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What is Guy Fawkes Night?

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Guy Fawkes : Remember, Remember, the Fifth of November

Who is Guy Fawkes?

What was the Gunpowder Plot?

How is Guy Fawkes Night celebrated?

What are the trappings of Guy Fawkes Night?

For many Americans the Fall season sees the celebrations of Halloween.

In Great Britain, the major celebration is Guy Fawkes Night (or Bonfire Night, Fireworks Night, Cracker Night), which takes place on the evening of November 5th.

If you are unaware of (or even know about) Guy Fawkes and his involvement in the Gunpowder Plot and why many in the UK commemorate the Fifth of November - then here is your chance to find out the history behind the celebrations.

Guy Fawkes

Guy Fawkes

Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot: An Overview of the Events of November 1605

The Gunpowder Plot of 1605 was a plan by a group of Catholic conspirators to blow up the Houses of Parliament, in particular the House of Lords upon the event of the next State Opening, thereby killing the reigning Protestant sovereign, King James 1 of England and VI of Scotland. The planned explosion would wipe out the major part of the Protestant aristocracy and usher in a new Catholic monarch.

The exact reasons for the conspiracy are unclear, but it is thought that the principle plotter, Robert Catesby, had the intention of bringing about a rebellion, thereby allowing for greater freedom and toleration of Catholics in a Protestant Great Britain.

The plot began in May 1604 when Catesby's cousin Thomas Wintour employed a mercenary with explosive expertise called Guy Fawkes. With his vast experience of dangerous situations, Fawkes was to be the man to oversee the transportation and lighting of the gunpowder.

Catesby had rented a house close to the Palace of Westminster and had arranged for a tunnel to be dug under the Houses of Parliament. However, this plan was soon abandoned, and in March 1605 Thomas Percy used his connections at the Royal Court to rent a cellar right under the House of Lords. Posing as Percy's servant, "John Johnson", Fawkes filled the cellar with thirty-six barrels of gunpowder.

Everything was now set in place, and all the conspirators had to do now was wait. However, doubts soon came to haunt some of the plotters, concerned that fellow Catholics would be present in Parliament on the appointed day, the 5th of November.

Only ten days before the Opening of Parliament, Lord Monteagle, an apparently reformed Catholic, received an important letter giving warning of the gunpowder plot. The authorship of the letter has never been definitely identified, but Monteagle was Francis Tresham's brother-in-law.

Monteagle immediately showed the letter to Robert Cecil, the Earl of Salisbury and Secretary of State. The Privy Council had the vaults beneath the Lords searched on the 4th November, first by the Earl of Suffolk and late the same evening by Sir Thomas Knyvett. The search discovered Guy Fawkes guarding the gunpowder, along with other explosive paraphernalia, and he was immediately arrested.

Upon hearing that the plot had failed, Robert Catesby and Thomas Wintour escaped to the Midlands where they met with the rest of their party in Warwickshire. They managed to travel amongst the houses of friends for three days before finally being captured in a bloody raid. Catesby, Percy and the two Wright brothers were killed, while a wounded Thomas Wintour and Ambrose Rokewood were taken away to London. Others were captured and all the conspirators, save for Tresham, were executed for their crimes.


The Gunpowder Plot Conspirators: Who Were They?

  • John Wright born: 13 January 1568, Welwick, Yorkshire died: 8 November 1605, Holbeche House, Staffordshire
  • Robert Catesby born: 1573, died 8 November 1605, Holbeche House, Staffordshire
  • Robert Wintour born 1565 or 1567 died: 30 January 1606, St. Paul's Churchyard, London
  • Christopher Wright born: 1570, Welwick, Yorkshire, died: 8 November 1605, Holbeche House, Staffordshire
  • Sir Thomas Percy born c. 1560 Beverley, Yorkshire, died 8 November 1605 Holbeche House, Staffordshire, England. Charge(s) Conspiracy
  • John Grant born: Unknown died: 30 January 1606, St. Paul's Churchyard, London
  • Ambrose Rookwood born: 1578?, died: 31 January 1606, Old Palace Yard, Westminster
  • Robert Keyes The surviving conspirators, Keyes amongst them, were executed in Old Palace Yard, Westminster. Born c.1565, England, Died 31 January 1606, Westminster, England
  • Sir Everard Digby born: 16 May 1576 or 1578, died: 30 January 1606, St. Paul's Churchyard, London
  • Francis Tresham born: ABT 1567, died: 22 December 1605, Tower of London
  • Thomas Bates born: Unknown died: 30 January 1606, St. Paul's Churchyard, London

