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The Gunpowder Plot, Guy Fawkes and Why we Celebrate Bonfire Night

Guy Fawkes

Bonfire night held each November 5th marks an important event that happened over 400 years ago in London.
It celebrates the night that King James I and all of Parliament were saved by a mysterious letter from an explosive assassin in the cellars of Westminster. This event would become known as the Gunpowder Plot.

In the early 17th century, the British Isles were a place where Protestants and Catholics did not live together in harmony. The Catholics had been treated harshly and unfairly for a number of years and, when King James I took over the English throne, the Catholics in England rejoiced as they believed he would make their lives easier. Instead, King James treated the Catholics even more harshly and ordered all the priests to leave England. This angered the Catholics and several of them came together, determined to kill King James and all the members of Parliament. 

Robert Catesby would become the leader of this small group of men, and together they would plot to blow up the Palace of Westminster, where the English Parliament sat. The most well known of these men is Guy Fawkes, an English mercenary who had fought on the side of Spain, England’s greatest enemy in the 16th and 17th centuries. The other conspirators included Thomas and Robert Wintour, John and Christopher Wright, Robert Keyes, Thomas Percy, John Grant, Ambrose Rookwood, Sir Everard Digby, Francis Tresham and Thomas Bates. 

For months these men laid their plans. They would wait until the opening of Parliament on November 5, 1605 and then blow up the House of Lords with King James and all of the Members of Parliament inside. They rented a house next door to the Palace and, slowly and carefully and without being seen, they transported barrels of gunpowder into the cellars of Westminster — 36 barrels gunpowder in total, enough gunpowder to blow the building up 200 times over. 

On the night of November 4th Guy Fawkes hid himself in the cellar of the Parliament waiting for the King to arrive and the house to assemble the next day. He was then to light the fuse and which would ignite the gunpowder and destroy the Palace of Westminster above.

However, before morning arrived and the plot could be carried, out a member of Parliament, Lord Monteagle received a letter advising him not to attend the opening of Parliament, “for God and man hath concurred to punish the wickedness of this time”. No one knows for sure who sent the letter to Lord Monteagle, but many suspect it may have been Francis Tresham, Lord Monteagle’s brother-in-law. 

Lord Monteagle was alarmed by the message passed the letter to his friends, eventually reaching the King on Friday, November the 1st. Guy Fawkes and the barrels of gun powder were discovered during searches of the cellars on the 4th of November. Fawkes was taken away to the Tower of London where he was questioned, and eventually tortured on orders of the King, to reveal the names of the other men who were part of the plot. He confessed all on the 7th.

The authorities chased after the plotters, having already discovered some of the names of the plotters without Guy’s help. Some were shot during a gunfight when they were resisting capture, others were taken to the Tower of London. They were tried, drawn through the streets by a horse, briefly hanged, disembowelled, beheaded and finally cut into quarters, with their remains put on show at the Tower. This was a grisly death reserved only for men convicted of high treason. Over the centuries most of these men have been forgotten but, Guy Fawkes lives on, burned in effigy on Bonfire Night every November 5th.

This is an original news article © The Kids Window

One in a series of articles about British history written for children. 

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