Remember, remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason, why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot...
So the nursery rhyme goes, and so it certainly isn't forgotten as Britons around the country bulk up their bonfires, crack out the toffee apples and sparklers and wrap up warm to watch the fireworks. And, okay, mostly it's now an excuse to bring a bit of colour and frivolity to our chilly and dark November evenings, but allow me to just take a step back to examine the events (and names) which created this celebration.
The Gunpowder Plot happened on the 5th November 1605, when a group of Jesuits, angered by their treatment at the hand of King James I, plotted to blow up the Houses of Parliament whilst the king was inside. Sneaking 36 barrels of gunpowder into the cellars, they left them in the hands of Guy Fawkes. He was caught, though the others fled, until they were eventually found and similarly executed. In 1606, in celebration of his survival, King James decreed that an annual sermon should take place to commemorate the event and that the people of England should have a great bonfire on the night on November 5th, traditionally topped off by a "Guy" — poor Guy Fawkes himself.
Guy Fawkes, the key conspirator of the plot, is quite literally the number one "guy" — we actually get this generic term for a man from the use of "guys" (Guy Fawkes effigies) on bonfires. Guy is the Norman form of the Old Germanic name Wido, meaning either "wood," "wide" or "leader." It was Latinised as Guido, which is still used as the Italian form.
Fawkes is an English surname brought over by the Normans. It is derived from Falco, a Latin name meaning "falcon". Fawkes, or "Guy Fawkes", has occasionally been given as given names in Britain in honour of the key conspirator. Vauxhall, the London placename and car manufacturer, also derives its name from Fawkes Hall, the home of Norman knight Sir Falkes de Breauté (d.1226).
Robert Catesby is considered to have been the initial instigator of the Gunpowder Plot. His surname derives from Catesby in Northamptonshire meaning "Káti's settlement." Káti itself is an Old Norse name meaning "merry, cheerful."
Another conspirator, Thomas Percy was a relation of Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland, made constable of Alnwick Castle. The Percys were one of the most powerful and wealthiest aristocratic families in Britain from the time of the Norman conquest. The family took their name from their ancestral home of Percy-en-Auge and it has been used as a first name since the 17th century by those wishing to connect themselves to the illustrious family.
Fellow plotter Sir Everard Digby was actually one of several notable men to bear the same name, including the 16th century theologian. Everard comes from the Old English name Eoferheard "boar + hardy, brave." It survived the Norman conquest thanks to the introduction of the Germanic cognate Eburhard, creating several derived surnames such as Everard, Everett and Evered.
Everard Digby's surname is taken from the place in Lincolnshire, meaning "ditch-settlement." It was famously borne by British poet Digby Mackworth Dolben (b.1848).
Horse-breeder Ambrose Rookwood was one of the later recruits to the Gunpowder Plot. His name is the anglicised form of the Latin Ambrosius, derived from the Greek ambrosios meaning "immortal, divine."
Hugh Owen was a notorious Welsh spy who was brought into the plot whilst in exile on the Continent. Hugh comes from the Old Germanic word hugu "heart, soul, thought," Latinised as Hugo, and the route of surname-firstname Hudson.
Did you know that the Gunpowder Plot had its own Wright brothers? Both John and Christopher Wright were members of the conspiracy, and their sister Martha was also married to fellow conspirator Thomas Percy. As with most 16th century men, their popular first names were abbreviated into the common equivalent petforms of the day: Jack and Kit.
The other brothers of the plot were Robert and Thomas Winter (also spelt Wintour). It is thought that the surname derives from popular depictions of the seasons on medieval wall-paintings. Winter was often depicted as a sombre aspect and it is supposed that Winter was used for a person with a sombre demeanour or perhaps, as was sometimes ironically the case, someone who was completely the opposite.
Others members of the Gunpowder Plot included Francis Tresham, Thomas Bates, Robert Keyes and John Grant.
Lancelot Andrewes, bishop and scholar, is notable in the story for having prepared and delivered the first Gunpowder Plot sermon which forms the basis of the celebrations today. Although mostly associated with the mythical Knight of the Round Table, Lancelot is a double diminutive form of the Germanic name Lanzo "land."
Have a safe and happy Bonfire Night, all!