The Story of the Gunpowder Plot: A Simple Plan: A 6 Part BBC DocuDrama

Guy Fawkes Night

Guy Fawkes Night

Celebrating the Defeat of the Gunpowder Plot: The Bonfire Night Traditions Begin

The immediate impact of the failure of the Gunpowder Plot was for the general population to celebrate with street parties, including bonfires and in later years, fireworks.

Further, November 5th was designated by King James I (via an Act of Parliament) as a day of thanksgiving for "the joyful day of deliverance." This Act remained in force until 1859. It would appear that similar celebrations took place on each anniversary thereafter and, over the years, became a tradition. The practice has remained popular and continues today. Three major components of the celebrations are explained below:

The Bonfire: As early as 1607, there is a record of bonfire celebrations taking place in Bristol on November 5th and it was traditional for children to black their faces with ashes in imitation of Guy Fawkes who, it was believed, performed a similar function in order to try to camouflage himself. Bonfires were often used to cook potatoes known as "roasters" on this special night.

The Fireworks: Fireworks have been a traditional part of the celebrations since 1677. The first record of fireworks being used in England was during the wedding of Henry VII in 1486 and increased in popularity during the reign of Elizabeth I who created a "Fire Master of England."

The Guy: Preparations for Bonfire Night celebrations include making an effigy of Guy Fawkes, which is called "the Guy". Children used to keep up an old tradition of walking in the streets, carrying "the Guy" they had just created, and begged passersby for "a penny for the Guy." The kids used the money to buy fireworks for the evening festivities. The guy was then thrown onto the bonfire. Modern dangers, current laws and the increasing practice of community organized firework displays have now prevented children from keeping up this tradition.

The tossing the guy into the bonfire probably began in the Eighteenth Century and included effigies of the Pope, the Young Pretender and Devils as much as they did Guy Fawkes. The custom of burning the guy had become an integral part of the celebrations by the Nineteenth Century. The model guys are usually grotesque with a clumsy air about them. The head is often villanous-looking and may sport a brightly-colored mask.

Handling Your Fireworks & Bonfire Safely

Over 130 million fireworks were sold in Britain in 1995. At family displays, sparklers cause more injuries than air-bombs, bangers, rockets and Roman candles combined. Half of all firework accidents happen to children under the age of 16 and more than 60 under-fives went to the hospital in 1997 following firework accidents.

The main injuries caused by fireworks are burns to the hands and arms and accidents where people have been lighting their own bonfire using flammable liquids. Cases where people have had fireworks thrown at them, can also result in very serious injuries.

For those who are planning to stage a display for family, friends or the general public, following some simple dos and don'ts can greatly reduce the risks.

DO'S and DON'TS

  • Keep fireworks in a closed metal box and take them out one at a time.
  • Follow the manufacturer's instructions on each firework. Read them by torchlight (flashlight) - never a naked flame.
  • Light fireworks at arm's length using a safety firework lighter or fuse wick.
  • Stand back after lighting. Never go back to a firework once lit - it may go off in your face.
  • Keep a bucket of water handy. Used fireworks should be collected after the display with care. Douse with water, bury or place in a metal container. Keep children under control. Keep pets indoors.
  • BONFIRES
  • Bonfires present additional hazards when it's dark. If a bonfire is lit in connection with a fireworks display, then:
    • Site well away from houses, garages, sheds, fences, overhead cables, trees and shrubs and always away from fireworks.
    • Before lighting the fire check that no pets or children are hiding inside it.
    • Build the stack so that it is stable and will not collapse outwards or to one side.
    • Never use flammable liquids to light the fire.
    • Don't burn foam-filled furniture, aerosols, and tins of paint or bottles.
    • Keep everyone away from the fire - especially children, who must be supervised all the time.
    • For an emergency keep buckets of water, the garden hose or a fire extinguisher ready.
    • Pour water on the embers before leaving.

