The J.K. Rowling Story for Kids

Do you remember the last time you were playing and you got so lost in your imagination that it felt like real life? That is always an amazing experience and often kids experience it a lot more than adults. I think adults could learn a few things from kids about what real imagination and play is like, don’t you? 

Inside your brain are very small things called neurons which help create your thoughts and memories and imagination. Did you know there are more neurons in your brain than stars in the galaxy? That is one of the many things that makes you an amazing being. Just think of the incredible things you can dream up and imagine and do with that awesome power alone.

One such child like you was a girl named Joanne Rowling, but her friends and family called her “Jo.” Jo lived in England with her mom and dad and younger sister named Dianne. Like you, Jo had a big imagination and loved playing in the woods and dreaming up magical stories. She wrote her first book at age six and called it “Rabbit.” After she wrote these stories she would read them to her little sister. Jo was also very close to her mother who often read to her at night.

When Jo was in primary school she was pretty normal at most subjects, but was especially good at English and writing. Around this time, her mother became sick with a disease called multiple sclerosis. This made it hard for her to do things like walk and move her body. This wasn’t easy for Jo, because she loved her mom and was very close to her. Her mother had always encouraged her to keep writing and doing what she loved most.

After primary school Jo wanted to go to one of the best colleges in England called Oxford. She was sad when she found out they wouldn’t let her in, so she went to a different college called Exeter where she studied French and the Classics. She did well enough in college, but her favorite past time was to read books by great authors such as Charles Dickens and JRR Tolkien, who wrote The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Jo wanted to write her own book someday, but was still waiting for her big idea to come.

After college, Jo got a job and one day she was on a very long train ride from Manchester to London. During the ride she suddenly imagined a little boy on the train going far away to a school for wizards. A picture of this boy began to form in her mind — he had brown hair, glasses and a scar on his forehead. After the train ride she hurried home as fast as he could and began writing her story. She named the boy Harry Potter and began to dream up his adventures at the school for wizards. Finally, Jo’s big idea had come and more than anything she wanted to share her big idea with others! She planned to write seven different books about Harry Potter and his magical world.

Around this time Jo’s mother passed away from multiple sclerosis. It was a very hard time for Jo and she took all of her sad feelings and used many of them in her story about Harry Potter, who also lost his parents and spent much time wanting to be with them again. Sometimes when people are sad, they write to help them work through their feelings.

While Jo was writing, she saw an ad in the newspaper for a job in Portugal teaching English. She thought it sounded interesting to go somewhere new, so she packed up her things and took a plane to this new country. While in Portugal she would work on her story during the day and teach English at night. She met a journalist while living there and they got married and had a baby who she named Jessica after one of her favorite authors. In Portugal Jo and her husband struggled with their marriage and eventually it got so bad that she moved to Scotland with her baby. In Scotland she didn’t have a job, because she spent all of her time taking care of her baby Jessica. 

During the day Jo would take Jessica on walks around the city until she fell asleep. Once Jessica was asleep, Jo would go to cafes and sit and write her story. Because real life was so hard for Jo, she found that writing about the magical life of Harry Potter made her happy for a time.

Eventually Jo’s first book was finished and she called it Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. In the book after Harry leaves his horrible relatives, the Dursley’s, and takes a train to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, he becomes friends with two other students, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. Together they learn about the mysteries of the school, deal with bullies, play a magical game called Quidditch, and come face to face with Lord Voldemort, the world’s most evil wizard who wants nothing more than to stop Harry and his friends.

Next Jo started looking for an agent, someone who would help her publish the book. A publisher is a company who prints and makes copies of the books and sends them to stores to be sold. No one knew who Jo was, so it was a while before anyone would even read her book. At least 12 publishers sent letters saying they weren’t interested in Harry Potter. Jo was frustrated but kept trying. 

Finally, the head of one publisher took Jo’s first chapter home and instead of reading it himself gave it to his 8 year old daughter, Alice. Alice read the first chapter and loved it. She said it was better than anything else she had read. She wanted the second chapter immediately! Her father and the publishing company Bloomsbury decided to publish Harry Potter and Jo would use the pen name JK Rowling! Jo was so excited! 

