A British Tradition – Guy Fawkes Night (Bonfire Night)

Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder treason and plot.
We see no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!

On 5th November every year, people all over Britain celebrate Bonfire Night. There are small fireworks parties in back gardens along with big organised displays in public parks.

This annual tradition is a way of remembering the events of November 5th 1605 when a plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament, killing all inside it including the King, was foiled. It became known as the Gunpowder Plot and one of the most famous conspirators was Guy Fawkes.

What was the Gunpowder Plot?

The Gunpowder Plot was about religion. England was a Protestant country, and the plotters were Catholic. It was a failed assassination attempt, in 1605, against King James I and his government by a group of provincial English Catholics led by Robert Catesby. The group wanted to return England to the Catholic faith. They thought they could do this by killing King James I and his ministers.

Catesby felt that violent action was warranted. Indeed, the thing to do was to blow up the Houses of Parliament.

To carry out their plan, the conspirators stored 36 barrels of gunpowder just under the House of Lords.

As the group worked on the plot, they realised innocent people would be hurt or killed in the attack, including some people who fought for more rights for Catholics. One of the group members sent an anonymous letter warning his friend, Lord Monteagle, telling him to stay away from the Parliament on November 5th.  The warning letter reached the King, and the King’s forces made plans to stop the conspirators.

Shortly after midnight on 5th November 1605 a Guy Fawkes was discovered in the cellar of the parliament with the 36 barrels of gunpowder when the authorities stormed, was caught, tortured and executed.

On the very night that the Gunpowder Plot was foiled bonfires were set alight to celebrate the safety of the King. Since then, November 5th has become known as Bonfire Night. The event is commemorated every year with fireworks and burning effigies of Guy Fawkes on a bonfire.

Facts about Guy Fawkes

  1. Guy Fawkes was born 13th April 1570.
  2. Guy Fawkes was an experienced soldier. Although he didn’t fight for his country, he fought for the Spanish against the Dutch in the Netherlands. This is where he gained experience with explosives, and also where he decided to call himself Guido.
  3. He was the one thought of as the most closely associated with the Gunpowder Plot as he was the one who was to light the match.
  4. When he was interviewed by the authorities he gave the name John Johnson.
  5. Guy Fawkes was taken to the Tower of London to be tortured to give up the names of his friends and co-conspirators. He began to give away information after 2 solid days of torture but took another 24 hours of punishment before he gave any information about his friends.
  6. His signature on his Confession is extremely shaky and shows the level of torture he had endured.
  7. On 31stJanuary 1606, the Plotters Party, including Guy Fawkes were dragged (referred to as drawn) from the Tower on ‘wattled hurdles’ to the old Palace Yard at Westminster. They were Hung and then quartered and their body parts were despatched to the four corners of the kingdom.
  8. Guy Fawkes was so weak that he was assisted climbing the ladder to the gallows. However, once there he prayed, crossed himself and before he could be hanged, he jumped off, breaking his neck in the fall.
  9. Despite being involved in what is basically a terrorist plot, Guy Fawkes was named the 30th Greatest Briton in a poll conducted by the BBC in 2002.
  10. Guy was once a term for an “ugly, repulsive person” in reference to Guy Fawkes. Over time “guy” began to be used as a term for a man (possibly as a half-meant insult), and is a word in common use today.


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