History Facts

The History of Bonfire Night

Bonfire night has been and gone, so whilst it is still fresh in everyone’s mind I thought it would be a good to look into why we celebrate this day. I have enjoyed previously writing about the history of certain celebrations… you can always check out my history of Valentine’s Day if you want (I mean we have to get through Christmas and New Year first, but you could also read my post about celebrating Christmas medieval style if you want…).

Of course, not everyone is for it – understandably for people who’s pets don’t like fireworks etc. But this post isn’t about whether or not we should be lighting bonfires or lighting up the sky. This post is looking at where Bonfire night came from…

Remember, remember the fifth of November, 
Gunpowder treason and plot. 
We see no reason 
Why gunpowder treason 
Should ever be forgot! 

Guy Fawkes, guy, t’was his intent 
To blow up king and parliament. 
Three score barrels were laid below 
To prove old England’s overthrow. 

By god’s mercy he was catch’d 
With a darkened lantern and burning match. 
So, holler boys, holler boys, Let the bells ring. 
Holler boys, holler boys, God save the king.

And what shall we do with him? 
Burn him!

A lot of people celebrate Bonfire night, but the roots of this centuries-old tradition is much more than an evening of sparks and illumination.

A quick history

The history of bonfire night, also known as Guy Fawkes Night, dates back all the way to 1605.

On the night of the 5th of November 1605, 36 barrels of gunpowder were discovered hidden behind a pile of firewood in a storeroom beneath the Palace of Westminster. With them, guards found a man calling himself John Johnson. 

They found fuses in Johnson’s pockets, and swiftly arrested him. He held out for days under the pain of intense torture, but eventually he confessed. 

His real name was Guy Fawkes and he, along with his fellow plotters, hoped to spark a Catholic uprising by blowing up parliament and everyone in it – including King James I and many of his leading nobles.

Why did they want to blow up Parliament?

This was because of religion. England was a Protestant country and the plotters were Catholic. They wanted England to be Catholic again, and thought they could force change if they killed King James I and his ministers.

So, Fawkes and his group put 36 barrels of gunpowder in cellars underneath the Houses of Parliament in London, ready to set off a massive explosion.

The plot was (obviously) rumbled as a letter was sent by one member of Fawkes’ group to his friend who worked in Parliament, warning him to stay away on 5 November. 

The King’s supporters got hold of the letter and the plot was rumbled!

Guards broke into the cellars where the gunpowder plotters were waiting. They were arrested and later executed. 

Should we still celebrate Bonfire Night?

So although we might enjoy watching the fireworks and a bonfire, just remember the real reason for this night is not a nice one. Sure we can all enjoy playing around with sparkles and stuffing ourselves with food. I certainly enjoyed my night as I went to Tutbury Castle and watched Vikings battling it, people dancing with fire and then a Viking funeral!

What I will finish on though, is that maybe it’s important to think of alternative ideas to celebrating bonfire night? Rogue fireworks aren’t really enjoyable, but is a big event full of people better? Are we worried that fireworks are causing too much suffering to pets? And what about those animals that might find themselves caught up in a bonfire (did you know Hedgehogs can hibernate in the bottom of a bonfire before its lit… I hope you were all careful if you did build a bonfire and checked for wildlife).

Maybe we should all look to an evening of lights and music, instead of loud fireworks and dangerous fires.

Either way, it’s an interesting night and one that is FULL of history.

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