The fifth of November -
Gunpowder, treason and plot!
The infamous Gunpowder Plot from 1605 is commemorated annually in the UK with Bonfire Night, also known as Guy Fawkes Night, with effigies of hate figures (most usually contemporary politicians or celebrities) burned on bonfires, whilst fireworks illuminate the skies.
Fawkes and his co-conspirators were English Catholics who were seeking to assassinate the ruling (Protestant) monarch, King James I, along with a proportion of what they considered to be many of the corrupt lords who ran the government of the day. Barrels of gunpowder were cached in the cellars under the House of Lords in London, and Fawkes was discovered red-handed, preparing to ignite them.
Britain was only recently being ruled by a 'united' monarch, with the political union which saw the creation of the United Kingdom not coming until over a hundred years later, in 1707. James I may have been the first king James of England, but in fact he was also James VI of Scotland, born to Mary, Queen of Scots, and ascended to the joint throne of England and Scotland following the death of Queen Elizabeth I, to whom James was second cousin.
But what role does Edinburgh play in all of this history? In fact, Edinburgh is where it all began - to be more precise, in Edinburgh Castle, where James was born, on the 19th June 1566.
Visitors to the city today can stand in the tiny antechamber where he is believed to have been brought into the world, a small room off the bedchamber of his mother Mary, Queen of Scots.
James survived the attempt on his life in 1605, and indeed ruled the three kingdoms of England, Wales and Scotland for the next 20 years. But had the Fawkes plot been successful, how different might Britain have been, both at the time and subsequently?
In short, the effect of a successful detonation of the 36 barrels of gunpowder would have been devastating, not just on the physical buildings of the Houses of Parliament, but on the political structure of the whole of the country. With the assassination of a Scottish-born king of England, it is uncertain if the future political union of Scotland with England would ever have happened at all.
That's something worth remembering.
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