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Fireworks across the pond

As we stagger from our homes, apartments, or doorways where we slumped late last night, after too much alcohol and way too much TV - it's worth noting that across England today, they will be shooting off fireworks, lighting bonfires, and generally partying into the night - no matter what the outcome of the US election.

They'll be commemmorating another way to try to change government - namely, the Guy Fawkes Gunpowder Plot, a 1605 attempt to kill most of the English government by blowing up barrels of gunpowder in the basement under Parliament. The problem was that King James, who succeeded Queen Elizabeth I in 1603, was not as sympathetic to Catholics as some had hoped. (This was, after all, the man who commissioned the creation of a new Bible because the ones issued by the pope weren't good enough.)

So Fawkes and a few buddies decided to get back at him for this, and stashed some gunpowder under Parliament, with plans to blow it up.

The plot was leaked by a conspirator, and Fawkes was arrested. He was convicted of treason and executed in the way they killed traitors then. It was calling being "hanged, drawn, and quartered," but is much more gruesome even than that suggests.

First, he was tied to a bed of sticks and dragged to the gallows, where he was hanged by his neck until he was nearly dead. Then he was cut down.

His penis and testicles were cut off, and his belly was slashed open, and his intestins were pulled out. His nether parts and his intestines were burned in a fire before his very eyes (it's possible to live for at least a little while without your intestines). And then he was beheaded and either pulled by horses into quarters, or just chopped into four bits by the executioner.

The head was set on a pike near the city's gates. As for the body, there were two options: either its parts were taken to four hills outside London and burned separately, or they would also be displayed on pikes near the head. (It's unclear which happened to Fawkes's body, but as burning the quarters was usually limited to witches, it's more likely they were stuck on pikes and eaten by birds.)

So every year, the English throw a big party to celebrate the discovery of the plot. They re-enact their brutality to Fawkes himself by making effigies of him and burning those.

How civilized.

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