Before long, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone became very popular in England. It began to win awards and eventually won book of the year there. Jo’s dreams were coming true. She began to work on the next book and soon an American publisher, Scholastic, bought the rights to her book for $100,000. This was the most that had ever been offered for a children’s book. Harry Potter was a major hit!

Parents and teachers across the world were excited to see young children reading such large books at a time when many were worried that kids were watching too much TV instead. 

Soon the Harry Potter books became movies and Jo wrote more books. At times it was hard for her to keep writing and coming up with new ideas and creating stories that worked. Sometimes she would take breaks to get her creativity back. Creativity and imagination can’t always be forced. But finally Joe finished the seventh and final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the series was finished!

From all of the books and movies and other Harry Potter merchandise sold, Joanne Rowling became the richest woman in England — and a billionaire. But Jo remembered how hard it was when she was poor and a single mom trying to take care of her baby. She remembered how hard it was for her mom when she suffered from multiple sclerosis. So Jo spent much of her time thinking about how she could give back to others less fortunate than herself. She began giving much of her money away to charities, many of which helped single moms and children and those who had multiple sclerosis.

Because Joanne gave so much away she isn’t a billionaire anymore — but she doesn’t care. She knows that using her money to help others makes her more happy than having a lot of money. She knows you don’t need to be rich to be happy. True happiness comes from giving to others and seeing the smile on the face of someone who has enjoyed her books about Harry Potter.

Take some time to think about what you enjoy doing, the things that make you the happiest and cause you to use your imagination and get lost in what you are doing. Think of what you might do to get a little better at those skills. Maybe it means drawing or writing or practicing a sport or learning how to solve a math problem better. It might be playing the piano or another instrument. Remember, you have a mind as wide and as beautiful as the galaxy and can do incredible things when you put your heart and mind and time to it. 

History of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots for Kids

Imagine you live in old Scotland.  The year is 1550.  You are an 5 year old child, but you are already a queen.  You walk through your castle, which is an old stone building, wearing a long dress to keep warm because the stone castle is cold in the winter.  You follow your mother, who takes care of you and helps teach you how to act like a royal.  She tells you how to act so that others will respect you as a leader.  You know in your heart that you will be an adult one day and then you will be fully in charge.  But for now, you listen to your mother and follow what she tells you about your duties.  You are also scared because there is a tense feeling in the air.  You are worried for your safety, as is your mom.  You are Mary, Queen of Scots.

Mary, Queen of Scots, was also known as Mary Stuart.  She was born in the mid-1500s and was the daughter of the king of Scotland, who died just days after she was born. 

When Mary was born, the time period in Europe was known as the “Middle Ages” or “Medieval Times”.  It was a time when people did not know a lot about science and many people were very religious.  It was also a time when there was a lot of fighting amongst different people to be kings or rulers of different countries and about the role that religion should play in people’s lives.  

Mary was born in December 1542 at a palace in West Lothian, Scotland.  Her father was King James the 5th of Scotland and her mother’s name was Mary of Guise.  Baby Mary was only six days old when her father died, making her the new queen of Scotland. You may have heard of a king that lived around this time, King Henry the 8th.  He was a relative of Mary Stuart.  In fact he was her great uncle.  

Because Mary was only a baby when she became queen of Scotland, her great-uncle, Henry the 8th, said that he would act as ruler in her place until Mary was old enough to take on the role. At the time, Henry the 8th was the king of England.  This made people suspicious that King Henry the 8th just wanted to take over power as leader of Scotland too.  At the time, England and Scotland were two separate countries with two separate leaders. 

One of the people who did not want to see King Henry the 8th in control of Scotland even temporarily, or for a short period of time, was Mary’s mother. Instead she said that she would act as ruler in baby Mary’s place until she was old enough to lead the country herself. 

The rejection of King Henry the 8th as ruler made him angry.  He tried in a different way to gain control of Scotland by requesting that baby Mary be betrothed to his son, Prince Edward of England. Betrothed means to promise that two young people will get married to each other when they are older.  This was something that was often done in the old days before people married for love.  It was often done as an attempt to try to connect rich families to each other. 

