Tuesday 9 November 2010

Gunpowder, treason and plot

This weekend has seen a double celebration in England, with both Bonfire Night and Diwali falling on the same day.

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

It all began with Elizabeth I, daughter of Anne Boleyn, who was crowned Queen in 1559. During her reign, the Anglican church was established and strict legislation was passed against the practice of Roman Catholicism in England. This was partly in reaction to the persecution of Protestants during the reign of Mary I, half sister to Elizabeth, and it led to continued tension between the two traditions.

When Queen Elizabeth died on 24th March 1603, she was succeeded by James I of England (James VI of Scotland). Catholics hoped that he would change the law to allow them more freedom, but instead, he increased the restrictions against them; an act which triggered the gathering of a group of Catholic plotters, led by Robert Catesby, whose intention was to kill King James and a number of his political leaders.

The Plot was simple. The next time that James was due to open Parliament, the conspirators would use gunpowder to blow up the building. They bought the small house next door, which had cellars stretching underneath the Houses of Parliament and planted their barrels of gunpowder. It fell to Guy Fawkes to watch over the barrels and light the fuse, but on the morning of 5th November 1605, acting on information provided, soldiers searched the cellars and he was discovered.

Guy Fawkes was taken to the Tower of London, where he was tortured until a confession was extracted and he had told the names of the other plotters. On 31st January 1606, Guy Fawkes was executed by being hung, drawn and quartered.

To celebrate his escape from death, King James ordered that people in England should have a great bonfire; a tradition which continues to this day accompanied by the setting off of many, many fireworks.


  1. Wonderful photos and such a well explained history of the reasons behind the 5th November fireworks and bonfires - we didn't seem to have so many here this year and thankfully not so many being let off in the weeks leading up to the 5th. We did have a lot more chinese lanterns floating in the night air though:)

  2. So...the next person who asks me what Bonfire night is, I'm sending them to this post. Thank you. :)

    Oh...and I wrote a post for you today.

  3. Thank you Paige. Now I know what S'MORES are :)

  4. I didn't get any firework photos - though people are still setting them off tonight! As Rosie says, Chinese Lanterns seem to be the latest craze.

  5. We learned about Guy Fawkes when we were posted with the British Forces in Germany - even helped burn a guy!