November 5th in History: Guy Fawkes Day and Bonfire Night in England and Canada
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November 5th in History: Guy Fawkes Day and Bonfire Night in England and Canada

History on a primarily English holiday but also celebrated in other places by some people of English descent.

?Guy Fawkes was the most famous of a group of men involved in the Gunpowder Plot in 1604 and 1605. The Gunpowder Plot was a conspiracy to bring forth an English Catholic uprising by destroying the English Parliament and killing King James I. The reason for the conspiracy was in retaliation against increasingly restrictive laws against Catholicism by King James I, a Protestant.

The conspirators included Robert Catesby, John Wright, and Thomas Winter, Christopher Wright, Robert Winter, Robert Keyes, Guy Fawkes, Thomas Percy, John Grant, Sir Everard Digby, Francis Tresham, Ambrose Rookwood, and Thomas Bates.

Although the idea was the brainchild of Catesby, Fawkes was the most famous of the conspirators due to 36 barrels of gunpowder (almost two tons) were found on the 4th of November, 1605, along with Fawkes himself. After being arrested and tortured, he was tried and convicted of treason. He was executed on 31 January 1606.

The rest of the conspirators were either captured or killed within days of Fawkes' arrest. The 5th of November was declared a holiday due to the conspiracy being undone.

Through the centuries, the revolutionary intent of the Gunpowder Plot has been celebrated as an outcropping of the holiday, and on Bonfire Night, effigies called "guys" are burned.

This holiday is also celebrated in other places including South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia by people of English descent. However, restrictions on fireworks has inhibited the practice since around the 1970s.

The other place Guy Fawkes Day and Bonfire night is celebrated is in Canada - mainly in Newfoundland and Labrador. (It is mostly unknown in other provinces.) In 2004, Tom Osborne - Minister of Environment and Conservation - was quoted in a Government of Newfoundland and Labrador news release as saying:

"Holding bonfires on Guy Fawkes night is still a tradition in many areas of our province and we are asking those participating in a bonfire this year to ensure they clean up their area, especially our beaches, when the festivities are over. We should always be mindful of the importance of our environment and do our part to keep it clean at all times, including events like Guy Fawkes night...We also encourage the general public to check with their local municipalities or fire departments regarding any burning regulations for bonfire night. I wish everyone a safe and enjoyable bonfire night, and don’t forget to keep our environment clean!"

One of the various traditional rhymes that are known to accompany festivities Remember the Fifth of November (to the tune of "God Save the King" - or Queen):

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,

The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,

I know of no reason

Why the Gunpowder Treason

Should ever be forgot.

Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t'was his intent

To blow up the King and Parli'ment.

Three-score barrels of powder below

To prove old England's overthrow;

By God's providence he was catch'd

With a dark lantern and burning match.

Holla boys, holla boys, let the bells ring.

Holla boys, holla boys, God save the King!

There are many other rhymes, and many variations of each rhyme. After more than four centuries, this is of little surprise.

Happy Guy Fawkes Day...and Happy Bonfire Night!


InfoPlease. (2006). Gunpowder Plot. Guy Fawkes.

Newfoundland and Labrador News Releases. (2005). Public asked to keep environment in mind on Guy Fawkes night.

Wikipedia. (2009). Guy Fawkes Night.

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Comments (3)

great article, no no guy fawkes day every celebrated here in quebec you taught me something, never knew newfoundland and labrador celebrated it.

Excellent article - there were some aspects of this I did not know so awesome job!

Thank you both! :) Researching the subject was a learning experience for me also, and I enjoyed writing it up to share.