The fiery history of Guy Fawkes

Bonfire Night is full of fireworks, sparklers and fun, but why do we remember, remember the fifth of November?

November 5 wasn’t always about gathering friends and family to light sparklers and make smores. The celebration has dark origins including gunpowder, an explosives expert called Guy Fawkes, and a plot to kill the King.


The plot involved thirteen men aiming to blow up the Houses of Parliament to kill King James I. The Roman Catholic activists hoped to gain freedom to practice their religion by assassinating the Protestant King; after being classed as potential traitors for over 30 years after the Pope had excommunicated Queen Elizabeth I in 1570.

On November 4 1605, the gang smuggled 36 barrels of gunpowder along the River Thames into the Houses of Parliament – enough to completely destroy the building. They stored the barrels in a cellar below the House of Lords knowing the King would be there during the State Opening of Parliament the following day.

Leading up to November 5, one of the Lords received a letter warning him of the attack. Word reached the King and the night between November 4 and 5, guards searched the cellars and found one man with the gunpowder: Guy Fawkes. He was arrested and forced to give up the names of the other 12 men, including ringleader Robert Catesby.


After the foiled attack, November 5 was established as a national day of thanksgiving until 1859. People lit bonfires as a celebration that their King had been saved. As the years went on, people placed straw dummies which resembled Guy Fawkes onto fires.

Celebrations soon became more elaborate and fireworks – traditionally made from gunpowder – were introduced to represent the gunpowder in the barrels on November 5. Since 1605, celebrations haven’t changed much.

It may no longer be an official day of thanksgiving, but fireworks and bonfires are still light the skys. Head along to bonfire and fireworks in your local community, or, have your own mini fireworks display in celebration. Most supermarkets sell fireworks and sparklers close to the night.

Information on how to stay safe while using fireworks is available from The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents.


There is an island named after him in the Galapagos Islands, Isla Guy Fawkes.

The cellar he tried to blow up no longer exists.

The Houses of Parliament are still searched every year on November 5.

Over £400m is spent on fireworks for bonfire night in the UK every year.

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