Guy Fawkes and Bonfire Night in England


By Glynn Burrows


ON BIG BLEND RADIO: Glynn Burrows discusses the history of Guy Fawkes, the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605, and how England celebrates Bonfire Night. Watch here in the YouTube player or download the podcast on Acast.

On, or about, the 5th of November every year, we celebrate the foiling of a plot, in 1605, to kill the King and Members of Parliament, which very nearly succeeded.

When I was a child, I remember that we all learned the story of Guy Fawkes, a man who, together with a few others, filled a cellar under the houses of parliament, with gunpowder and was about to light the fuses when he was discovered. He was hanged, drawn, and quartered and his head was displayed on a pole to warn others. The story was just the sort that children loved, with lots of hiding in cellars along with blood and gore involved in the execution, ending with decapitated heads on poles!

We learned very little about why the plot was hatched, apart from the fact that Guy Fawkes and his friends weren’t happy, but that didn’t really matter to us, we just enjoyed the bonfire night spectacle and fireworks. Bonfire night usually included us making an effigy of Guy himself, to put on the fire and lots of fireworks. We also usually had hot soup and hot dogs. Today, there are fewer family bonfire parties and more organised fireworks displays. These shows are well attended and are often put together by bodies such as Scouts, Charities, and even the Fire Brigade! There are now stalls where you can buy burgers, jacket potatoes, sparklers, hot dogs, and those plastic light-up tubes!

So, what is the real story behind this strange event in England, where we revert to burning an effigy of a man on a massive fire, while we enjoy a mug of hot soup and why do we have fireworks?

The events of November 1605 were rooted in the previous hundred years when there had been much unrest in the various factions of The Church. As England was removed from the Catholic Church by Henry VIII because the Pope wouldn’t allow him to divorce Catherine of Aragon, there were many dissatisfied Catholics in the country. Queen Elizabeth I persecuted Catholics, was considered by many, as a bastard and not rightfully Queen at all and, when James VI became King in 1603 many were hoping that his cousin Arabella Stuart would replace him and bring the Catholic Church to again become the accepted Church in England.

This was all not to be and we find a group, led by Robert Catesby, plotting to blow up the Houses of Parliament, along with everyone in them, on 5th November 1605, to rid England of not only the King but parliament too.

As well as Guy Fawkes and Robert Catesby, eleven other men eventually joined the conspiracy: Thomas Wintour, Jack Wright, Thomas Percy, Robert Keyes, Robert Wintour, John Grant, Kit Wright, Thomas Bates, Ambrose Rookwood, Francis Tresham, and Sir Everard Digby. (If you have any of these names in your own family history, it would be interesting to see if you can find a connection.)

On 26th October 1605, a letter was delivered to Lord Monteagle, telling him to go to his country estate and not attend the opening of Parliament because if he did he would be killed. Lord Monteagle showed the letter to the Privy Council and the King and a search of the cellars resulted in the discovery of the plotters. Interestingly enough, the cellars of The Palace of Westminster are still searched by the Yeomen of The Guard before the Opening of Parliament.

Guy Fawkes was arrested and thrown into prison, where he was tortured.

The planned Catholic uprising came to nothing, and the other conspirators attempted to flee. Catesby, Percy, Jack, and Kit Wright were killed while attempting to escape the authorities, but the surviving eight plotters were captured and eventually found guilty of treason on Monday 27 January 1606.

Sir Everard Digby, Robert Wintour, John Grant, and Thomas Bates were hanged, drawn, and quartered on 30 January in St Paul’s Churchyard. Fawkes, along with Thomas Wintour, Ambrose Rookwood, and Robert Keyes, suffered the same fate a day later at the Old Palace Yard at Westminster.

An Act of Parliament passed in the months following the plot ensured that the failure of the Gunpowder Plot would be marked every year. Church attendance on 5 November was made compulsory under the terms of the act, and congregations had to give thanks for the failure of the conspirators. These services of thanksgiving developed into a less formal event, with an emphasis on fun and spectacle, so, as the idea was to blow up the Houses of Parliament, what could be better than a large fire with lots of explosions? While we have the fire, we may as well burn the perpetrator too, so an effigy of Guy Fawkes often takes pride of place on top of the pyre.

The actual description of hanging, drawing, and quartering is too awful to include here, but if you are sufficiently interested in it, a quick search on the internet it will fill you in with detailed descriptions. I do say here that it isn’t a pleasant read, so do not look it up if you will be upset or offended by it.

Glynn provides customized, private tours and also helps his clients trace their English family history. Past guests have visited and experienced stately houses and gardens, castles and churches, ruins and villages, birding and wildlife, World War II airfields, and general area taster tours too. Accommodations can be in all types of establishment, from character buildings such as windmills, thatched cottages and castles, self-catering or five star luxury –  just say what you want and it can be arranged. Nothing is too much trouble for Glynn! Visit


Norfolk Tours in England


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Glynn provides customized, private tours and also helps his clients trace their English family history.

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