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Bonfire Night - LearnEnglish - British Council


Bonfire Night

IMG_8099Photo credit: De Vleermuis / Foter / CC BY-NC
By Olly
“Remember, remember, the fifth of November, Gunpowder, Treason and Plot”
Bonfire night is a British tradition dating back to November 5th 1605, when catholic conspirator Guy Fawkes was caught with 36 barrels of gunpowder getting ready to blow up the House of Lords and kill King James I.


guy fawkes Photo credit: EpicFireworks / Foter / CC BY
Guy Fawkes was not the only person to be caught however. In fact, a group of 13 disaffected young catholics were involved in the conspiracy. The leader of these men was Robert Catesby. Catesby felt that violent action was the only repsonse to the persecution of catholics under the rule of King James.
However, having been previously warned, the king’s men raided the cellar where they found Guy Fawkes. He was tortured for 2 days in the infamous Tower of London and finally revealed all. With the information Guy revealed, the kings men went after the rest of the conspirators.
Some of the conspirators died in a shootout with the king’s men, while the rest were killed in the nost violent manner – by being hung, drawn and quartered (click here). Those killed in the shootout had their bodies exhumed and were then decapitated to serve as a warning to others. The message sent out was crystal clear: all dissent will be brutally punished.
In the aftermath of the plot new laws were passed that removed Catholics’ right to vote and restricted their role in public life. It would take 200 years for this to change.
palace-of-westminster-london-feb-2007Photo credit: Foter / CC BY-SA

Bonfire Night Today

Every 5th November across Britain, and many other countries, communities create bonfires and often elaborate firework displays to commemorate this day. Often an effigy of Guy is placed on top of the bonfire and then set alight. The extent and size of the celebrations vary depending on the community.
Lewes, in the South East of England, is probably the most famous for its Bonfire Night festivities and consistently attracts thousands of people each year to participate.
lewes-bonfire-martyrs-crosses-02-detailPhoto credit: Foter / CC BY-SA
Interestingly Guy Fawkes, and especially his mask, is now used as a symbol for anti-government and anti-establishment protests worldwide. Most famously in the movie V for Vendetta and more recently as the symbol for the online hacktivist group Anonymous.
It seems the legacy of Guy Fawkes lives on …
6245229817_e191311585Photo credit: Michael Kappel / Foter / CC BY-NC

Your Turn!

Guy Fawkes is remembered as a folk hero. Does your community remember or celebrate any anti-establishment heroes like him?
If so, are they remembered in a special festival?
Name a folk hero you would like to see celebrated and why.

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