Bonfire night at Battersea Park

Bonfire night, or Guy Fawkes night is one of my favourite celebrations in the British calendar: the bonfire, home-made guys, fireworks, Yorkshire parkin and not forgetting mulled wine.

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This year is the 404th anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot; the attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament and assassinate the monarch, King James I, and most of the British aristocracy at the state opening of Parliament in 1605. In the Stuart period, Britain – like much of Europe – was divided between Protestants and Catholics. Under Britain’s Protestant rule, Catholics faced oppression, and the Gunpowder Plot orchestrated by Robert Catesby sought to change this.

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The explosion and assassination will be carried out by Guy Fawkes, an expert in gunpowder explosives and a Roman Catholic from York in the north of England. Having enlisted in the Spanish army in the 1590s during the Wars of Religion in Europe, he’s learnt his skills from the Spanish.

Renting a cellar under the House of Lords in Westminster Palace (later to be called the Houses of Parliament), the revolutionaries secretly stash away 36 barrels of gunpowder over several months. It’s enough to blow up all of Westminster Palace and everyone in it!

By warning a fellow Catholic who’s attending the state opening, word of the planned explosion leaks out and reaches the king. During the night, early 5th November 1605, the King’s men search the cellar, finding not only the gunpowder buried under firewood and coal but also Guy Fawkes making his escape.

Arrested and tortured for several days, Fawkes is imprisoned in the Tower of London. In his trial, 31 January 1606, at Westminster Hall (the grand entrance to the Houses of Parliament) Fawkes is found guilty of treason and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered along with his comrades, at the very place they plotted to blow up.

Weak from torture but ever the hero, Fawkes declines the hanging choosing instead to jump from the ladder up to the gallows. Breaking his neck, he takes his own life.

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More:
~ Photos of bonfire night 2009
~ Guy Fawkes feature in T+C Weekly News Nov 2009

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