I saw something on Twitter today which reminded me that November 5th will soon be upon us and I was also reminded of the link to my home County Northamptonshire and in particular the village of Ashby St Ledgers and the Manor House, of which more later in this post.
I have to be honest its a day like any other day as an adult but November 5th or bonfire night as we called it then was a night for me and my mates that was second only to Christmas.
That sounds fairly improbable now in the days of Halloween and its commercialisation and all the stress and cost that must involve for parents, but back then certain times, notably the time you finished the school day, when you got your pocket money, bonfire night, those were moments that had magic.
Bonfire night was a big one, and it wasn't just the night itself, in fact the days and nights spent in preparation were if anything even better, we had something called anticipation which is grossly undervalued now, defered gratification I think its called not much in vogue these days. Building the bonfire meant collecting combustible material wherever we could find it, scouring the countryside for firewood, carrying it back, or loading it onto our home made carts.
I can remember looking into an open box of fireworks and visualising what each one of them was going to do, my Dad putting up a post so we had somewhere to attach the Catherine wheel, a firework which would would spin around like a whirling dervish until spent. The rockets, jumping jacks, bangers, and all the other fireworks we looked at in shop windows with a wonder in our eyes only experienced by the young.
We must have been taught the history behind this yearly ritual but how much of that we were really interested in is debatable, although I suspect the tradition of building a Guy and requesting a penny for the guy must have least at given us an inkling that the main conspirators name was Guy. We were not to know the main conspirator was one Robert Catesby.
The Manor House Ashby St Ledgers.
So the story behind our childhood excitement and joy is this.
In the village of Ashby St Ledgers in Northamptonshire is a grand house, it is one of Northamptonshires many historic houses.
From 1375 to 1611 it was the home of the Catesby family, In 1605 it was in this house that Robert Catesby and his fellow conspirators, including Guy Fawkes, gathered regularly in the Manor’s gatehouse.
In the gatehouse they conspired together to assassinate King James I together with his courtiers by blowing up the Houses of Parliament in one of England’s most notorious acts of treason, the Gunpowder Plot.
Its likely that you have never heard of Robert Catesby because Guy Fawkes is the name most well known in relation to the plot,
Catesby was born in 1573 to a wealthy Catholic landowning family from Warwickshire, Robert Catesby was the only surviving son of Sir William Catesby and Anne Throckmorton.
The Catesby family were highly respected and well-established. Their Catholic faith meant that they were in constant conflict with England’s Protestant establishment.
Robert’s father was subjected to heavy fines and many terms of imprisonment, this lead Robert Catesby quite understandably to take an anti-Protestant stance.
When James 1 of England succeeded Elizabeth I in 1603, Catholics were hopeful that the new king would be more sympathetic to their plight. When this hope proved to be futile, Robert Catesby decided it was time for action. On 20 May 1604, he gathered together a group of cousins and close friends for a meeting in London.
It was at this meeting that Catesby unveiled his plan to use copious amounts of gunpowder to blow up the Palace of Westminster. The attack would mean certain death for the new King, members of the Royal Family and the sitting Government. In the chaos which would inevitably follow, Catesby hoped that the oppressed Catholic nobility would stage an uprising and seize the reigns of power from the Protestant establishment.
The date was set for 5 November 1605 – the official opening of Parliament. Over the course of the next year, Catesby’s attack was meticulously planned. But it wasn’t to be. Late in the night of 4 November, the Plot was uncovered by the King’s men. When news of the plot’s failure reached Catesby, he fled to the country with some of his fellow conspirators.