Unfortunately for King Henry the 8th, many Scottish people did not want Prince Edward of England to be able to marry baby Mary when she grew up.  They were worried about the power that this would give England over their country, Scotland.  They were also worried about what that would mean for their main religion, Catholicism, since Prince Edward and his family had split from the Catholic Church and were now Protestants.

King Henry the 8th was very angry about the rejection of his son as the future husband of baby Mary.  So he ordered that his English army attack Scotland.

To protect little Mary from these attacks and possible death, Mary was sent to living France with the royal family.   

Mary was 5 years old when she went to live with the French royal family, including the French King named Henry the 2nd and his wife, Catherine de Medicis. 

Mary grew up in a very luxurious palace, which means that it was fancy and had everything that a child of the time could want.  Instead of being betrothed to Prince Edward of England, Mary’s family instead decided to promise, or betroth, her to the French Prince, Francis the 2nd, who was also a young child like her when she first came to live in France.  Mary and Francis grew up as friends in the French palace. 

Mary had a great childhood.  She loved living in the palace and learned to speak French.  When Mary was 16 years old, in 1558, she and Prince Francis got married. One year later, Prince Francis became king when his father died.  His new title was King Francis the 2nd of France.  This made Mary both the queen of Scotland and France’s queen consort, or wife of the king. 

Mary also had a strong claim to the English throne, meaning that many believed that she was the real queen of England.  However, Mary never officially became queen of England.  In November 1558, her cousin Elizabeth the 1st was crowned the queen of England.  She was always concerned about Mary and the fact that some people thought she was the real queen of England. 

Unfortunately this role didn’t last long. Francis developed an ear infection about a year after he became king and because they don’t have the medicine they do today, he passed away. This left Mary as a widow at only 18 years old as well. 

After Francis’s death, Mary decided to return to Scotland.  She was now fully an adult and it felt safer for her to return and live in her home country.  However, things were different in Scotland since she had last lived there.  During the time she was away, her mom had become very close with a man named John Knox.  He had become powerful by using their friendship to gain power in the Scottish royal family.  And he had a lot of influence, or control over others. 

One of the things that John Knox had done was convinced her mom to change the official religion of Scotland from Catholicism to Protestantism. But Mary had grown up in France where she was raised as a Catholic.  Mary decided to be a ruler that created a feeling of religious tolerance in Scotland.  This means that she told her people that they should all try to accept each others’ differences and live together in peace even though they had different religions.

In 1565, when Mary was 23, she married again, this time to Henry Stewart, Earl of Darnley [her cousin].  Some people were mad about their marriage, including Mary’s cousin Elizabeth Tudor. Elizabeth was the daughter of King Henry the 8th and she was the acting queen of England.

Not long after they got married for the second time, her husband started to become obsessed with power.  Mary became pregnant with her first child and was happy to know she would have a baby soon.  However, she became worried about her husband’s ruthless behaviour.  Ruthless means brutal and mean. 

But Mary tried to carry on, believing he would be the man that she hoped he was.  Henry started to get meaner to people who were in his way or against him.  Marydecided that she no longer wanted to be married to Henry.  But she was pregnant and soon she gave birth to her first son, named James, who later became James the 4th of Scotland and James the 1st of England.

Shortly after baby James was born, Henry and his friends went out on a hunting trip to the fields outside of Edinburgh, a large city and capital of Scotland.  While he was out on the trip, there was a mysterious explosion that struck, killing Henry.  After the explosion was investigated, people thought that the explosion was caused by a person.  Some suspected that it may have been done on Mary’s orders or by her and her friend James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell.  But no one ever really knew for sure. 

Only three months later, Mary got married again.  This time, her husband turned out to be James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell.  Many people were angry about their marriage.  They thought that James Hepburn was only interested in becoming king.  

They were also mad at Mary for getting married again so quickly.  And people started to suspect that maybe she was involved in her second husband, Henry’s, death.  As a result of people’s anger and suspicion, or distrust, James Hepburn, Mary’s third husband went into exile.  This meant that he was banished from the castle and country and not allowed to live there anymore, so he went to live in a hidden place.

The people told Mary that they know longer wanted her to be queen of Scotland.  She decided to step down and instead, her baby son James became king.  He was barely one year old.

