Remember, remember the 5th of November…Gunpowder..treason..and plot! Today is November 5th, a very special day where the great people of Britain mark the execution of a chap who, along with 12 other conspirators, tried to blow up the houses of Parliament to reinstate Catholic rule in England. His name was Guy Fawkes – also known as Guido Fawkes. Even though he wasn’t the leader, he’s still considered the most famous of all those involved in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.
Bonfire/Guy Fawkes night is celebrated today by burning an effigy of the “Guy”, or more controversially, the Pope, on top of towering piles of wood, whilst scoffing sticky toffee apples and baked potatoes. And of course setting fireworks off in the streets with wild abandon. Basically, it’s quite mad.
But there are 8 other things you need to know about this big day in British history….
8. Guy Fawkes had a SLIGHTLY less painful death than his fellow conspirators
Fawkes was a smart fellow. As he stood atop the gallows ready to be hung, it’s thought he flung himself off the platform and broke his neck. Better to die this way than feel the excruciating pain of being slowly quartered into little pieces. Well. Slightly less pain. He had already been dragged through the streets (drawn) and previously tortured to a terrifying degree.
7. His signature before and after torture in the Tower of London is shocking
If there was ever the evidence needed of the power of torture, look at the image above. This document shows his signature before and after the torture. It’s quite obvious that the pain inflicted upon him was of a terrible nature.
6. George Washington banned the celebration of Guy Fawkes Day in America
Washington criticized “that ridiculous and childish custom of burning the Effigy of the pope and Fawkes,” part of the traditional Guy Fawkes celebration. He went on to express his bewilderment that there could be “Officers and Soldiers in this army so void of common sense” and berated the troops for their inability to recognize that “defence [sic] of the general Liberty of America”
5. Fireworks were discovered by accident
It’s said that during the 10th Century, a Chinese cook accidentally discovered fireworks after he mixed three ingredients (potassium nitrate or saltpetre, sulphur and charcoal) in his kitchen and set the lot alight. Very colourful flames spurted forth and fireworks were born. The cook also noticed that if the mixture was burned when enclosed in the hollow of a bamboo shoot, there was a tremendous explosion.
4. There was no “guy” as we know it, before Guy Fawkes
Yes, he really was the basis for the word “Guy” – as used today to mean a “fellow, person, creature, individual, man” – it didn’t exist in 1605. In fact, it originally meant someone who was “an ugly, repulsive person” because of Fawkes. That changed over the years. Mind you, Guy Fawkes didn’t seem to like his name too much – preferring to go by the name of “Guido” Fawkes instead.
3. The tradition of burning dummies on bonfires goes back much earlier
Although since 1605 the burning of dummies on bonfires have been to symbolise Guy Fawkes’ treason, the same thing has been done since the 13th century to drive away evil spirits. And the word ‘bonfire’ itself derives from the old ‘bone-fire’, when the bodies of heretics and witches were burned instead of being buried in holy ground.
2. The reason Guy Fawkes is the most famous of the conspirators
Robert Catesby was the head of the group but he’s mostly been pushed to the back in history. Guy Fawkes became so famous as he was the one actually caught under the House of Lords with the 36 barrels of gunpowder. Pretty hard to get out of that one. For a few days, Guido was the only suspect in custody but the others were soon captured.
1. Had the plot not been foiled, Parliament would have been totally obliterated
Physicists from the Institute of Physics recently calculated that the 2,500kg of gunpowder Fawkes hid would have blown the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Hall, the Abbey and surrounding streets sky high if the Gunpowder Plot had succeeded. Dr Pauline Croft of Royal Holloway, University of London, author of King James, said that the new study confirmed why the plot was taken so seriously at the time. “Members of the Lords and Commons thought they had missed death by the merest whisker,” she said.