“Remember, remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason, why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.”
If you’re a native Brit, then you’ll be familiar with this chant about the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. If you’re not local, however, then you may well be a little confused to find bonfires and fireworks wherever you go on the night of November the 5th. Some towns in the UK even have parades and marches each year. So what’s it all about? In this day and age the night is all in good fun, but it has a darker history.
In March 1603, James VI of Scotland succeeded Elizabeth I to become James I of England. You can imagine how the English Catholics reacted with the ascension of a Scottish Protestant to the throne. In short, the Catholics (who had been prosecuted under Elizabeth and James) had reached the end of their tether.
When James I called his first English Parliament, Catholic conspirators saw an opportunity to assassinate the King and replace him with a Catholic Head of State. On the 5th of November, Guy Fawkes (the leader of the Catholic plotters) was caught guarding an enormous pile of explosives beneath the House of Lords, waiting for the right moment to set it alight. He and his conspirators were arrested and were executed on January 31st 1606.
James declared November 5th to be a public holiday in thanksgiving for the failure of the pot, and since then numerous traditions have been born, some of which we still keep today. Mannequins of Guy Fawkes were burned on bonfires in support for the King, and Mr Fawkes can still be found atop many bonfires in Britain today in keeping with tradition. When fireworks became popularised in the following century… well, celebrations have become more and more spectacular each year!
Fortunately, November the 5th has lost the majority of its grim history, and for most Brits in the 21st century Bonfire Night is simply a good excuse for social gatherings and fireworks. Edinburgh is, of course, joining in the celebrations with an annual fireworks display and fancy dress party the Meadowbank Stadium. Will we see you there?