Why Remember, Remember the 5th of November?


Remember, remember, the 5th of November; gunpowder, treason and plot. I see no reason why gunpowder treason should ever be forgot.

We all know the rhyme, but why do we celebrate Guy Fawkes and Bonfire night? Well the real question is why on earth wouldn’t we celebrate someone trying to blow up the King and the British government, potentially killing hundreds of people and causing catastrophic damage which modern experts claim could have reached many of the surrounding homes?

November 5th, or Bonfire Night, commemorates a failed attempt on the King’s life in 1605. Often called Guy Fawkes night, it recognises the eponymous Fawkes, an explosives expert and member of a gang of Roman Catholic activists. Fawkes was caught in the bowels of the Houses of Parliament by guards moments before he was about to light the fuse that would have set off 36 barrels of gunpowder, enough to destroy the government buildings above him, where King James I was at the time, as well as much of the surrounding area. Following his capture, Fawkes was tortured for information and executed for treason – where he famously leapt of the gallows and broke his own neck to avoid being “hung, drawn and quartered”.

Given his treasonous intentions and the fact that he wasn’t even the leader of the activist group, it is perhaps strange that he is commemorated this many years on, with a night of celebrations named after him.

But in actual fact the historic lighting of fires on November 5th is not specifically an ode to Fawkes and his thwarted attempts. Its origins lie more in what the failed plot represented.

Following the botched assassination, people took to the streets and lit bonfires to celebrate the saving of the King’s life, and subsequently November 5th was declared a national day of celebration. Ever since it has been seen as a way of marking the continued reign of the monarchy and the strength of the British government, by burning straw versions of Fawkes on bonfires, a practice which dates back as far as the 13th century.

To this day it is still recognised, not only by people all over the country, but also by the Houses of Parliaments, where guards are sent down into the cellars below the building to check no similar attempts will be made by activists in honour of Fawkes and his co-conspirators.

Whether or not you want to take part in (after the year we’ve had, you’d be forgiven for finding celebrations of the power and success of the British government a bit ironic – I’m looking at you, Brexit), remember this great tip for staying safe on Guy Fawkes night: don’t hide underneath parliament with a crap-load of explosives. Either way, that’s not going to end well for you.

(In all seriousness, do actually follow the safety tips for bonfires, fireworks and sparklers, they’re quite important).


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