Breaking Down Bonfire Night

Remember, remember, the 5th of November, Gunpowder, Treason and Plot. I know of no reason, why the gunpowder treason, should ever be forgot…


One of my favourite nights of the year has to be Bonfire Night! I love the bonfire, I love the firework displays, and I love the warming atmosphere as everybody gathers on a cold November night to celebrate something that happened over 400 years ago. But the question you may ask is, why is this night so special? The law was only changed in 1959, so that it was no longer illegal to not celebrate this night. The 5th November holds huge significance, culturally and politically…

On the 5th November, 1605, what seemed like a very normal night turned into one of the most memorable nights in British History. In a plot to kill King James I, Guy Fawkes, assisted in the storing of 36 barrels of gunpowder underneath the House of Lords, ready for the right moment to ignite them. However, some of the other conspirators realised the unjustness of their actions and sent an anonymous letter to a Lord to warn him of the plot. When the guards came to investigate, Guy Fawkes was found with the barrels, and was promptly arrested. He was tortured to provide names of the other conspirators, and then killed. Across the country, people lit bonfires to celebrate the safety of their King, and from this night on, Bonfire Night as we know it was born.

Today, bonfires are lit and people enjoy firework displays, small fairs, and burning effigies of Guy Fawkes. The Gunpowder Plot has had an impact on Britain in other ways, for example, the Palaces of Westminster are still traditionally checked before the monarch arrives. It is also custom for the monarch to only enter Parliament once a year for the ‘state opening of parliament.’

To say that Guy Fawkes was the main man of the operation would be wrong, for it is thought the Plot was led by Robert Catesby, a man often overlooked, as he was not found with the explosives. It is perhaps ironic then, that we burn effigies of Guy Fawkes. Fawkes has held significant recognition in other ways too, for instance the film V for Vendetta is based loosely around his character, with the famous mask depicting Guy Fawkes.

Not everybody celebrates bonfire night in quite the same way. St Peter’s school in York will not burn an effigy of Guy Fawkes, because he attended school there as a child and so out of respect, they just have a bonfire. Bonfires don’t just exist for the burning of Fawkes. Prior to the Gunpowder Plot, people would burn other effigies, in a bid to ward off evil spirits, and it is only after this event that the tradition of Guy Fawkes became more prominent.

So arguably Guy Fawkes night, or Bonfire Night, is more than just a celebration of fireworks, but holds a deeper patriotic meaning to the people of Britain.


Sasha Williams

(Image: Jade Verbick)