It’s November 5th and the night is full of fire and explosions, but no problems. This is the annual British event called ‘Bonfire Night’. So what’s the story behind the pyrotechnics? Well, we have to go back to the time of King James I in the 17th Century to find out.
The main character to remember here is one Guy Fawkes - a member of a group of 13 English Catholics who took part in the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605. He is also sometimes known as "the last man to enter Parliament with honest intentions"
He was born in York, England, and as a soldier fought on the side of Catholic Spain against the Protestant Dutch Reformers . Because of his skill with explosives he caught the eye of a man called Thomas Wintour who back in England introduced him to Robert Catesby, the leader of a group of influential Catholics.
Now, Catesby had a plan to assassinate King James I and restore a Catholic monarch to the throne of England. To accomplish this dastardly deed, the plotters bought the lease to an undercroft (a large cellar) beneath the House of Lords, and Fawkes was placed in charge of the 36 barrels of gunpowder they put there. The idea was that on the day the King opened Parliament, there would be a large boom…., and a sudden vacancy for a new Catholic monarch. However, because of the receipt of an anonymous letter, perhaps sent by one of the plotters, the authorities searched Westminster Palace during the early hours of 5th November, and found Fawkes guarding the explosives.
Over the next few days, he was questioned and tortured, and eventually he broke, naming the rest of the plotters. Some of these were killed, others caught and sentenced to death for treason.
At this time Britain used a particularly gruesome method of execution where prisoners were hung drawn and quartered followed by having their heads removed and spiked somewhere with a nice view of London.
Fawkes managed to escape this painful fate because he jumped from the scaffold where he was to be hanged and broke his neck.
So Fawkes became the symbol of the Gunpowder Plot, the failure of which has been celebrated in England since 5th November 1606.
The tradition of marking the day with the ringing of church bells and bonfires started soon after the Plot's discovery, and fireworks were included in some of the earliest celebrations. In Britain, the 5th of November is called Bonfire Night, or Guy Fawkes Night and his effigy is traditionally burned on a bonfire, usually accompanied by a firework display.
These lines from a nursery rhyme of the period have become famous;
Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
the Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I see no reason why Gunpowder Treason should ever be forgot.
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