“Remember, remember, the Fifth of November, gunpowder, treason and plot. I see no reason why gunpowder treason should ever be forgot.”
Every year on 5 November, Brits gather around and set off a range of rockets and illuminations to celebrate Guy Fawkes Night, which originated from the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. If you weren’t aware, it was a failed conspiracy by a group of provincial English Catholics to assassinate King James I, a Protestant. Guy Fawkes Night is also known as Bonfire Night.
Now the question is: why do we celebrate it?
Guy Fawkes Night or Bonfire Night dates back to the 17th century, when Catholics became indignant at the repression of their faith. It led to a bunch of disgruntled Catholics gathering together to prepare to blow up the Houses of Parliament, and carrying out research into how they would kill the monarch and individual parliament members. Robert Catesby, the leader of this protest, believed that this would restore Catholicism in Britain as he wanted a Catholic monarch as head of state.
The group had almost forty barrels of gunpowder under one of the Parliament chambers, the House of Lords. Guy Fawkes, also known as Guido Fawkes, was given the task of guarding the operation set on the opening day of the Parliament. However, their plans were sunk before they even began, as a letter sent by the Crown warned them to stay away from the Parliament during its open day. After that, the King sent out search parties to investigate and came across the stash of gunpowder just shortly after midnight.
Then, he ordered Fawkes to be tortured at the Tower of London, trying to get him to reveal the names of everyone behind the foiled event. To his worst luck, four of them involved, including Catesby, were already killed while the rest had been arrested before Fawkes had even reached the Tower. Fawkes was then sentenced to death after being found guilty of treason.
In the following days, people started burning bonfires to celebrate King James I’s continued service, and in 1606, 5 November was marked to remember the events. Although it’s not considered a bank holiday in the UK, there are still a variety of celebrations taking place around the country, frequently in the nighttime. People usually set off fireworks or burn bonfires, celebrating and remembering King James I’s survival. Others even remarked that it’s also a way to mock Catesby, Fawkes and the rest of the members for the thwarted plan.