Bonfire night 2016: Who was Guy Fawkes? Why do we celebrate Bonfire Night?

Posted on September 23, 2016

Guy Fawkes Night is celebrated with bonfires and fireworks across the UK on November 5th. Bonfire Night is one of the most exciting celebrations in the country but have you ever wondered who Guy Fakes actually is, or more accurately, was? And why we celebrate with fireworks? Well it’s time you stop wondering; here’s everything you need to know about the occasion.

November 5th marks the anniversary of the gunpowder plot which was an attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament and King James I in 1605 by a group of men including Guy (Guido) Fawkes.

What is the gunpowder plot 

After James VI of Scotland became King when his cousin Elizabeth I died, English Catholics hoped that he would be more sympathetic than his predecessor. When this didn’t transpire,  Warwickshire-based Robert Catesby led a group of men into planning the assassination of James and his ministers by blowing up the Houses of Parliament. They hoped that this would restore Catholic rule to England. Fawkes, who took the name Guido while working in Spain, was invited to take part for his knowledge on explosives. On the evening of November 5, 1605, Fawkes was discovered with 36 barrels of gunpowder in cellars under the building in preparation for a big explosion. BUT just days before the event, one of the members of the gang sent a letter to a friend who worked in the parliament warning him to stay away. He spilled the beans and Fawkes was caught red-handed by the guards. He was sent to prison and tortured until he gave the names of the other conspirators.

Today, the Houses of Parliament are still searched by the Yeomen of the Guard before the state opening.

Who was Guy Fawkes? 

Fawkes was born in York in 1570. Both of his parents were Protestants, but only to keep with the religious practices in the country. His grandparents were Catholics who refused to attend Protestant services. By the time Fawkes was eight years old his father had died and his widowed mother married a Catholic. These early influences led Guy Fawkes in to the events to come later on in his life.

In his early twenties, Fawkes headed to Europe to fight for Catholic Spain against the Protestant Dutch republic during the Eighty Years War. That was where he met Thomas Wintour, one of the members of the Gunpowder Plot.

Why do we have bonfires on November 5th? 

The tradition of bonfires began the same year the gunpowder plot was foiled. They were lit by people celebrating the well-being of their King. The tradition eventually became more elaborate with the creation and burning of effigies of Guy Fawkes. The tradition of effigies still lives on today in some cities, particularly in Lewes where it’s gone beyond Guy Fawkes to some even making effigies of politicians such as David Cameron and Nigel Farage.