5th
Nov
2014

Posted in Kafevend Blog

We always enjoy taking a look at festivals as they come along during the year, and today's is an especially interesting one, if only because we know how the thing got started in the first place and also because it leads us very neatly into a certain type of tea; more about that later on!

Today is of course Guy Fawkes Night, named after one of the members of the infamous Gunpowder Plot. The origin of the plot has its roots in the religious upheaval in England following the actions of King Henry VIII, when he took control of the Church of England. The reigns of his children saw Protestantism and Catholicism swing backwards and forwards as the chosen state religion. When the Tudor dynasty ended with the death of the Protestant Elizabeth I, English Catholics were eager for a Catholic monarch to come to power. Unfortunately for them, the Protestant James VI of Scotland inherited the throne. Things were not all bad for the Catholics at first however- James was initially more tolerant than his predecessors, but that tolerance gradually slipped and his outlook soured as assassination attempts of other European Protestant rulers occurred and Catholic plots against him were revealed. New laws were instated that resulted in further religious persecution of the Catholics.

The leader of the plot was a man named Robert Catesby. He and twelve others sought to replace James with a ruler more kindly disposed towards the Catholics. The aim of the Gunpowder Plot was to kill James during the State Opening of Parliament on the 5th November 1605, by blowing up the House of Lords. Fawkes was to carry out this part of the plan alone whilst others in the band instigated a popular revolt in the Midlands, in order to install James' daughter Elizabeth as the Catholic head of state they all so desperately wanted.

Guy Fawkes was the first of the thirteen plotters to be arrested. Whilst preparing to light the barrels of gunpowder in the undercroft beneath the House of Lords, he was discovered by guards searching the area thanks to a mysterious tip off. No one knows exactly who it was that revealed the plot, but they succeeded in foiling it. Most of the plotters were arrested, tried and found guilty of high treason and executed.

The tradition of Guy Fawkes Night began on the very same day that Fawkes was discovered in the undercroft, as people lit bonfires in celebration of King James' miraculous escape. A few months later this celebration was enshrined in law by the Observance of 5th November Act. The celebration took on religious overtones and became a focus for anti-Catholic sentiment in the decades following it. Whilst the original meaning behind the celebration has been lost over the centuries, Guy Fawkes Night has become more of a great social event (which is really a better reason to get together than engaging in religious persecution, don't you think?)

As if the clear history of today's festival wasn't enough, there is also a clear choice when it comes to a themed drink to go with your bonfire night celebrations - gunpowder tea. Quite where the name comes from isn't known for sure. In its place of origin- China's Zhejiang province- the tea is known as zhu cha, meaning pearl or bead tea. The English name could stem from a number of reasons. One is its appearance- the greyish tea leaves are rolled up tightly and could be said to look like gunpowder. Another is the fact that the tea has a smoky flavour, though hopefully less so than the potent lapsang souchong!

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