A Typical Guy Fawkes Night Celebration

Guy Fawkes

Guy Fawkes

Traditional Gunpowder Plot Rhymes

Remember, remember the fifth of November

Gunpowder, treason and plot!

I see no reason, why gunpowder treason

Should ever be forgot.

Remember, remember, the fifth of November,

Gunpowder, treason and plot!

A stick or a stake for King James' sake

Will you please to give us a fagot

If you can't give us one, we'll take two;

The better for us and the worse for you!

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,

The Gunpowder Treason and Plot to surrender,

I know of no reason

Why the Gunpowder Treason

Should ever be forgot.

Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t'was his intent

To blow up King and Parli'ment.

Three-score barrels of powder below

To prove old England's overthrow;

By God's providence he was catch'd

With a dark lantern and burning match.

Holloa boys, holloa boys, let the bells ring.

Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!

Guy Fawkes Night: A Personal Memory

Around twelve years ago, I was in England with my British husband, Richard. This was my first time there, and I was experiencing life in a typical English neighborhood.

To help get through my homesickness, I wrote regular newsletters back to family and friends in the US. It just so happened that I was there for both Halloween and Guy Fawkes Night, and here is a short extract about that Guy Fawkes Night experience.

We just celebrated Guy Fawkes Day November 5th, commonly known as Bonfire Night. It is in celebration of the capture and murder of Guy Fawkes who tried to burn down The Houses of Parliament about a billion years ago...talk about your traditions.

Anyway, Godalming, the town 2.6 miles from us, always hosts a bonfire and the townspeople have a torch parade ending at the bonfire site next to Sainsburys (the grocery store from Hell, remember?). Rich explains to me that the fireworks are incredible and can be seen right out his bathroom window. So, appropriately I make popcorn and about 8pm we traipse upstairs to the bathroom to watch fireworks. There we were, Rich sitting on the toilet, me on a chair, drinking a beer and eating popcorn, watching fireworks out of the bathroom window, giving our commentaries of "oooooh" and "ahhhh" at each one. Mandy from next door heard us laughing and giggling and so she decided to come over.

Now there's three of us in Rich's bathroom, "ooohhhing" and "aaaahhhing". After the light show, Mandy and Rich leave to go downstairs. I said I would join them in a minute, as all the excitement caused me to need to pee. Rich always turns lights off as he leaves a room, so I reminded him that the bathroom light was broken, and to please leave the hall light on for me. Well, lo and behold, he turns off the light and he and Mandy go dead silent. There I am, midstream on the toilet. All of a sudden I see something coming through the darkened hallway. It is my wonderful, deranged Richard, crawling on his hands and knees to scare me. We are just lucky there are bathmats in front of the toilet!

As you can probably guess, this is not the usual way to celebrate Guy Fawkes Night - three people huddled in a bathroom with beer and popcorn!

In fact, in many towns across the UK, the celebrations begin with a torchlight procession through the streets of the town towards a huge bonfire strategically built for full effect. There is usually a representation of Guy Fawkes (the "guy") on the bonfire, and sometimes other figures (usually political) can be seen among the firewood. Once the procession has gathered around the bonfire, the torches are placed or thrown in.

As the flames take hold, a firework display unfolds, much like one would expect at a July 4th celebration in the US. All the while, children and adults can be seen enjoying sparklers, hot drinks or beverages with a little more potency, along with traditional foods such as baked potatoes, soups and toffee (candy) apples or the ever reliable hotdogs and burgers.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2008 Rich

What Are Your Thoughts About Guy Fawkes Night?