Mary was arrested shortly after this as well and she was imprisoned in Lochleven Castle. Less than one year later, Mary escaped from Lochleven Castle. She escaped to England, where she asked her cousin, queen Elizabeth for her help and protection.  Instead of helping her, however, queen Elizabeth was still threatened by queen Mary.  She had Mary arrested and put into captivity for the next 18 years.  Captivity means that he was imprisoned and couldn’t leave the castle.

Mary was imprisoned, but she wasn’t in a jail cell.  Instead she lived inside the castle area and had an okay life, although she could never leave. Elizabeth tried to treat her cousin somewhat well, even though she wouldn’t let her go.  

In 1586, when queen Mary was 43 years old, she started writing letters with someone who said they would help Mary escape. The same person was plotting to kill Elizabeth, the Queen of England. The letters were found and Mary was brought to trial and was found guilty of plotting against the queen which was a major crime.  She was sentenced to death for what she had done. After she passed away, Mary’s son James became King James in 1587.  

Even now, hundreds of years after Mary died, many people continue to be very interested in her life.  There are many movies made about her.  While her real name is Mary Stuart, she is usually known as Mary, Queen of Scots.  

We can learn a lot from Mary’s life, including resilience, duty and tolerance.  And we can also learn a lot from this period of time, both good and bad.  For example, we can admire the things that Mary did, becoming queen at a very young age and learning to become a strong ruler.  And persisting through three marriages and the anger of people, as well as imprisonment for 18 years. 

We can also see that the way that people fought for power back then caused problems.  People used violence and hurt each other to get what they wanted.  We can feel lucky that our society has progressed since then and that we have learned to be more peaceful.

The Legend of King Arthur For Kids

Have you ever played the game “Telephone”? You start with a group of people, and the first person whispers a phrase in the next person’s ear. That person then repeats what they heard in the ear of the other person next to them, and it continues like that until it goes around the whole circle. The person at the end then tells what it was they heard. It is always quite different from what was originally said, and it is so funny! Today we are going to learn about a legend. A legend is kind of like a game of telephone! A legend is story that has been told for a really long time, and has parts of it are probably true, but it has changed over time. And by the time we hear about it, we aren’t really sure where the true parts end and where the extra things that have been added to it begin. Even though we aren’t sure what is true and what isn’t, legends are still fun to learn about-because it still is history! Just more of story history.

One of the most famous legends to ever come out of the country of England is the legend of King Arthur. People first started talking about him in books during the 9th century, with stories starting to be written about him in the 12th century. That means people have been talking about Arthur for over 1,200 years! That’s a really long time! And during that time, there have been hundreds of  stories written about him. Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote the very first. Other famous authors to write about him include Thomas Mallory (Le Morte D’Arthur), T. H. White (The Once and Future King), Mark Twain (A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court), and Howard Pyle -who also wrote Robin Hood! Alfred Lord Tennyson visited Tintagel (which we will talk about later) twice and wrote a series of poems about King Arthur from the inspiration he got there. There have also been movies and tv shows about him as well, the most well-known being The Sword in the Stone by Disney.

One thing about legends is there are lots of different versions, so there are lots of different versions of King Arthur too! But here is the main story: Arthur was the son of Uther Pendragon, and as a baby he was given to Merlin to be kept safe and taught. When he was a young teenager, he pulled a sword from a stone which proved that he was the rightful king. Later on, he receives another sword named Excalibur from the Lady in the Lake. When Arthur grew up, he took his place as king of the Britons. The Britons were (the ancient people that lived in England or Britian) The wizard  Merlin was his advisor. Arthur married Guinevere and lived in Camelot. He and his knights became known as the Order of the Round Table. Some of them were Sir Lancelot, Sir Galahad, and Perceval. Eventually, Mordred, King Arthur’s nephew, rebelled against his uncle and badly wounded Arthur in battle. His body was taken to Avalon to be healed, and according to legend, sometime in the future he will return and rule again.

