Remember Remember - Max's Story
As the firecracker exploded an old banger car skidded across the street in front of Max. It seemed that a frightened tom cat had been traumatized by the explosive sound of the rocket-burst and had darted into the road causing the car to swerve to avoid collision. Max had been strolling home with a lazy gait, from the local newsagent, cradling the pint of milk that his mum had asked him to fetch. The incident not only made him trip up on his untied shoelaces but, also, shattered the calm of the blustery early hours of Bonfire Night. As the jittery feline hurtled past him, he found his gaze locking onto its startled eyes. Like liquid pools of anxiety their contagious angst seemed to flow right into him.
How strange, he found himself pondering, that Fireworks Night celebrated the fact that the plot to blow up the English Houses of Parliament was thwarted in 1605. Yet, here the nation was, several centuries later, celebrating the halt of the treasonous plot by filling the sky with angry firepower, by burning in bonfires effigies of the plot conspirator Guy Fawkes and by traumatizing the life out of supposedly beloved pets.
Another firecracker went off sprinkling the night sky with maroon coloured sparkles and as the sound of its din fizzled out to nothingness, he began to wonder about that time, long, long ago and he began to question why, after five hundred years, the episode of the gunpowder plot still held such a sacred place in hearts of the people of England.
Back at home, in his room, he threw himself onto the bed and tummy down propped himself up on his forearms, his usual stance for a laptop session.
“Max, what are you doing your dinner’s ready?” she was shouting from the bottom of the stairs.
“Later Mum, I’m busy.” He could hear her sigh with exasperation.
“Are you going to marry that computer, Max because you spend all your time on it?” She had marched up the stairs and, arms crossed in militant stance, was standing in the doorway.
“Sorry Mum... be down later... promise,”
She had learned not to argue but she had that look of irritated defeat about her.
“I just don’t know why I bother,” he heard her mutter as she stomped back down the stairs. He knew he was out of line, but the pangs of justifiable guilt he felt for excusing himself from the dinner table, yet again, were fleeting because literally within seconds, he was, once more, lost in his search and otherwise dead to the world, at large.
It seemed like an hour later, but it might have been more, that he shoved the computer to one side and laying on his back, elbows outstretched and hands cradling his head, with the sound of periodic firework explosions and frantically barking dogs in the background, he mulled over the possible implications of all that he had discovered.
The story was compelling in itself, conjuring up images of medieval kings, religious wars, witches and executions. It seemed that, under the rule of Queen Elizabeth I, Catholics had been prosecuted but that King James I of England had promised Everard Digby that more tolerant treatment of Catholics would ensue after he took the throne in 1603. King James, though, went back on his word. Catholics still suffered the same persecutions as before and had no choice but to practise their faith in secret and to hide their Jesuit priests.
The Jesuits, formed by Basque nobleman Ignatius Loyola, were recognised by Pope Paul III in 1540. They led the Counter-Reformation which was the Roman Catholic response to the Protestant Reformation. The reformation spearheaded by the actions of the monk Martin Luther in 1517 challenged the authority and elitism of the Roman Catholic church and argued that salvation was a matter between an individual and God with brokering by the church an unnecessary cog in the wheel. They saw the Pope as the head of the Christian Church and did not recognize the right of kings to rule their own lands without papal interference.
At odds with this doctrine, Henry VIII had split with Rome in 1534, in response to the Pope’s refusal to grant him a divorce from Catherine of Aragon. This had led to the formation of the new Church of England and Henry had declared himself its supreme leader as well as head of state. King James I, himself, was intent on continuing the tradition of his predecessor and was a firm believer in the divine right of kings.
The way that James I dealt with dissenters to the faith and to the divine rules of kings was largely influenced by his interest in witchcraft. In 1589 he had met with philosophers in Denmark, including Tycho Brahae and had been convinced by them of the existence of witches, who, having made a pact with the devil were guilty of sorcery.
During his reign James became obsessed with the notion that groups of witches were trying to kill him through witchcraft and, in response to this, he presided over a series of prosecutions and executions. The contention was, that there were others who had made a pact with the devil, such as the Jesuit priests, who wanted to overturn the protestant succession and were part of the counter-reformation. James cautioned that if, apprehended they were to suffer a similar fate.
In response to such an edict, in 1605 Jesuit conspirators lead by Robert Catesby, tried to assassinate King James I and the members of his parliament. On the morning of the 5th Nov one of the conspirators, Guy Fawkes, was discovered guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder hidden in a cellar of the House of Lords, beneath the spot where King James would be speaking on the 5th November. The speech to be made in the Lord’s Chamber was to mark the State Opening of Parliament and many of the Lords of the day were to be present. With the arrest of Guy Fawkes, the Gunpowder plot, as it became known, had been thwarted and all it’s co-conspirators, subsequently, paid for their treachery with their lives. All were either killed or executed and many were taken to the Tower of London and likely hung, drawn and quartered or otherwise tortured.
The enormity of the events of the 5th November 1605 were to be emblazoned on the soul of the English nation for centuries to come and the date, over those centuries, has been marked, annually by, “Fireworks Night,” an evening of firework displays, bonfires and family festivities. Remember...Remember the 5th of November is, in fact, a common phrase of the land. England had shrugged off the rule of the Papacy and overthrown the Jesuits, yet it was still to be governed through the rule of Kings.
“Choose your poison,” Max muttered to himself as, cogitations at an end, for that moment at least, he swung himself off the bed and made his way to the window. Fireworks were still going off intermittently. He watched as a fizz of white starlets spattered the darkened skies and fizzled into nothingness. His mind was doing somersaults. Something didn’t feel right. Something was missing. He’d even come across, in an obscure corner of the internet, that night, rumors that the gunpowder plot may have been a false flag to incriminate the Jesuits.
Max had rarely ever been on any one side in any matter. His experiences, to date, indicated that, if grown-ups were involved in any type of battle it was highly like that both sides were going to be to the same degree out of their trees.
Who was right and who was wrong was not an issue. But he just had to know the truth...because something deep inside him told him that this was important...because it had changed the whole course of history...because his 14 year old mind knew...just knew... that it was a battle that had never ended... that the case of the Jesuits, the papacy and the divine right of kings still linked to everything that was going on today...because everyone else was spending their time holding hot dogs in cold hands that were clothed in finger-less gloves and shivering round a bonfire while violent explosions, masked in pretty colours were reinforcing a story line that no one was questioning.
“Why are you always questioning everything? Stop looking so deeply at the world...you’ll burn yourself out,” his mother was always pleading with him, “What’s the point in knowing the truth...it’s not going to change anything.”
He had stop trying to convince her. It was a waste of energy. Her mind was clearly set in stone.
Whether it changed anything, everything or nothing, though, he was going to find out what it had really been all about all those centuries ago. He just had to know!
Images Flickr and Pixabay