Why do we celebrate Bonfire Night?




Former teacher, Catherine Lynch, of Education Resource explains the gruesome story: It marks the day in 1605 when Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament. Guy Fawkes was also known as Guido Fawkes, he was born and educated in York during the reign of Elizabeth l, a Protestant monarch. Many Catholics, who were regarded as enemies of the state, were subjected to torture, imprisonment and execution. Her successor, King James I, was more moderate but many Catholics remained unhappy that they weren’t permitted to practise their religion at home in peace.

At the age of eight, Fawkes’ father died and his mother married a Catholic. Fawkes converted to Catholicism and went to Catholic Spain to fight in the war against the Protestant Dutch reformers (the Eighty Years War). In Spain, Fawkes tried to get support for a Catholic rebellion in England, but he was unsuccessful. He met Thomas Wintour who, back in England, introduced him to Robert Catesby. Catesby planned to assassinate King James I because he wanted England to have a Catholic monarch. 

Catesby, Wintour and Fawkes were joined by others in their plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament during the state opening of Parliament. Fawkes would light the fuse, escape across the river Thames and make his way to Europe. However, an anonymous letter was sent to William Parker, Lord Monteagle, alerting him to the plot. On November 5th1605, Fawkes was discovered underneath the Houses of Parliament guarding the gunpowder. He was arrested and tortured.

Fawkes and eight of the plotters stood trial. The jury found them guilty and they were killed in January 1606. For years, the failed Gunpowder Plot was marked by bonfires, special sermons and public events such as the ringing of church bells. An Act of Parliament named November 5th as a day of thanksgiving for the “joyful day of deliverance”. This act remained in force until 1859. Over time, Bonfire Night has become the more commercial celebration we have today.

Download free Bonfire Night activities here.

Val Fraser

Val Fraser is a trained journalist with over 12 years’ experience working on staff in various demanding media environments. She has authored/edited thousands of articles including news, travel and features. Val has authored/contributed to nine non-fiction books. A regular columnist, she stepped up to the role of Digital Editor in September 2022 and is responsible for the Sorted Magazine website.

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