There are a couple of really important parts in the King Arthur legend that people talk about a lot. The first one is the Sword in the Stone. The Sword in the Stone was kind of like a prophecy, it said “Whoso pulleth out this sword out of this stone and anvil, is rightwise king born.” It was prophesied by Merlin. Many strong and powerful nobles had tried pulling the sword out of the stone, but all had failed. Arthur was able to pull the sword out  even though he was just a boy where so many others had failed. The other important part of the story is about the round table. The special thing about the shape is that it is round, so it doesn’t have a head, which means no one is in a position of power! King Arthur valued all of his knights’ opinions and wanted to hear them as much as he wanted to be heard, it showed that they were all equal. People think that it was Arthur’s father, Uther, who was the original owner of the table. But Arthur eventually inherited it and is the one who actually made it famous. Arthur’s knights were a symbol of chivalry and because of this the Round Table came to represent chivalry as well. If you followed the code of chivalry, it meant that you believed in things like bravery, courtesy, honor, and great respect towards women.

There are some people that believe that Arthur was based on a real person who lived during the 400s or 500s AD in Britain. These historians believe that he was Celtic and led his people against the invading Saxons. The Celts were a group of people that lived in Britain and the Saxons were people that were from what is now Germany and the Netherlands. They invaded Britain many times, which is why they would have loved a leader standing up to the Saxons. It is believed that this historical Arthur was the hero of a battle named Battle of Badon Hill. He was eventually killed in battle and his people ran to Brittany (now part of France) and Wales for safety. What makes people think Arthur could be real is that the very first person to write about Arthur was a Welsh monk named Neenius, which makes sense if Arthur’s people really went to Wales.

There is a castle ruin in Cornwall, England that is supposedly the birthplace of King Arthur. It was a stronghold called Tintagel. It is right on the ocean, and it was there long before Arthur would have been born. Because of the legend surrounding Tintagel, in the 1230s the Earl of Cornwall built a castle there. It is a beautiful and mysterious place that has sparked the imagination of many authors who have visited there. 

We probably will never know how much of the King Arthur legend is true and how much is simply a very old story, but one thing is certain, King Arthur has captured the imaginations of people young and old for over 1,000 years- and will continue to do so. What stories capture your imagination and why? How would you feel if a story about you (or a story you wrote) was talked about for hundreds and hundreds of years? What would you say? Would you live your life different?

Guy Fawkes For Kids

“Remember, remember, the fifth of November!”  This is a famous saying that you may have heard before.  But what does it mean and where did it come from?  Many of us in America have heard of Guy Fawkes and some may even know a little bit about his plot in 1605.  But many of us do not.  In tonight’s episode, we’re going to dive into Guy’s life and learn a bit about what life was like in England in the early 1600s. 

Guy Fawkes was born in 1570 in York, England. He was the second of four children born to Edward Fawkes, a lawyer who worked in the English courts, and his wife, Edith. Guy’s family were normal, wealthy people of their time.  They were members of the Church of England, a Protestant church. But Guy’s mother’s family were Catholics and she had grown up in a Catholic house.

Catholicism and Protestantism are different types of Christianity.  In the 1500s, most of England was Catholic and it usually had to do with who was with the King or Queen and what they wanted people to practice.  King Henry VIII declared that England would become a Protestant nation in the 1500s and after that, the government made efforts to get people to stop being Catholic. 

This is the world that Guy grew up in. He had two younger sisters, Anne and Elizabeth, and they were a happy family.  Unfortunately, when Guy was eight years old his father died. Guy and his sisters were then raised by their mom for a number of years on her own.  Eventually their mom remarried.  The mom’s new husband was a Catholic man and as a result, they started to practice Catholicism again. 

Catholicism in England that had been shut down under Henry VIII and continued to be suppressed by his successor Queen Elizabeth I. During her reign, Catholics could not legally celebrate their religious ceremonies or be married according to their own rites. Rites are religious customs or traditions.  Queen Elizabeth commanded that everyone needed to be Protestant and that they had to attend Protestant services, not Catholic services.  If they did not attend Protestant services, they would be fined.

Because Guy Fawkes lived such a long time ago, not many details of his life are known.  He was said to have a pleasant and cheerful personality and was loyal to his friends.  He was also described as growing to become a “tall, powerfully built man, with thick reddish-brown hair, a flowing moustache in the tradition of the time, and a bushy reddish-brown beard”.  Guy was the only son in his family, so according to laws of the time, he inherited the family’s home and land in Clifton in York. The home was cared for by his mother when Guy was still a child. But once Guy became an adult, it passed to him and he lived in it and cared for it for the first few years that he was an adult.

