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  : : Bon Fire Night Nov-05
Bon Fire Night 5th November
Guy Fawkes and the plot to blow up Parliament!

November 5th is a significant day in the history of England. It is the date of the opening of Parliament. On this day, in 1605, now known as Bon Fire Night, a plot to blow up the King of England and his entire Parliament was thwarted with the capture of a man called Guy Fawkes.

Ever since this day, on 5th November, all over Britain, people remember the plot by lighting bonfires and letting off fireworks. Effigies of Guy (Guido) Fawkes, called "Guy's" are made and thrown on the bonfires.

13 men, all Catholics, tired of religious persecution had decided to take drastic action and assembled 36 barrels of gun powder in a cellar under the Houses of Parliament.

So what is the significance of the Gun Powder Plot and King James the 1st to the gem world?

Well if the plot had been successful some of the oldest known gemstones in the world would have been lost for ever. Today, they are part of the Crown jewels.

James wore a big blue sapphire pendent which today is called The Stuart Sapphire.

Imperial State Crown with the Stuart Sapphire
Imperial State Crown
with the Stuart Sapphire

The Stuart Sapphire has been part of the royal household and owned by various kings and queens of Scotland and England for 800 years! It measures 38 mm length by 24 mm in width and weighs 104 carats. It is an oval shaped cabochon but it is not completely flawless. It also has a hole drilled in one end as it would have been worn as a pendent during James reign.
The source of the Stuart Sapphire was most probably Sri Lanka! A quite remarkable distance for the 13 century. Sri Lanka was the only known source for large blue Sapphires in the world at this time.

Because it is a sapphire it has a Mohs hardness of 9. Hence it has survived since at least 1214 when it was used in the coronation of Scottish King Alexander II.

Today the Imperial Crown is on display with other Crown Jewels in the Tower of London. The Crown also holds The Black Prince's Ruby, (which is actually a spinel) and the famous St Edward's Sapphire.

Stuart SapphireSo the Sapphire survived and the proud historical legacy continues. But what became of Guy Fawkes and his fellow plotters?

The plotters had met in a pub called "The Duck and Drake Inn" in The Strand, London. The other men, whose names have gone down in history, were Thomas Wintour, Christopher Wright, Robert Catesby, John Wright and Thomas Percy.

Because Fawkes had served as a mercenary in Spain he was chosen to manage the placement of the gunpowder barrels in the cellar and 36 barrels were hidden. However, the crown became aware of the plot and Guy Fawkes was found in the cellar guarding the gunpowder on November 4th and was arrested.

Even King James himself was involved in questioning Fawkes! Fawkes said his name was John Johnson and refused to confess to anything. The following day on November 6th, King James gave permission for the torture of Fawkes to progress from "gentler tortures" to "the worst". It is accepted that he was at least subjected to the "rack".

Signatures by Guido FawkesOn 7th November Fawkes broke and confessed. Here you can see 2 signatures by Guido Fawkes. The latter was written after his torture had finished.

On November 7th, he confessed. By November 9th, after 4 days of torture he named the other 5 conspirators. All of the conspirators were either captured or killed.

In 1606 January 27th the trial of the conspirators started. All were found guilty. 4 days later on Friday 31st Guido Fawkes was executed in the garden of St Paul's Cathedral, Westminster. He was sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered.

A nursery rhyme appeared at this time as follows:
"Remember, remember, the 5th of November, gunpowder, treason and plot." It is still being remembered and recited in British schools today.

So what other gems would have been lost if Guy Fawkes had been successful in blowing up the King?

The Black Princess Ruby
The Black Princess Ruby valued as "Priceless"

The Crown also holds the Black Princes Ruby, (actually a spinel) mentioned above. It is one of the world's most famous rubies and is dates back to at least 1366. It was probably mined at the Afghanistan border. It measures 5.08cm in length and is about the same in width. The weight is estimated at about 170ct. As is common in ancient stones, it was drilled at one time to be worn as a pendant and the hole has been covered up by a small ruby.

The other Sapphire on the Crown, the St Edward's Sapphire, is perhaps even older than the Black Prince's Ruby. It was originally set in the Coronation ring of Edward The Confessor, 1042AD. It was worn on the ring of Edward when he was buried. His body was exhumed 200 years later and his jewelry used once more. Because he was thought to have been a saint, his Sapphire is given pride of place and appears right at the top of the crown. This is to protect the wearer.

St Edwards Sapphire
St Edwards Sapphire

It is set in the centre of the cross and is a rose cut blue Sapphire, weight unknown, and measures 17mm by 17mm

The four surrounding pearls were worn by Elizabeth 1 as earrings.

Today, due to the actions of Guy Fawkes and his fellow conspirators, the reigning monarch only enters Parliament once a year. Amazingly, before the monarch enters Parliament, the cellars are still searched by the Yeoman of the Guard prior to the visit!

After the men had been executed, King James passed a law making the celebration on 5th November an annual event. Such is the infamy of the plot, even the birth name of Guido Fawkes, "Guy" is now used as a term for a male. This stems from the effigies made of Guy Fawkes, called "guys" by the people of England.

Today, you can see the Stuart Sapphire in the Crown jewels at the Tower of London. The crown also holds 3,000 diamonds, 277 pearls, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds and four rubies.

We hope you've found this article interesting. Why not email us with your thoughts or any questions? We always like to hear from our customers.

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  • First Published: November-02-2011
  • Last Updated: November-02-2011
  • © 2005-2014 GemSelect.com all rights reserved.
    Reproduction (text or graphics) without the express written consent of GemSelect.com (SETT Company Ltd.) is strictly prohibited.
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