Your brief guide to… Fireworks Night

November 3, 2015 | Posted by ECA UK | No Comments »


We don’t have many festivals in the UK, though we get a couple in Autumn for everyone to enjoy: Hallowe’en at the end of October, which you might remember from blogs such as this one, and Fireworks Night on November 5th. Fireworks Night is also known as Guy Fawkes Night and Bonfire Night, and even though it’s a fun, family-oriented festival now, the history behind it all is quite dark – so if you don’t know it, it’s time to get illuminated.

Remember, remember the 5th of November

Gunpowder, treason and plot

On November 5th 1605, Guy Fawkes (also known as Guido Fawkes) and other Catholic plotters tried to destroy parliament and kill King James I of England by planting and blowing up barrels of gunpowder under the House of Lords in London, which they hoped would return England to Catholic rule. They very nearly managed it, too, as Guy Fawkes himself was caught under the parliament building in the area the plotters had rented, with matches and touchwood in his pockets. The barrels of gunpowder were found nearby, hidden under wood and coal.

The intelligence service in England was quite sophisticated at the time, and they were already onto the plot. They found out most of the names of the plotters through questioning servants, and tortured Guy Fawkes into confessing and finally giving up his fellow conspirators. King James I himself gave the order for Guy Fawkes’ torture, despite being impressed with his bravery and manner, and even gave a list of questions for him to be asked.

Guy Fawkes suffered terribly in the infamous Tower of London, most likely on the rack. His fellow conspirators were also captured, tortured, tried and sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered – a gruesome execution. The prisoner is dragged through the city by a horse, hanged until nearly dead, then cut up into four quarters, and the pieces of his body sent around the country as a warning. Executions were a kind of entertainment back then, and people were encouraged to celebrate the King’s escape from the assassination attempt by lighting bonfires around London – which is a tradition that still exists today.

An effigy of Guy Fawkes – called a guy – is often made and put on the bonfire these days, and in local villages and towns the guy used to be taken through the town, much like Guy Fawkes himself was dragged through London, before being burned on the bonfire. At first, this effigy was a model of the pope, but these days it is usually an effigy of Guy Fawkes that is burned. People use old clothes, newspapers, and make a mask for his face. Most famously, we also set off fireworks with the bonfires, which has been tradition since the 1650s. Local people gather round the public bonfire, watch the fireworks, and children play with sparklers. Around Guy Fawkes Night we also eat toffee apples, which are a sweet, sugary treat, and are something that you can make at home.

It is possible to buy and set off your own fireworks, but you need to be careful and make sure you’re using them safely. There are always lots of events going on around the country, especially in London, so why not find the one closest to you, and check it out?

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