"Remember remember the fifth of November, gunpowder treason and plot. We see no reason, why gunpowder treason, should ever be forgot!" -- Children's rhyme, author unknown. Every year, on the fifth of November, one of the more curious British holidays is celebrated. Bonfire Night, the one evening of the year where fireworks are launched into the air almost constantly and the burning of fires can be seen for miles around. Children adore it and many adults do too. But there is far more to the story behind the holiday than a fun celebration.
In 1604 a plan was hatched by a group of thirteen Englishmen to destroy the Houses of Parliament. They were upset about the treatment of Catholics in England, by the Protestant King James I, and saw the easiest way of solving this problem being to kill the King. Not to mention as many members of his parliament as they could. Gathering thirty-six barrels of gunpowder they took lodgings close to Parliament House and started on the construction of a tunnel into the cellars of the Houses of Parliament.
However, this idea soon proved problematic due to the proximity of the Thames river causing water to seep into the tunnel. A cellar within the actual Parliament buildings was therefore obtained by one of the conspirators, and the casks of gunpowder moved there in disguise. Shortly before parliament was due to recommence a messenger delivered an anonymous message to one of the Catholic lords, warning him to stay at home on the fifth of November.
This letter was passed on to the Secretary of State. On the fourth of November, the day before parliament was due to open, Guido Fawkes was found in the cellars of the houses of parliament with the gunpowder and the necessary tools to light it. He was tortured for ten days until the names of all the other conspirators were extracted from him. Although many of them had attempted to flee the majority were tracked down and tried. Ten members were executed by being hung, drawn and quartered, which was standard for traitors, with their heads removed to be displayed on pikes.
One died in prison. In 1605, on the first anniversary of the gunpowder plot being foiled, bonfires were lit all over London and fireworks let off in celebration. Within a few years this was a nationwide celebration with official recognition. As he was the most famous of the conspirators, even though not the leading one, effigies of Guido (Guy) Fawkes were built by children and adults alike to be thrown onto the bonfires. As years passed the tradition became a part of British society, with children carrying around their "guys" in wheelbarrows, begging for a "Penny for the guy." To outsiders it may seem a barbaric holiday, with its symbols of revenge and retribution.
Many other holidays originate from such gruesome beginnings also though, and it remains an essential part of British life. .
By: Andrea Stephenson