5 Facts About Bonfire Night: Why Does The UK Burn Guys on November 5?

Remember, remember the fifth of November,

Gunpowder, treason, and plot.

On November 5, 1605, Guy Fawkes was found in a cellar underneath the Houses of Parliament, where he was protecting barrels of gunpowder for later blowing up the Houses. It was an attempted assassination on King James I of England (James VI of Scotland) and his Parliament, which would be stopped by a simple letter.

Guy FawkesAround the United Kingdom, bonfires will be lit, Guy and Pope effigies burned, and fireworks set off. There will be some organizing their own events and official group events taking place in public locations. Hot cocoa and toffee apples will be available, while friends gather round. Whether they will all know the reason for the celebrations is unknown, but some schools do still teach it.

But schools tend to teach the basics of the history of Bonfire Night. They teach that Guy Fawkes was caught and the plot was halted. King James I was saved, and he ordered everyone light bonfires in celebration of the foiled plot.

Here are five fans that you may not know about Bonfire Night.

It’s an Anti-Catholic Holiday

For centuries, the celebrations were anti-Catholic, as it was a Catholic plot to bring down the Protestant king and his government. While Guys were traditionally used, because Guy was the first out of eight conspirators caught, over the years people started burning effigies of the pope.

As time as passed, people now use this has a chance to burn effigies of the people they don’t like and even hate. There have been effigies of various politicians burned over the years, including Margaret Thatcher.

The Catholics Wanted a Queen

Considering Henry VIII of England just half a century earlier had made it very clear that he needed a son, it can seem surprising that the Catholics were willing to put a woman on the throne. Mary and Elizabeth’s reigns had clearly proven that women could rule.

The Catholic plot wasn’t an aim to get rid of the monarchy completely. The conspirators wanted to put King James’ daughter Elizabeth on the throne instead. She was only young, so would have been easy to manipulate.

An anonymous letter was sent to some of the members of Parliament warning them to stay away from the Houses on the opening day of Parliament. That letter was passed to the king, who ordered a search of the basements underneath, which is where Fawkes was found.

The current Houses of Parliament are not as old as many believe. The buildings were eventually destroyed by a fire during the 1800s. This fire even took the cellar that the gunpowder had been stored in.


Fireworks Aren’t Part of the Celebration

While fireworks are commonly used for celebration, they don’t hold that use when it comes to the Bonfire Night events. Fireworks are to signify the explosion that would have happened to the Houses of Parliament had the plot been successful.

The bonfires are the actual celebration element to the night. King James I allowed people to light bonfires to celebrate his survival.

Many people incorrectly believe that the bonfire is to signify the way that Fawkes was executed. This wasn’t the case. He was never burned at the stake, but was sentenced to the traitor’s death by being hanged, drawn, and quartered. He actually jumped to his death when being hanged, so his neck broke and killed him instantly. He was posthumously quartered.

There Are Calls to Make Fireworks Illegal

Every year around November 5, there are reports of people and animals being hurt and distressed from fireworks. People don’t follow safety instructions or make mistakes when lighting fireworks. Between the safety concern and the noise pollution, people in Britain have called for fireworks not to be allowed.

People want to see the fireworks limited to professional and planned events. There are also calls for banning bonfires, due to the pollution to the environment.

In some countries, fireworks are banned for personal home use. People need to get licenses to be able to purchase them from stores, but this isn’t the case with the United Kingdom. People just have to be 18 years of age to purchase the explosives.

It Was Once Illegal Not to Celebrate Bonfire Night

While there are now calls to stop the celebration of Bonfire Night in private homes, there was once a time that it was a legal requirement to celebrate it. This was up until 1959, when an Act of Parliament meant that the British people had the choice.Gunpowder Plot

The initial reasoning behind the celebrations was due to the laws of treason around the thoughts of the monarch’s death. It was treason to even think about the monarch dying, let alone plotting to murder the king and his Parliament. The people were to celebrate that their king was still alive.

The only place where the celebration of Guy Fawkes Night was allowed to not happen was at St. Peter’s School in York, which was the school that Fawkes had attended as a child.

While Bonfire Night is traditionally a British celebration, there are some commonwealth countries that celebrate it, too. This is especially the case in the predominately British areas of the commonwealth. Will you remember the fifth of November from now on?

Image Sources:

Guy Fawkes: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guy_Fawkes#/media/File:Guy_Fawkes_by_Cruikshank.jpg

The Co-Conspirators: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guy_Fawkes#/media/File:Gunpowder_Plot_conspirators.jpg

The Discovery of the Gunpowder Plot: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guy_Fawkes#/media/File:Guy_fawkes_henry_perronet_briggs.jpg

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