In October 1591, at the age of 21, Guy Fawkes sold his home and land in Clifton in York. He had decided to become a soldier and went to Europe to fight in a war with Spanish Catholics against non-Catholics. He now felt very strongly about his family’s Catholic faith and wanted to help return Catholicism as the main religion in England and throughout Europe. 

Guy lived in Europe for nearly 10 years and fought as a paid soldier for Spanish during this time.  During this time, he changed his name to “Guido” which is a Spanish version of “Guy”. He fought in many battles and eventually became a captain. 

In 1603, Guy talked to the Spanish royalty and tried to convince them that after everything he had done for them, they should now help support a Catholic rebellion in England.  A rebellion is an uprising of people that fight against the government in order to make a change.  In England, the feelings between Catholics and non-Catholics were becoming worse.  Queen Elizabeth had died and King James I was now the new king.  King James continued Elizabeth’s efforts to shut down Catholicism in England. The Spanish King listened to Guy Fawkes request.  However, he decided not to get involved and did not support his rebellion.  

Guy returned to England at age 33 and continued to be angry about what he saw happening to his religion.  Because Catholics were not allowed to practice their religion opening, many met in secret for ceremonies and talked about ways to make changes so that they could live more freely again. One idea that a small group of priests had was to kidnap the new King of England, King James I. This particular plan failed and the priests who were planning this were captured.

But others started plotting something similar.  In May 1604, a group of five men, including Guy Fawkes, met at a hotel in London.  They talked about what they could do to help make Catholicism the main religion in England. One of the men, Robert Catesby, suggested a plan that they blow up the Houses of Parliament with gunpowder.  The Houses of Parliament are a part of government, like Congress in the United States, that make laws.  Eight other men later joined them in the plot, which became known as the “Gunpowder Plot”.  A plot is a plan or a scheme to do something.

The plotters thought that if they blew up Parliament and King James and his son, who would also be there on the opening day, that this would leave only King James’s daughter, Princess Elizabeth, to be Queen. Then they would convince Princess Elizabeth to bring Catholicism back to England. 

Guy Fawkes was one of these “plotters”.  He started using the name “Guido” again instead of “Guy”.  He also used another alias, or fake name, “John Johnson”. Using this name John Johnson, Guy Fawkes got a job as the caretaker of a cellar located just below the House of Lords (which is a government group similar to the Senate in America). 

The plotters rented a room in a building near Parliament.  It was unused and filthy, so they considered it an ideal hiding place for the gunpowder that they planned to use to be stored. According to Fawkes, 20 barrels of gunpowder were brought in at first, followed by 16 more. Gunpowder is a black powder used in guns and bombs and explodes when it comes in contact with sparks or flames.

With Guy in this job as caretaker beneath Parliament, the plotters started moving gunpowder from their rented room and stockpiling it in the cellar. The group planned that on November 5, 1605, Guy would light a fuse during the opening of a new session of Parliament. He would then escape by boat and make his way across the River Thames in London to safety on the other side. 

As the date got closer, the plotters got ready to execute their plan.  However, a week and half before their plans were to take place, the plotters were stopped.  On October 26, a letter was sent to the police telling them to wait to start Parliament because there was a plan to blow it up.  The letter was anonymous, which means that it is sent without a name so no one knows who it is from.  To this day, no one knows for sure who wrote the letter.  But the police went to the place beneath Parliament around midnight on November 4.  They found Guy Fawkes waiting there with matches in his pocket and 36 barrels of gunpowder stacked next to him. 

Guy Fawkes was arrested.  Soon after, the police found his co-conspirators and arrested them as well, except for four of them, including Catesby, who died in a shootout with English troops. Guy and his co-conspirators were all found guilty of high treason. Treason means a serious crime against your own country. They were all executed shortly after that, in January 1606. 

Following this plot, the government in England made new laws that made life for Catholics even more strict.  They were not allowed to vote in elections, practice law or serve in the military.  These laws actually stayed in place for over 200 years. 

After the plot was revealed, Londoners learned of what had almost happened and were very happy that the plot had been found out and nothing had been blown up.  They began lighting bonfires.  They were happy that their government and King James had not been bombed.  The government declared November 5 as a day of thanksgiving in England.  This is now known as “Guy Fawkes Day” and is celebrated every year in England and other parts of the world now. 

