The History of Bonfire Night
We all remember the rhyme “Remember, remember, the 5th of November, gunpowder treason and plot…”, but how many of us can claim to know the history of this celebration? The reign of Henry 8th saw the establishment of the Church of England, a break away from the Catholic church. This caused religious conflict and upset and divided the country. In 1605, when King James 1st was on the throne, the biggest assassination attempts in British history took place, with an attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament on its opening day. This was set to take place on February 7th, but there was an outbreak of the plague in London, so the opening was put back to July.
In the meantime, a plot was being organized to blow up the Houses of Parliament to kill the king and wreck the building. This was to be the beginning of a civil revolt. Guy Fawkes, a catholic who had worked as a mercenary abroad for 10 years, was behind the plot to blow up the king and parliament. With his knowledge of conflicts in the Netherlands and Spain, he had earned the nickname of Guido Fawkes. Along with Robert Catesby, they decided to dig a tunnel under the streets to the basement of parliament and hide gunpowder to blow up on the day.
They were joined by other sympathizers in their tasks. Fawkes took delivery of 20 barrels of gunpowder but later added another 16, making a total of two and a half tons in total. They got it into the cellar of the building, but the opening date was moved again to November 5th. Due to the further delays, the gunpowder got wet and had to be replaced, causing problems. Along with that, a member of the conspirators sent an anonymous letter to a friend in parliament, warning him to stay away from the opening.
However, the King got wind of the letter and its content and a search was organized in the building. Of course, nothing was found, but Guy Fawkes was waiting, hidden in the basement, and lit a fuse long enough to give him the chance to escape before it ignited the powder. The light from it was seen by the guards and Fawkes was caught. He was tortured for two full days and admitted the plot. In the meantime, Catesby and his accomplices had moved to the midlands, thinking that once news of the explosion in London got round it would help them gather support for an uprising. They waited in the arms warehouse at Warwick Castle, but no one showed up. They moved to Holbeck House but were found and a battle ensued. Catesby was killed there and his accomplices were caught and put on trial. In late January they were all found guilty and sentenced to be hung drawn and quartered.
Following this, Parliament passed the Thanksgiving Act to commemorate the failure of the plot and it became a tradition to have an effigy of Guy Fawkes to put on a bonfire and burn, representing what would have happened. The celebratory date was set as November 5th the day the real event should have taken place. Due to the fact it was supposed to be a celebration, over the years, it has expanded to include fireworks, toffee apples bonfires and so on. While this might look fun, the health and safety rules these days mean that these celebrations tend to be group organized now, rather than left to individuals.
Whatever happens, Bonfire Night will always remain part of our history, no matter what!