Guy Fawkes Day is celebrated on November 5th in the United Kingdom as that is the date that Guy Fawkes and his fellow conspirators were to carry out their crime.  It was on January 31, 1606, at Westminster in London, Guy Fawkes, the chief conspirator in the plot to blow up the British Parliament building, jumps to his death moments before his execution for treason.

A contemporary engraving of eight of the thirteen conspirators, by Crispijn van de Passe. Fawkes is third from the right.

A contemporary engraving of eight of the thirteen conspirators, by Crispijn van de Passe. Fawkes is third from the right.

The night before a general parliamentary session scheduled for November 5, 1605 where King James I was scheduled to attend, Guy Fawkes hid in the cellar of the Parliament building and he was discovered by Sir Thomas Knyvet, a justice of the peace.  Detaining Fawkes and searching the building resulting in the discovery of nearly two tons of gunpowder in the cellar. Fawkes revealed that he was a participant in an English Catholic conspiracy organized by Robert Catesby.  The goal of this conspiracy was to annihilate England’s entire Protestant government, including King James I.

The Discovery of the Gunpowder Plot and the Taking of Guy Fawkes (c. 1823) by Henry Perronet Briggs; Knyvet wears the breastplate

The Discovery of the Gunpowder Plot and the Taking of Guy Fawkes (c. 1823) by Henry Perronet Briggs; Knyvet wears the breastplate

With Fawkes detained and the plot uncovered, English authorities spent the next few months killing or capturing all of the conspirators in the “Gunpowder Plot”.  In this process they often arrested, tortured, or killed dozens of innocent English Catholics as well.  After a brief trial, Guy Fawkes was sentenced, along with the other surviving chief conspirators, to be hanged, drawn, and quartered in London. On January 30, 1606, the gruesome public executions began in London, and on January 31 Fawkes was called to meet his fate. While climbing to the hanging platform, however, he jumped from the ladder and broke his neck, dying instantly.

In remembrance of the Gunpowder Plot, Guy Fawkes Day is celebrated across Great Britain every year on the fifth of November. Being born and raised in the United States, I was not aware of this event and heard about it for the first time in a Ruth Rendell novel.  As dusk falls in the evening, villagers and city dwellers across Britain light bonfires, set off fireworks, and burn an effigy of Guy Fawkes, celebrating his failure to blow up Parliament and James I.  In modern times, these celebrations are sometimes anti-government as well.

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4 responses

  1. Jo Wake says:

    Being from England I knew about the gunpowder plot and have celebrated November 5 all my life. I did not know GF jumped to his death though, had never heard that. I have never known Guy Fawkes Day to be anything than an excuse for fun. Although these days the fireworks are too expensive for most people.

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    • In some states of the US, it is illegal to sell fireworks as is the case in my state. I am very surprised that towns can still afford to have firework celebrations in their budgets as well. We have our share of holidays in the US that we just consider it to be fun and a day off from work and never think about where the day comes from. It is the way of the world when we work so hard every other day of the year.

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  2. Birgit says:

    It’s so interesting that a man who was wanting to blow up parliament is now celebrated but then there is Bastille Day which started the revolution and brought much bloodshed and destruction of art and architecture as well. I wish they would ban fireworks here…It scares my dog and I worry about my house. There have been homes where fireworks started fires

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    • I don’t know a lot about it but I think they are celebrating that the conspiracy was prevented. I had a black lab named Rocky growing up. One Independence Day we were at the swim club and came home in the afternoon. While we were out, some neighborhood kids had been lighting firecrackers across the street from our home. It bothered Rocky’s ears so much that he tried to get as far back in the house as he could. He literally had one of our bedroom doors in shreds and hanging off the hinges.

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