In today’s celebrations, British people treat Guy Fawkes Day as a time to get together with friends and family, set off fireworks, light bonfires and attend parades.  Some even burn puppets of Guy Fawkes. Children traditionally wheel around their puppets of Guy Fawkes from door to door demanding a “penny for the Guy”, which became a custom similar to Halloween trick-or-treating.  

While the story of Guy Fawkes is a sad and difficult one, there are always things that can be learned from history. What can be learned from Guy Fawkes and the plotters?  He was certainly a man of conviction.  Conviction means confidence and faith.  He wanted to bring a better life for his Catholic people in England.  However, he tried to go about it in a violent way.  The plotters’ plan to blow up parliament was very sad because it involved violence and destruction in order to bring about what they wanted. Violence is not the answer to making the world a better place. Indeed the plot backfired because once it was revealed, it resulted in stricter laws for Catholics, not an easier life like the plotters wanted.  

Sometimes when we hear sad or hard stories in history, it is good to learn from how this story impacted society and the way life is now.  While the story of Guy Fawkes is a sad story, we can see how the plotters plan and the ultimate failure of that plan had major impacts on British culture for years to come. And this is why British people “Remember, remember the fifth of November.”

The History of the Spanish Armada and Queen Elizabeth for Kids

Close your eyes and imagine you are a farmer living in England long ago. Your family is poor, but you all work hard to make sure you have enough food to eat everyday. Everyone is outside and working on the farm. Your dog is running around and playing. The land around you is green and beautiful. The ocean is nearby and the air is salty with its smell. Suddenly your dog begins to bark. You look up. He is running toward the ocean and barking. In the distance you see the white sails of a very big ship. You drop your tools and follow everyone to the water. More ships appear through the fog. Now there are dozens of ships and soon hundreds of ships. It’s the largest armada of ships you have ever seen and their sails have the red cross of Spain. Because it’s Spain, the enemy of England, you know this can’t be good! The Spanish Armada has come ready for an invasion.

In the 1800s Spain was one of the most powerful countries in the world. It was called “the empire on which the sun never sets,” because Spain had conquered and controlled many places across the globe including the Americas and the Caribbean. The Spanish Empire was one of the first world empires. It was ruled by King Phillip the 2nd, who wasn’t afraid to use his large navy of ships and his army to make Spain more powerful. But by the 1850s other countries in Europe were beginning to challenge Spain’s world power. One of those countries was England. England was a small island, but was beginning to strengthen its own navy and grow in power. It was led by Queen Elizabeth, the daughter of Henry the 8th. She was a strong queen who wasn’t afraid to go up against King Phillip, even though in many ways Spain was bigger and stronger. Queen Elizabeth wanted to beat Spain, but couldn’t take them head on, because they’d lose in a traditional battle, so instead she worked with privateers to attack Spanish ships. “Privateers” were similar to pirates, but they usually had the permission of someone powerful like a king or queen. A daring sailor named Sir Francis Drake became Queen Elizabeth’s favorite privateer. 

Sir Francis Drake was born in Plymouth, England in 1596. At a young age he started working with his relatives, the Hawkins Family, who were merchants, which means they shipped and traded goods by boat. During one of the voyages to San Juan their ships were attacked by Spain and Drake barely made it back to England alive. To get revenge, Drake began finding ways to get back at Spain by plundering its ships and attacking their settlements around the world — places like the Carribean, where Spain owned land and kept its money. 

Sir Francis Drake was very adventurous and was determined to sail his ships all the way around the world. Ferdindand Megallan had done it first in 1519, but Drake believed he could do it again. With the help of Queen Elizabeth Drake set off with 5 ships and 200 sailors. From the start the journey did not go well. Many sailors died and they had to scuttle some of the ships, which means sink them and leave them behind. Some of his sailors also mutineed, which means they wanted to be in control of the voyage instead of him. 

