Elizabeth, on the throne as a Roman Catholic head of state. The plot, led by Robert Catesby, was revealed by means of an anonymous letter. Famously, Guy Fawkes was discovered with thirty-six barrels of gunpowder during a search of the House of Lords at midnight on 4th November 1605. He and his seven surviving accomplices were tortured, tried for and convicted of high treason and sentenced to death by being hung, drawn and quartered.

The print shown here was published around 1605 by a leading Dutch printmaker, Crispijn van de Passe the Elder, and shows eight of the thirteen conspirators, including Guy Fawkes. It is an extraordinary depiction of some of those involved, giving life to this particular moment in history.

A 1603 engraving of Elizabeth I by Isaac Oliver sold at Toovey’s for £3800

In contrast the 1603 engraving of Elizabeth I by Isaac Oliver speaks of a different moment in history. The qualities of tolerance and fairness were seeded, though not perfected, during the reign of Elizabeth I (1533-1603). There had been much conflict and bloodshed after Henry VIII’s break with Rome as Roman Catholics and Protestants each sought to establish their authority and particular understandings of the Christian faith in England.

Elizabeth I came to the throne in 1558. Her first aim was to return England to the Protestant faith. What she and her advisors created was a church which was, and remains, both Catholic and Reformed.

The Act of Supremacy of 1558 established Elizabeth as Supreme Governor of the Church of England. In the same year the Act of Uniformity was passed by a narrow majority in Parliament. It required the population to attend an Anglican church each Sunday. In addition it specified that a new version of the Book of Common Prayer be used.

After Parliament had been dismissed a series of Royal Injunctions were courageously passed by Elizabeth I in 1559. The result of this was that the wording of the liturgy for Holy Communion remained open to a variety of interpretations. This allowed Christians holding differing understandings of the nature of the consecrated bread and wine to receive this sacrament with integrity in the privacy of their own hearts. Elizabeth famously declared that she did not wish to “make windows into men’s souls” on the basis that “there is only one Jesus Christ and all the rest is a dispute over trifles”.

The shadow of history often has much to say to our own times.
Elizabeth I’s pragmatic and courageous qualities of compromise, tolerance and ambiguity have blessed our nation and our Church. It is my prayer that we will allow these qualities to remain central to our continued, shared national story – our common narrative.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

Remember, Remember the fifth of November

Bonfire night celebrated with family and friends © Serena Toovey, 2018

I love bonfire night. The beauty of the flashing fireworks against the dark sky, the whizzes, pops and bangs, the mist of drifting smoke and the smell of gunpowder on a cold, still November night are, for me, truly evocative.

Bonfire night gatherings have become a celebration of the coming together of family and friends. It is an important marker in my year.

Amidst our excitement, though, it is easy to forget that fireworks on Bonfire Night commemorate a particularly bloody and turbulent time in our island’s history.

The Gunpowder Plot of 1605 was an attempt by provincial, English Roman Catholics to blow up the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament, in order to assassinate James I of England (VI of Scotland) and install his nine-year-old daughter, Princess Elizabeth, on the throne as a Roman Catholic head of state. The plot, led by Robert Catesby, was revealed by means of an anonymous letter. Famously, Guy Fawkes was discovered with thirty-six barrels of gunpowder during a search of the House of Lords at midnight on 4th November 1605. He and his seven surviving accomplices were tortured, tried, convicted of high treason, and sentenced to death. He was hung, drawn and quartered.

Flashing fireworks against a cold, still, November night sky © Serena Toovey, 2018

The Roman Catholic priest Henry Garnet was also hung, drawn and quartered in connection with the Gunpowder Plot. Many historians believe that having heard of the plot during confession, Garnet felt bound to tell no one. Instead, they claim he wrote secretly to Rome urging the Vatican to dissuade Catholics from such action but, sadly, there was no response to his plea. When fear overtakes understanding and tolerance it is often innocent and good people who bear the consequences.

The shadow of history often has much to say to our own times. In a world which is portrayed as being filled with deeply held divisive views, terrorism and violence our response should not be to retreat into fear and hatred. Rather we should uphold the qualities of reason, tolerance and fairness which are still to be found at the heart of our nation’s traditions and identity. These qualities were seeded, though not perfected, during the reign of Elizabeth I and articulated in the liturgy of her Book of Common Prayer.

Rupert Toovey enjoying a sparkler © Serena Toovey, 2018

As a nation it is vital that we guard against replacing past animosities with new mistrust and prejudice between political views and parties, faiths and peoples. If we do not, it will be the innocent who bear the consequences. Perhaps this year’s Bonfire Night can be a time to acknowledge our country’s history and celebrate the contemporary diversity of our nation in a spirit of fondness and understanding.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.