Glen Rix from UK on March 19, 2017:

I enjoyed the personal anecdote! Don't forget to keep pets indoors on bonfire night - they don't like the bangs.

MarcellaCarlton on April 14, 2014:

How history would have changed had this been pulled off. Interesting!

Nancy Carol Brown Hardin from Las Vegas, NV on April 01, 2014:

I loved the story of the bathroom, the beer and the popcorn! Also, the Occupy movement took the Guy Fawkes mask as their anonymous identity here in the states, which I thought was rather odd, but probably worked for them. I also liked "Remember, remember, the 5th of November," which will probably stick in my mind forever! This lens will be on my FB page Hand In Glove With History and also on my blog handinglovewithhistory.blogspot.com. Thank you for a great historical lens!

Nathalie Roy from France (Canadian expat) on November 04, 2013:

V for Vendetta made Guy Fawkes a bit more mainstream I guess. Before that movie I had no idea about Gut Fawkes Night

Tony Bonura from Tickfaw, Louisiana on October 14, 2012:

A great lens about a little known (in the USA) holiday in England. I knew about Guy Fawkes and his attempt to blow up Parliament, and the holiday celebration. But it was interesting hearing about it from your point of view.

SheilaMilne from Kent, UK on August 25, 2012:

Now my sons are grown, I miss the bonfire parties the school used to hold. They were such fun.

KateHonebrink on April 13, 2012:

This was such an interesting lens - history came alive! Great job!

Shadrosky on April 06, 2012:

Very informative and thorough! Remember, remember the 5th of November :)

tonyb65 on January 27, 2012:

Should never be forgotten. Thanks. When I was a child we all you used say the rhyme "Remember remember the fifth of November, Gunpowder, treason and plot.

kjbranch77 on November 09, 2011:

this was awesome!

Paul from Liverpool, England on November 06, 2011:

Not too many sirens round here last night so let's hope the lens worked: Angel Blessed for some great advice.

Nathalie Roy from France (Canadian expat) on November 05, 2011:

Happy Guy Fawkes Night!

Tony Payne from Southampton, UK on November 04, 2011:

Nicely updated and congratulations on the Purple Star. It's good to see Bonnie's memory being kept alive through her wonderful Squidoo lenses.

Lisa Auch from Scotland on November 04, 2011:

I just love guy Fawkes, and I was just sitting here, watching the video with my daughter, who was more interested in knowing if I had her "sparklers" ready for Bonfire night! so It was grea tto also read through the saftey instructions! Blessed

anonymous on October 27, 2011:

thank you so much for everything and a happy nov the 5th

CrazyPirate on October 06, 2011:

Very educational. Much obliged to you and fireworks.

anonymous on October 01, 2011:

I sure had no idea about this day, thansk for the education. If you like to browse lens as I do, mine has a great educational topic with poll questions for my readers to enjoy.

anonymous on September 22, 2011:

So pleased to see the Purple Star on this lens :)

Sojourn on September 20, 2011:

An impressive lens that was obviously created with a great deal of passion. Beautiful and informative all at the same time!

yayas on September 20, 2011:

What an incredibly interesting story. I've never known the whole reason behind Guy Fawkes Day. Now, having learned the reason why, it makes a whole lot more sense to me. Thanks for telling it in such a great an' interesting way. It's something I'll never forget.

Indigo Janson from UK on September 20, 2011:

Very interesting read and congratulations on a sparkly firework of a purple star! Bonnie, even though you are not here you still put smiles on our faces.

Sniff It Out on September 06, 2011:

I used to love Guy Fawkes night as a kid it used to be so exciting to go to a bonfire and set off the fireworks.

John Howel on September 05, 2011:

Great history lesson, and I also like the print images. It brings back memories around the bonfire as a child.

Loretta from United States on August 09, 2011:

Very informative! *~*~angel dust~*~*

joanv334 on February 14, 2011:

Hello, loved your lens!

Mary Beth Granger from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA on November 06, 2010:

Thanks for the history lesson...very interesting.

