Friday, 5 November 2010

Factiod goes up in smoke

Following on from yesterday's post -  it was illegal in England, until 1959, NOT to celebrate the anniversary of Guy Fawkes' arrest - fact or fiction?

Well, the QI Forum has come up trumps.  The Act of Parliament in question was the Observance of 5th November Act 1605. I was pointed to this article:

Also known as "Firework Night" and "Bonfire Night," November 5th was designated by King James I (via an Act of Parliament) as a day of thanksgiving for "the joyful day of deliverance." This Act remained in force until 1859.

So, the Act was repealed in1859, rather than 1959 - as confirmed by this (and several references to the Act having been in force for 250 years):

The publication in 1857 of author David Jardine's A Narrative of the Gunpowder Plot only stoked the flames [of anti-Catholic sentiment] higher, and in 1859 the thanksgiving prayer of 5 November contained in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer was removed, and the 1606 Act repealed.
As for it being "illegal" not to celebrate Fawkes' arrest. I haven't yet seen the full wording of the Act, (passed in 1606), but Wikipedia simply states that the Act 'called for a public, annual thanksgiving for the failure of the Plot'. This sounds way more plausible than Parliament trying to achieve the impossible and police the observance of a national celebration (imagine the magistrates' November backlog as they tried to process every subject of the crown accused of not celebrating the failure of the11/5 terror plot). I'm guessing that the "illegal not to celebrate Guy Fawkes' Night" meme was kicked off by nothing more than an imprecise description of the Act. Perhaps, given the sectarian origins of the celebration, some disgruntled Catholic's account of "having to" celebrate the arrest and execution of a coreligionist might have been the source of the "fact".

Only a reading of the Act's wording could kill this one stone dead, but I'm now 99%+ sure that the "strange but true - it was once illegal not to celebrate Guy Fawkes' Night" factoid is going straight onto the bonfire of General Ignorance. Along, it would seem, with Wayne Rooney...