When Drake and his sailors reached South America, they took advantage of the situation to get back at Spain. They attacked Spanish settlements and ships and filled their ships with bars of gold and silver, pearls, Spanish silver coins and precious stones. But as they continued on they encountered more problems while crossing the Pacific Ocean. Drake and his sailors didn’t know if they would survive, but they kept going, against all odds, and after 2 years of sailing around the world returned to England with only 1 ship remaining and 56 sailors! In England Queen Elizabeth congratulated Drake for completing the voyage and made him a knight.

King Phillip of Spain was angry at Queen Elizabeth and Sir Francis Drake for attacking his settlements and ships. He was also upset because they were helping the Netherlands in his war with them. For this reason King Phillip decided to put them in their place by sending an armada of his ships to attack England. An armada is a large group (or fleet of warships). Once the armada landed its troops they would invade England, take control, and remove Queen Elizabeth from power. On May 28th 1588, the Spanish Armada set sail for England. The armada was HUGE! with 130 warships, 8,000 sailors and 13,000 soldiers. It took two full days for all of the ships to leave port.

Fortunately for the English, storms and other bad weather slowed the ships from attacking and some had to turn back to Spain. But by July the huge armada of Spanish ships could be seen off the coast of England. You can imagine what the people of England thought when they saw this armada coming to invade their country! 

But England wasn’t going down without a fight! When the armada arrived the English ships were armed and ready for battle. Sir Francis Drake was captain of his ship called The Revenge. The English had more ships, but they were smaller with less firepower. In many ways it looked like they would lose to the bigger and more powerful Spain. The first cannon fired! Explosions thundered across the water. Black smoke and the smell of gunpowder filled the air. Sailors loaded the cannons with gunpowder and shoved a cannonball in the front. Then they aimed at the enemy ship and fired! To Spain’s surprise the English ships were smaller, but much faster! 

They dodged around the huge Spanish galleons and took shots at them from all sides. The Spanish cannons couldn’t keep up with them. Spain’s tactic would be to get as close as they could, throw hooks onto the other ship, pull them close, and climb aboard and fight hand-to-hand. But the English knew they couldn’t win that battle, so they kept their distance and fired from afar. The English cannons shot much further, so they were able to hit the Spanish ships from far away.

During one battle two Spanish ships accidentally crashed into each other, so they were unusable. All of the sailors climbed onto another ship and left these ships behind. Drake noticed the abandoned ships, so that night he turned off all his lanterns on his ship and sailed past the enemy ships through the darkness. Then he snuck onto the abandoned ships and took all of the extra gunpowder and guns to be used in the next day’s battle.

The battle continued through the following days. Ships on each side fired their cannon. Sailors reloaded the cannons, waited for their captains word, and fired. More explosions and black smoke. Ships were damaged on both sides, but the English kept fighting. From the ocean they could see their island home they loved and would not back down. Soon their allies the Dutch joined in and fired their cannons at the Spanish armada, too.

After one day’s battle, the Spanish took a rest for the night and anchored their ships closely together. This gave Sir Francis Drake and the other captains an idea. They picked out eight of their ships and filled them with pitch, brimstone, gunpowder and tar. This made them very flammable. Then they lit the ships on fire and sailed them directly at the Spanish ships. When the Spanish saw the flaming ships sailing toward them they panicked and quickly got to work moving their own. Fortunately for the Spanish, none of their own ships were burned, but it did break their formation giving the English an advantage. 

The next day was a long and dangerous battle. Throughout the day the English had the advantage with their small, quick ships which fired from long range and badly damaged the Spanish ships. During the battle, many sailors were lost on both sides. 

A broadside is when a ship pulls alongside another ship and opens fire. The English did this all day long until the Spanish ships were badly damaged and couldn’t fight back. The Spanish knew they were beat and by the end of the day finally retreated. This famous battle became known as the Battle of Gravelines and went down in history as the day that the powerful Spanish Armada was defeated. No longer would Spain rule the seas and the world with its powerful navy. 

After the battle was over, Queen Elizabeth dressed in armor and rode out to congratulate the sailors for their victory. She told them that the strength of England lie in its people, and that they would never bow down to an invading enemy. Instead they would take up arms and fight for their freedoms. 

England won because of its faster, lighter ships and its long range cannons. Their ship engineers, called shipwrights, continued to design faster ships and better cannons. Over time they became the most powerful navy in the world and like Spain before, became a world-wde empire known as the British Empire.