For the past couple of nights, my evenings have been punctuated with the intermittent sound of fireworks. Sitting in my little room on the outskirts of London, this has been a little distracting! The reason for all of these fireworks? Well, it’s almost the 5th of November. In the UK, this means it’s Guy Fawkes Night. But who exactly was Guy Fawkes and why does the UK celebrate Guy Fawkes Night?
Who Was Guy Fawkes?
You may have noticed that the UK still has a queen. In fact, it’s one of only a handful countries in the World that can still claim the title of having a reigning monarchy. Once upon a time, however, this almost wasn’t the case!
Guy Fawkes was a staunch Catholic who hated the fact that England had a protestant King. He felt that it was his duty to ‘restore order’ and ensure that the King was dethroned. His method of choice? Murder.
The gunpowder plot (also once known as Gunpowder Treason Plot) was the brainchild of a select few elite men. Guy Fawkes came from a military background and so had an extensive knowledge of gunpowder. Therefore, the idea was that the men would blow up the House of Lords (part of parliament) while King James I was holding court using copious amounts of gunpowder.
If all had gone to plan, then the House of Lords would have been blown up on the 5th November 1605. However, an anonymous letter was received by a Lord close to the King and soldiers were quickly sent out to see if there was any substance to the rumours.
On the 4th November, just one day before the plot was supposed to take place, soldiers discovered Fawkes guarding gunpowder below the Houses of Parliament. He was swiftly arrested.
Why the 5th of November? Why does the UK celebrate Guy Fawkes Night?
The 5th of November was the day that should have gone well for Guy Fawkes and the other members of the gunpowder plot. Instead, it went terribly wrong. The plot was discovered, foiled and the men were put to death for their crimes.
The sentence was held on the 27th January 1606; all eight defendants were found guilty. They were promptly sentenced to being hung, drawn and quartered. However, although many believe that this is how Guy Fawkes died, this was not the case. In fact, to avoid such an excrutiating death, Fawkes jumped from a tower and died by suicide.
As a show of the King’s power, it was encouraged by all citizens of England to celebrate the death of Fawkes and his accomplices and to celebrate the survival of the King. Effigies of Guy Fawkes were burned on bonfires and big parties were held. As a commemoration of the King’s life being saved, the 5th November was turned into a public holiday.
Like the transporting of pumpkin carving to the USA, Guy Fawkes night was a tradition taken to the USA by the first settlers in the 17th Century. However, over time, this tradition slowly but surely started dying out, after all, there’s no King in the USA! The final straw to the celebration of the 5th of November in America was the American Civil War.
5th November Today!
Today, Guy Fawkes night is still celebrated throughout the UK by burning straw figures representing Fawkes, fireworks and all-around celebrations. Guy Fawkes night is a celebration of the execution of men who were ‘treasonous’ towards the crown of England. So maybe next time you’re munching on a toffee apple or watching a Catherine Wheel twirl around, you’ll think of the roots of this traditional British Holiday!
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