A brief history of Bonfire Night

Oct 2012
The History of Bonfire Night
In 1606, Parliament agreed to make 5 November a day of public thanksgiving

With Bonfire Night just around the corner, we thought parents might like a little recap on the history of this notorious British event, to answer questions of curious children. Why not encourage your child to write a poem or short story about the Gunpowder Plot and Bonfire Night, to reinforce their learning?

Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot
In 1604, a group of English Catholics, led by Robert Catesby, made plans to assassinate the Protestant King James I. Catholics had been persecuted under Queen Elizabeth's 45-year rule and when she died in 1603, the Catholics had great hope that King James, whose wife was a Catholic, would be more accepting of their religion.

Though this seemed to be the case at first, the strain of juggling various religious demands led to King James expressing hostility for Catholicism during the Hampton Court Conference of January 1604.

By February, this hostility turned to detestation and any Catholics who refused to submit to authority or comply with regulations were fined, as had been the case under Elizabeth's rule. Though many Catholics accepted the reintroduction of fines, a group of men, including Guy Fawkes, decided violent action was necessary.

Catesby and his group made plans to blow up the Houses of Parliament, with the King and Members of Parliament inside. Through a cellar belonging to the building next door, they planned to ignite 36 barrels of gunpowder under the House of Lords. The plan was for Guy Fawkes to light the fuse during the State Opening of England's Parliament on 5 November 1605, and then make his escape to Europe.

As the members of the group conspired to carry out their plan, some of the plotters became concerned about the number of innocent people, including Catholics, who may be hurt or even killed in the explosion. On the night of 26 October Lord Monteagle received an anonymous letter, warning him to avoid the opening of Parliament. At around midnight on 4 November, a search of Westminster was ordered and Guy Fawkes was discovered in the cellar. His arrest was immediately issued and the plot was foiled.

That evening, bonfires were set alight in celebration of the safety of the King. In 1606, Parliament agreed to make 5 November a day of public thanksgiving, which is the reason we have celebrated Bonfire Night on this day ever since. During modern-day celebrations, fireworks are set off representing the unlit gunpowder, and effigies of Guy Fawkes are placed on bonfires to commemorate the failure of their evil plot.

What a story! This is of course just a short summary of a much more complex event. Perhaps you and your children can carry out further research at your local library or online. The history of Bonfire Night will no doubt provide great stimulus for your child's writing.

We hope you all have a safe and enjoyable Bonfire Night.