Well It all started on November 5 1606 and is celebrated each year, all around the UK, where people light up bonfires, sparklers, and let off fireworks. It a celebration where family and friends come together, the day is memorably known as Bonfire Night, Guy Fawkes Night or Fireworks Night. It’s a celebration that has gone on for more than four centuries. Still, only a few of us actually know why we do it.
So, what is Bonfire Night? and how did it come to be so passionately celebrated across the UK?
Well to summarise the answer, Bonfire Night is celebrated as the anniversary of a failed attempt to blow up the House of Parliament. This failed attempt involved the attempted use of gunpowder to raze down the House of Parliament during the traditional annual State Opening of Parliament.
As a celebration of the failed attempt, the British Government installed the date as Bonfire Night. Everyone in the UK light bonfires on this night, perhaps with a little dummy man on top of them, as a mark of remembrance.
How did this day come to be and why is it known as Guy Fawkes Day?
Okay, so we do know just what happened on that day and why it is celebrated but what events led up to this day? And why is it sometimes referred to as Guy Fawkes Day?
Queen Elizabeth I found herself excommunicated by the Pope (Roman Catholic leader) back in 1570. As a result, she saw to it that the practice of Catholicism in England was brought to a halt. Scores of priests were put on the wrong end of the execution rope during this period, and any public practice of Catholicism was simply asking for trouble.
The Queen eventually died in 1603 and was succeeded by Protestant King James I. James might have been protestant, but he had strong ties to the Catholic faith, with both his mother and wife a part of this faith. Beyond that, rumors abound that he was looking to become one, no thanks to his diplomatic overtures with the Pope.
Many Catholics had high hopes with his ascension of the throne that the religious intolerance they had suffered for over 45 years will soon be a thing of the past. But that wasn’t to be. He condemned the religion as superstitious and ordered every Catholic priest to exit England, largely continuing the religious repression of his predecessor.
By November 5, 1605, a conspiracy against the King was set to hatch. After many failed conspiracies in the years before, this plot sought to assassinate the King, his son, all of his ministers, and all members of the House of Lords and House of Commons, during the state opening of parliament. The conspirators rented a house close to the Parliamentary house and succeeded in smuggling in some 36 barrels of gunpowder into a cellar of the House of Lords.
Containing about 2,500 kg of gunpowder, it would have successfully taken down the building, with James’ daughter Elizabeth subsequently installed as a puppet queen until she was married off to a Catholic. Unfortunately for them, an anonymous letter was sent to William Parker by one of the co-conspirators, warning him to avoid the house. With the letter made public, a thorough search of the house began. The search was almost concluded when Guy ‘Guido’ Fawkes was apprehended in one of the cellars.
An explosive expert, Fawkes was left in the cellar to set off the fuse. He was subsequently arrested, taken to the Tower of London, and tortured for two full days until he revealed all of his fellow conspirators. Fawkes was not the ringleader though, with that title going instead to Robert Catesby. Other plotters included Rob and Tom Wintour, Thomas Percy, Jack Wright, Francis Tresham, John Grant, Thomas Bates, Hugh Owen Robert Keyes, and Christopher Wright.
Death for traitors back in 17th century England saw the criminals hung, drawn and quartered in a public space. Some of the plotters were tried, convicted and executed, while four of them – including Catesby – died resisting arrest. Fawkes saved himself that brutal death by jumping off the platform. He died from the fall. Fawkes may not have been the ringleader, but he was certainly the most popular following his arrest.
Celebration and Declaration
Londoners – and subsequently other British colonies – celebrated this failed plot by lighting celebratory bonfires. The bonfire usually carried an effigy on it which some have attributed to the pope (not unlikely considering the anti-Catholic sentiments of the time), and others to Guy Fawkes. Effigies of Fawkes completely replaced the pope’s effigies by the 19th century when anti-Catholicism eventually came to an end.
By January 1606, an act of Parliament was passed that designated November 5 as a national thanksgiving day. The act also made church attendance on that day compulsory. In the months that followed, other Catholic repression acts were swiftly enacted. Every November since 1928, the Houses of Parliament are ceremoniously searched with lanterns to ensure no Fawkes is waiting in the cellars.
As a celebration of this day, today, Britons come together in close circles of family and friends, light large bonfires, set off fireworks, attend city-wide parades, and burn Fawkes effigies. Guy quickly became a derogatory name for an evil, ugly person – a reference to Fawkes; although this is no longer the case and it has since become a synonym for man.
Did you Know?
Guy Fawkes’ former school, St. Peter’s in York, refuses to celebrate bonfire night as a sign of respect to their former student.
Burning Fireworks on Guy Fawkes Night
This celebration can quickly turn dangerous if you do not properly handle your fireworks. Ensure fireworks are kept in a closed box until the day of use. Children should be kept away from them. When lighting a firework display, hold it away from you and away from the crowd, at arm’s length. And, make sure to keep flammable materials away from your fireworks.
We have a great selection of Fireworks, Sparklers and Rockets, for Bonfire Night, Guy Fawkes Night and Firework Nights, check our online shop here: https://www.jordansfireworks.co.uk/catalogsearch/result/?q=bonfire+