The Gunpowder Plot Of 1605

Why are we so determined to remember Guy Fawkes and his failed terrorist plot to blow up Parliament in 1605?

The Gunpowder Plot of 1605 is celebrated every year by burning effigies of Guy Fawkes and lighting bonfires up and down the whole of the UK. The tradition of bonfires began the night after the failed coup, when Londoners heard that their King had been saved from an attempt to blow him up. Joyous Protestant subjects lit bonfires in thanksgiving. Fireworks were added to the celebrations, and effigies of Guy Fawkes and the Pope were thrown onto the pyres. “A penny for the Guy,” is still chanted by the children as they walk the streets with lifelike dummies of “the Guy,” stuffed with straw, requesting coins to buy fireworks.

Yet the true story of the plot to kill James I and restore Catholicism to England remains a mystery. Why there was a plot at all, and why did thirteen courageous and idealistic young conspirators risk their lives in an unsuccessful attempt to blow up the Houses of Lords, the king and the royal family?

Elizabeth I had died in 1603, and James I had succeeded to the crown when the band conspirators, the best known being Guy Fawkes, attempted the memorable events of Nov. 5, one of the most illustrious acts of terrorism in all history, inspired by a belief in God and Country.

The plotters placed a hoard of gunpowder under the House of Lords. As November 5th approached they worried that Catholics might be present in the Lords and warned them by anonymous letters not to attend. One of the letters was intercepted and the tunnels under Parliament were searched. Guy Fawkes was found, disguised as a servant, by a pile of firewood in which gunpowder was hidden. The plotters were all executed and their heads were put onto spikes outside the House of Lords.

Described by the prosecuting counsel, Sir Edward Coke, in 1605 as the Powder Treason, the Catholic conspirators were accused of being aided and abated by the entire Catholic community, including priests and strong, devout Catholic women, to wipe out the government and the ruling Protestant monarchy. The gallant Sir Everard Digby, the wealthy Ambrose Rookwood and the Wintour brothers were among the plotters and suffered the same torture for their actions, but it is only Guy Fawkes who is remembered and still taken to the scaffold every Bonfire Night.

Macbeth, which was first performed in 1606 was darkened by the shadow of the Gunpowder Plot. By coincidence a pagan celebration, which included the burning of the “old guy” on a bonfire took place about this time every year. The “old guy” eventually became one with Guy Fawkes, and church bells were rung and bonfires lit as a custom throughout Britain. The celebration of Bonfire Night was officially carried on under the “Thanksgiving Act” in England until 1859.

The tradition of Bonfire Night spread to the colonies and as late as the 18th century was still celebrated in New England as “Pope’s Day.” Today Guy Fawkes Night still attracts thousands of revellers in Lewes, E. Sussex.

Bangers and Mash is a traditional Guy Fawkes night dish, along with Black Treacle, Bonfire Toffee, Toffee Apples, black peas with vinegar, baked potatoes, and Groaty pudding.

— Mrs M


  1. James Campbell
    Posted October 3, 2013 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    I always go with my family to the Faringdon bonfire night.

    It’s a great event and this article, about the history of Guy Fawkes night, was really interesting.

  2. James Campbell Laura Woods
    Posted October 7, 2013 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    Interesting article describing the plot and reasons, and this could be good education material, as I doubt that many of our minor and junior subjects will know the real reason for Guy Fawkes night in the UK, as nowadays parents cannot be bothered and expect all such knowledge of such events be administered at school. Good Article !!!!!

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