Remember, remember the 5th of November
gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason that gunpowder treason
should ever be forgot.
Many of us remember this poem but why and how do we celebrate Bonfire Night on 5 November?
It is British tradition to light bonfires and set off fireworks every year on 5 November. This annual event is a way to remember the events of 5 November 1605 when a plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament and kill the King was foiled.
The Gunpowder Plot and Guy Fawkes
In 1605 Britain was a Protestant country. There had been decades of persecution of Catholics and tension and violence between Protestants and Catholics. When James I became king in 1603, Catholics had high hopes that things would change and some reforms were made. However, by 1605 King James, under pressure from advisors, increased penalties on those who still practised the Catholic religion.
A group of disaffected Catholics plotted to kill the King by blowing up the Houses of Parliament. They wanted to put James’ daughter Elizabeth on the throne and restore Britain to the Catholic faith.
It became known as the Gunpowder Plot and was led by Robert Catesby. Catebsy, along with Guy Fawkes and others, planned to blow up the Houses of Parliament on the 5 November 1605 – the day of the State Opening of Parliament. This would not only kill the King but also the most powerful men in the country.
They managed to source gunpowder and put 36 barrels of it into a cellar under the House of Lords. Guy Fawkes stayed with the gunpowder ready to light the fuse but the cellars were searched and he was caught and arrested. He was taken to the Tower of London, tortured and eventually gave the names of his fellow conspirators. Everyone involved in the plot was caught and eventually executed.
To this day we still remember the failed Plot and celebrate on 5 November every year by lighting bonfires and fireworks.
Did you know?
- After Guy Fawkes was arrested, the others escaped to Holbeche House in Staffordshire where several, including Catesby, died in a shoot-out with the King’s men.
- Guy Fawkes and seven others were executed by being hanged, drawn and quartered on 30/31 January 1606.
- After the Plot was discovered King James I passed new laws removing Catholics’ right to vote and restricting their role in public life. It was another 200 years until these restrictions were lifted.
- Despite plotting one of history’s most famous attacks on a British King, Guy Fawkes was named the 30th Greatest Briton in a poll conducted by the BBC in 2002.
- Every year on 5 November King James I ordered people to light bonfires to celebrate the day that the gunpowder plot was uncovered. This tradition continues today.