Why Do We Celebrate Bonfire Night?

1November 2021

On November 5th the UK will engage once again in the annual act of lighting  bonfires, letting off fireworks, and throwing home made effigies of a man named Guy Fawkes on top of the fire.

Family lighting sparklers and watching a bonfire

Why do we celebrate bonfire night?

The reason behind the celebration of Bonfire Night is largely lost nowadays as it is regarded as a night where families go out to visit organised firework events and enjoy the spectacle of a crackling fire and sophisticated displays with their children.

However, as with everything we celebrate these days, it was forged out of a troubled and often violent history.

Let’s take a trip into the past with Jones Executive Coach Hire Manchester and remind ourselves of the real reason behind Guy Fawkes Night, or Bonfire Night as it is more often called.

The Gunpowder Plot of 1605

In the 1600’s religion in England was a hot subject and often the cause of conflict and wars.

The two dominant religions were Protestant and Catholicism, with the Protestant movement being the dominant force at the time.

In 1603, Protestant James I became King of England. His reign succeeded that of Queen Elizabeth I who had been very much an advocate of repressing Catholicism in England.

Many Catholics had expected that James, who was the son of the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots would be a sympathiser of their repression, but he turned out to be a staunch Protestant and continued to carry out persecutions against them.

Frustrated by the persecutions and repression of the Catholic religion in England, a man named Robert Catesby began developing a plan to remove James l from the throne and restore Catholicism to England. Very quickly, along with his cousin Thomas Wintour, they recruited a number of staunch supporters and together developed a plan.

The idea was to kill the King and his Government by planting explosives under the House of Lords to be detonated on the opening day of Parliament.

Together, the 13 conspirators leased a vault underneath the House of Lords, and under the cover of darkness managed to smuggle some 36 barrels of gunpowder into the vault.

The only problem they had was that none of them were gunpowder or explosives experts and knew nothing of causing a devastating explosion.

The gunpowder plotters in the vault under the house of lords

Who was Guy Fawkes?

Guy (Guido) Fawkes was a Catholic freedom fighter who spent many years fighting alongside the Spanish Catholics against the Dutch Protestant repressors. He changed his name to Guido (the Italian version of Guy) to sound more continental, but now he was back in England where he was introduced to Catesby and his plot to overthrow the King.

The foiling of the plot

On the night of November 4th 1605, Guy Fawkes was tasked with guarding the gunpowder barrels and preparing it for the mighty explosion at the opening ceremony of Parliament.

However, prior to this, a warning letter (anonymous) had been sent to Lord Monteagle warning him not to attend the ceremony. Monteagle was himself a Catholic who had pledged his loyalty to the Crown, but he also happened to be the brother-in-law of one of the conspirators, Francis Tresham. Although it has never been proved that Tresham sent the letter to Monteagle, it is widely believed that he was the most likely person.

Monteagle swiftly forwarded the letter to the King who ordered an immediate and thorough search of the Houses of Parliament, where just after midnight the King’s soldiers discovered Fawkes and his stockpile.

Torture and trial.

The King immediately ordered Fawkes to be taken to the Tower of London where he was viciously tortured and the names of the co-conspirators extracted.

All were captured apart from four including Catesby who eventually died in a gun battle with English troops.

The other conspirators were put on a show trial in 1606 and found guilty of treason where they were publicly hung, drawn and quartered. As for Fawkes himself, he escaped the final execution by jumping to his death while awaiting the gallows.

The gallows and grim reaper

Why a bonfire and fireworks?

As news spread across London and the rest of England of the saviour of James I, people lit small fires of celebration, and shortly afterwards a national holiday was declared called Gunpowder Treason Day. This was off the back of an Act of Parliament known as The Observance of the 5th of November, which enforced an annual public holiday in thanksgiving of foiling the plot.

As time went on, the celebrations got more raucous with the burning of effigies of the Pope and letting off explosives which reflected the anti-Catholic feeling of the time.

Eventually the commemoration began to lose its religious undertones and in 1859 the Observance of 5th November Act was repealed.

Today it is known as bonfire night or Guy Fawkes night with many people either believing that Fawkes was the main conspirator of the Gunpowder Plot, or simply not knowing the reason behind the celebration.

However, nowadays whatever the reason for celebrating Bonfire Night, Jones Executive Coaches wish you a safe and enjoyable experience.

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Bonfire Night 2021 firework displays and events in Greater Manchester

The current Covid situation will mean that the firework events, which are normally attended by more than 100,000 people, won’t take place for a second year in a row.

The displays and bonfires at Heaton Park, Platt Fields Park, Wythenshawe Park, Crumpsall Park, the Eithad Campus, Cringle Park, Debdale Park and Brookdale Park are all cancelled.

The Government is still advising that attendees of large events should prove their Covid status – either a negative test, double vaccination or natural immunity – which the council says would require ‘significant’ staffing and infrastructure.