Dr. Bill Robinson delivered his annual Halloween lecture on Friday Oct. 29 in the Pottle Auditorium on Southeastern Louisiana University’s campus. This year, he focused on the terrorist plot to blow of England’s Parliament in 1605 and how terrorism is not something new to society.
Robinson, a history professor and department head of history and political science, has been doing a Halloween “Then and Now” lecture since 2001. Each year, he brings to the table a topic and integrates pop culture, multimedia and some candy into the performance.
This year’s topic centered on the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, a plan to blow up Parliament, which ultimately failed. Some Americans may not know significance in this topic, but in Great Britain, the date of the failed plot has become their Halloween celebration.
The 13 conspirators involved in the plot were Catholics who disagreed with the anti-Catholic sentiment that took place while James I of England was in power. One of the conspirators was an explosives expert named Guy Fawkes. The plan included stockpiling gunpowder in the basement of the House of Lords, kidnapping James I’s daughter, Elizabeth, and starting an uprising in the Midlands, said Robinson.
The plan started being put into action on May 20, 1604, when all the conspirators met at an inn. A few days later, Thomas Percy rented a house next to Parliament that had access to the basement of the House of Lords. During this time, Fawkes also took on the alias John Johnson and pretended to be Percy’s servant. All their plans were put on hold on Dec. 24, when it was announced the opening of Parliament would be delayed because of the plague.
Before the Gunpowder Plot was planned, other ideas were attempted to overthrow the king. At some point, all 13 conspirators were involved in these previous plots.
According to Robinson, the plot ended when someone sent an anonymous letter to a close advisor to the king, warning him of the plot. The letter was then given to James I who ordered the basement be searched. In the early hours of Nov.5, Fawkes was discovered in the basement along with the gunpowder.
The Gunpowder Plot became a celebration for England after the failed attempt and is still celebrated today. For many years, the celebration replaced Halloween, which was seen as a Catholic holiday. By celebrating Nov. 5, the Protestants celebrated the deliverance from Fawkes and the plot, said Robinson.
During the 18th century, the celebrations were mostly solemn celebrations with reading from scripture, but in the 19th century Guy Fawkes Day started to lose its religious meaning.
Today in England, the holiday is a festive, family affair. It includes fireworks, bonfires, processions, tar barrels, and bonfire societies similar to Louisiana Mardi Gras societies.
Robinson said the topic is timely because the plot in essence was a terrorist attack planned by a group of Catholics and is similar to what the Muslim extremists did on Sept. 11. Robinson said not every Catholic is going to blow up Parliament, and not every Muslim is ready to hijack planes and blow up buildings in America.
Robinson ended the lecture with a clip from “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” which includes a phoenix named after Guy Fawkes. He said the clip reminds us of better ways to deal with unlawful authority then blowing up buildings. The clip ends with Professor Dumbledore, headmaster of the school, leaving in an eccentric and stylish fashion.
“Dumbledore leaves and so do we,” said Robinson.
Stephanie Katz, a student at Southeastern, said this was her first time attending Robinson’s lecture and she loved it. She said she enjoyed that he mixed Halloween, pop culture and multimedia into his lecture.
“He used clips from well-known films like Harry Potter to relate to the topic,” said Katz. “I think it also helped the audience be more engaged in what he was talking about since he used clips from movies that many of us have seen.”
Katz said he was very entertaining and witty and she can’t wait for next year’s lecture.
“My first lecture for the series happened to be on Halloween and I wore a stupid hat and people laughed,” said Robinson. “So next year, I wanted to see how I could top it.”
Each year, he starts out the lecture with a gimmick to throw the audience off of what the lecture is about. He also includes lots of visuals such as art work, movie clips, etc…, a costume, and since it is Halloween, you can’t end it without throwing candy.
“I try to get people hooked and show that history is not dull,” said Robinson.
Robinson recommends the book “Remember, remember: a cultural history of Guy Fawkes Day” by J.A. Sharpe for people who interested in learning more about the Gunpowder Plot. He also added the book is a short, quick read.