Lynne Schroeder from Blue Mountains Australia on November 05, 2010:

Fantastic lens!

Jennifer Sullivan from Chicago, IL on November 05, 2010:

I think it would be fun to be there to see it in person!

Nathalie Roy from France (Canadian expat) on November 05, 2010:

First time I hear about him and the bonefire night! An interesting read, thank you!

SandyPeaks on November 04, 2010:

Thanks for a well-researched lens!

SofiaMann on October 24, 2010:

I learned something new. Thanks for the info.

Addy Bell on October 19, 2010:

For some reason I had Guy Fawkes conflated with a peasant rebellion, which doesn't make any sense now that I think about it. Peasants generally don't have barrels of gunpowder laying about. Thanks for setting me straight :)

LoKackl on November 15, 2009:

What an extensive, exhaustive treatment of a subject I was totally ignorant about! Beautiful lens. You really know how to present and inform.

Holley Web on October 29, 2009:

This is great! The newsletter home was absolutely hilarious! Great historical information too!

~ Blessed by a Squid Angel ~!

clouda9 lm on October 26, 2009:

Marvelous share - I say this especially because I had no clue about this important bit of history! Thanks for sharing,

AnneButler LM on November 06, 2008:

Fantastic lense. Of course we Irish never understood why the English were so hard on ol' Guy Fawkes and his friends. In fact there is a popular belief that the whole thing was concocted just because we Irish had such a blast with our Hallowe'en night and the english needed an excuse for a party!

LilyEvanToys.com

Joan4 on November 05, 2008:

Great lens! and I learned something! I knew nothing about Guy Fawkes night!

Optimist1 LM on November 05, 2008:

This is a good lens on Bonfire night Bonnie. Thank you. I'm going to Alexandra Palace, on the 8th Nov. for their annual Firework display, http://www.twitpic.com/jeez

Andy-Po on October 21, 2008:

Excellent (5*) Even in the UK people forget the history behind Guy Fawkes.

Karicor on October 19, 2008:

A great story told in a most thorough and compelling way. Thank you for sharing this tradition with us at the "Festivals Around the World" Group!

tdove on October 18, 2008:

Thanks for joining G Rated Lense Factory!

Sensitive Fern on October 18, 2008:

Fantastic lens! It's an entire primer for celebrating Guy Fawkes for those of us elsewhere in the world. 5*

Oosquid on October 18, 2008:

Oh yes, five aerial exploding stars for this lens. Everything you wanted to know about bonfire night and then some, brillient.

RichLeighHD on October 10, 2008:

I shall have to give Parkin Cake a try, I'd never even heard of it before! A very well put together lens by you there, I love the smell of the air on bonfire night!

anonymous on October 09, 2008:

Another Great British Tradition & so well explained. We have a great view from our flat roof of the firework display that happens just a mile away in the town. 5*s and lensrolled to my "traditional" lens.

Paula Atwell from Cleveland, OH on October 06, 2008:

Very interesting lens.

Ruth Coffee from Zionsville, Indiana on October 03, 2008:

Very interesting, I had never heard of this holiday or the story behind it. The recipes are a great addition! BTW, I couldn't get any of the videos to display ;(

Carol Fisher from Warminster, Wiltshire, UK on October 03, 2008:

You've really got the feel of Bonfire Night. When I was a child, most families had their own bonfire and fireworks (quite small ones, not like the ones easily available today). We'd put potatoes in the bonfire and my parents would get them out after it had burned down, by which time they were cooked.

VBright on October 03, 2008:

Very interesting lens! I have a question though..."Around ten years ago, I was in England with my now British husband, Richard."

Was he not your husband at the time, or not British? (Just kidding!) :)

Debbie from England on October 03, 2008:

Reading your diary entru reminded me of sitting on the inside of the window sill, watching the neighbours displays :) Shame that nowadays, the fireworks start around Halloween and got right through until New Year, although the majority of displays are on Bonfire night. Personally, I think the sale of fireworks to the public should be banned and only organised events should take place. It would save s many injuries.

5 sparkling stars for you!