Festival facts: Bonfire Night

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By Louise Tellamteacher and freelance writer

Find out all you need to know about Bonfire Night with an in-depth look at the facts behind this secular festival

What is Bonfire Night?

This annual celebration is essentially a secular, cultural event that is rooted in the religious history of England. It takes place on 5 November, which is the anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605. The king, James I, maintained the Elizabethan Church Settlement, which made the monarch the head of the church. It also ruled that Catholics who refused to worship in Protestant churches had to pay a fine. In fact King James increased the fines commanded by his predecessor. The Catholic community longed for freedom. In a bid for this, Robert Catesby, a gentleman from Northampton who had already been imprisoned for not paying fines for attending Catholic services, planned to blow up the Houses of Parliament while the king and his court and Parliament were present at the opening of Parliament. By doing so he would have rid the country of many of those they saw as oppressors.

Joining him in his plot were a small group of like-minded Catholics. Guy Fawkes was an explosives expert and, as such, was invited to be part of the group. A generous, good-humoured gentleman, his devotion to his religious beliefs inspired his involvement. Kegs of gunpowder were smuggled into the cellars of Westminster and the conspirators prepared to attack. One of the plotters, however, sent a letter to a relative, who was a Catholic Peer, warning him of the danger – a ‘terrible blow’. Word of this reached the ears of Lord Salisbury, Robert Cecil, and the cellars were searched. Guy Fawkes, whose task it was to light a trail of gunpowder that would act as a fuse and then escape, was caught in the act of preparing the gunpowder. He and his co-conspirators were subsequently arrested, tried, found guilty and hung, drawn and quartered in January 1606. There followed years of persecution for the Catholic community .

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