The history behind Bonfire Night

• Written by Josh

We are just 24 hours away from Bonfire Night, which has become a well-liked and celebrated tradition over the years. Today we take a little look behind the history of this famous evening, which sees the skies filled with fireworks and fields around the country transformed into bonfires and fairgrounds.

As we all know, people celebrate November 5 each year by setting off fireworks and having bonfires – often with a dummy of a man called Guy Fawkes. Why do we do this you might be asking? Don’t worry as the nation’s most affordable personal alarm provider is here to provide you with everything you need to know.

Guy Fawkes – The man who tried to blow up Westminster 

The story behind why we celebrate Bonfire Night starts with the plans of Guy Fawkes on November 5, 1605. This was the day that there was a failed attempt by a group of Roman Catholic activists to blow up the palace of Westminster during the opening state of Parliament.

The main target? That would be King James I – who was Protestant. During the time of his crowning, English Catholics were hopeful that the persecution they had felt during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I would come to an end. This would not happen.

Thus the plan came together to assassinate the King and his ministers. Guy Fawkes was a member of the group who plotted to kill the King, but he was not actually the leader as many are led to believe. The leader of the group, which consisted of 13 people, was actually Robert Catesby who was known for speaking out against the English crown.

But what about the man himself? Who was Guy Fawkes?

Fawkes was born on April 13, 1570 in Stonegate, York. He would grow up in the Yorkshire city with his father Edward and mother Edith, and was educated at St. Peter’s School. Edward was a protestant and was a solicitor for the religious court of the church. Unfortunately he would pass away in 1579, with Edith marrying a Catholic man called Dennis Bainbridge three years later – causing Guy Fawkes to convert.

Doing such a thing was very dangerous during these times, with Roman Catholicism not being tolerated. Fawkes would leave Protestant England to enlist in the Spanish Army in Holland during the Eighty Years War. Under the name of Guido, Fawkes gained a reputation for great courage and determination – whilst also gaining key experience with explosives.

It was during these years that Fawkes met a man called Thomas Winter, who had also been trying to find support for English Catholics. The duo returned to London and Winter informed Fawkes that he and his friends were going to take action but needed the help of a military man who would not be recognised.

The Gunpowder Plot

The group rented a house close to the House of Parliament and their plan started to come together. In order to spare Catholic peers from the explosion a letter was sent to MP William Parker warning him not to come near Westminster. This letter would become infamously known as the Monteagle Letter and become public after it was sent – undoing the work of the plotters.

The plot included 2,500kg gunpowder being placed beneath Parliament – enough to obliterated an area 500 metres from the centre of the explosion. As he was the explosives expert, it was down to Fawkes to enter the basements and light the fuse.

Due to the leaking of the Monteagle Letter, a search was already underway by guards and he was caught in the final moments. He was arrested and taken to the Tower of London, where he was tortured into giving up the names of his fellow plotters.

All of the plotter were either killed resisting capture or tried, convicted and executed. This was to be the fate of Fawkes but this proved not to be. Instead the 35-year-old Fawkes leapt off the platform to avoid the horrifying experience. He died from a broken neck, with his body quartered and remains sent to the four corners of the kingdom – as a warning to others.

Guy Fawkes Day

In the aftermath of these events November 5 was declared as a national day of thanksgiving. The 5th November Act also saw church attendance being made compulsory. Today, the Houses of Parliament are still searched by Yeoman of the Guard before the state opening – which has been held in November since 1928.

The cellar that Fawkes came all so close to blowing up no longer exists as it was destroyed in a fire back in 1884.

We, along with other countries which were members of the British Empire, now celebrate the day with fireworks, bonfires and parades. Straw dummies of Fawkes are placed on the bonfires, along with other contemporary political figures. The fireworks represent the explosives which were never used by the plotters.

Remember to stay safe this November 5. Don’t play with fireworks and don’t get too close to the bonfires and displays. 

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