Guy Fawkes Night is celebrated in Britain annually on November 5th.
The event is accompanied by firework displays, the lighting of bonfires and the ceremonial effigy-burning of one Guy Fawkes or Guido Fawkes, the "Guy".
The origin of this celebration stems from events which took place in 1605 and was a conspiracy known as "The Gunpowder Plot", intended to take place on November 5th of that year (the day set for the opening of Parliament).
Guy Fawkes, born in York England in April 1570, was an explosives expert who along with the rest of the group of Roman Catholic activists led by Thomas Catesby plotted to assassinate King James and blow up the Palace of Westminster during the state opening of Parliament.
It was hoped that such a disaster would initiate a great uprising of English Catholics, who were distressed by the increased severity of penal laws against the practice of their religion.
Fawkes and his associates smuggled thirty six barrels of gunpowder under the House of Lords into a cellar. However, he was caught and sent to the Tower of London, tortured to give up the names of his co-conspirators.
Guy Fawkes was eventually hanged at Westminster London in January 1606 for his failed attempt.
Inthe United Kingdom the 5th November is still well celebrated, though perhaps not necessarily for the same reasons as in the 1600's. Children create their own 'Guys', usually comprised of old clothes stuffed with paper and straw, ready for burning on top of the 'ceremonial' bonfire. In the lead up to the date many children can be found asking for a 'penny for the guy' to collect money for their fireworks.
There was even a poem written about the plot which we still recall reciting from our school days:
- "Remember, remember, the 5th of November The Gunpowder Treason and plot; I know of no reason why Gunpowder Treason Should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes,'Twas his intent. To blow up the King and the Parliament. Three score barrels of powder below. Poor old England to overthrow." -
Around the world, ‘Gunpowder Treason Day’ was historically exported by settlers to colonies, including members of the Commonwealth of Nations such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada and various Caribbean nations.
The day is still marked in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and in Saint Kitts and Nevis, but a fireworks ban by Antigua and Barbuda during the 1990s reduced its popularity in that country.
In Australia, Sydney saw at least one instance of the parading and burning of a Guy Fawkes effigy in 1805, while in 1833, four years after its founding, Perth had Gunpowder Treason Day listed as a public holiday.
By the 1970s, Guy Fawkes Night had become less common in Australia. Some measure of celebration remains in New Zealand, Canada and South Africa.
Considering it was a failed plot it comes as a surprise to many that his infamy was so widespread and continues even to this day some 400 + years later.
Forthose of you keen to learn more about the events of that specific period you can always bring yourself up to date by watching the BBC drama series Gunpowderstarring Liv Tyler, Kit Harington and Tom Cullen. But, be warned, there are some realistic scenes of violence in this series, whilst accurately depicting events from that time, have upset a small percentage of viewers.