Handy Histories - Guy Fawkes Night

Handy Histories

  1. #guy fawkes
  2. #fireworks
  3. #bonfire
  4. #houses of parliament

For most parents, Guy Fawkes Night is an excuse to lock the household pet in the coal shed, set fire to the lawn and gather around to listen, whilst the hedgehogs go “pop” on the bonfire.

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But in reality, Guy Fawkes Night is one of the most important historical events, or non-events, to have happened to this country.

So, if your child has been given a project on Guy Fawkes and his failed Gunpowder Plot, and you have been Up All Hours trying to turn horrible History into something your bundle of joy can digest, then here is the Handy Histories break down for you.

“Remember, remember The fifth of November, The Gunpowder treason and plot; I know of no reason Why the Gunpowder treason Should ever be forgot!”


This verse, written in around the 1870’s is used to remind children why we celebrate Guy Fawkes Night. Whilst it’s fun to watch fireworks and play with sparklers, it’s important to remember that it is a day of celebration and thought. We celebrate that Guy Fawkes failed, and imagine what might have happened if he hadn’t. Guy Fawkes was born into the Church of England, but converted to Catholicism early in his life. Guy believed that England should be Catholic again, and under the authority of the Pope. He had seen the Spanish Armada fail to enforce Catholicism in England and very much wanted to return England, to Rome.

Guy Fawkes

When Queen Elizabeth I died, with no children, Catholics in England thought that the time was ready for a Catholic monarch to come and take the vacant throne. It was thought that the devout Catholic King of Spain’s daughter would inherit the throne. But, the government had been talking to Elizabeth’s cousin, King James the Sixth of Scotland and when he claimed the crown of England, he became King James the Sixth of Scotland and First of England. The two countries were now joined by a protestant King. The Catholic cause was weakened.

The Plot

Despite James’ tolerance of Catholics, Guy Fawkes’ main aim was to kill him. The plot was organised to kill James and many of his important members of the government at the State Opening of Parliament. Members of the Royal Family, ministers and army leaders, would all be present – the plan was to blow up the Houses of Parliament and cripple the country from the top down.

Houses of Parliament

The plotters worked for weeks to tunnel into, investigate, and map, the many underground tunnels and cellars beneath the Houses of Parliament. The plotters placed huge amounts of explosives in these tunnels, and the plan was for Guy Fawkes to spend the night in the tunnels, then when the whole ceremony was going to take place, light the fuse, escape across the Thames and finally make his way to France.

A letter was sent to a Member of Parliament warning them of the plot and the alarm was raised. Many of the plotters ran away only to be found later on. The King was told, and he was particularly worried, as his father had been blown up when James was only a child. On the night of the 5th of November, a squad of guards found Guy Fawkes, dressed and ready to run away, standing by a large pile of explosives and firewood. He was arrested and put on trial.


Today, the Gunpowder Plot is still remembered. We burn figures of Guy Fawkes as a show of defiance and to recreate what happened to him. Parts of his body were cut off and burnt whilst he was still alive! He was then hung, drawn and quartered. This was all done in sight of the building he had tried to blow up.


The fireworks we let off on Guy Fawkes Night represent the explosion that might have taken place, had the plot not been uncovered. Today, when the Queen goes to open Parliament, a search is still made of the dungeons and tunnels beneath the Houses of Parliament by men of the Monarch’s personal bodyguard, to avoid it happening again!

So, remember, remember the Fifth of November; not just for the toffee apples and the pretty fireworks but for the failed Gunpowder, Treason and Plot!


Treason: An act against the King or Queen that intends to do them harm. Also an act against a country

Spanish Armada: An attempt by Spain to invade England and replace Queen Elizabeth I with King Philip of Spain who was a Catholic.

State Opening of Parliament: When the King or Queen of England officially opens the Parliament of the country. With our system, the Parliament can’t sit properly without this ceremony.

Hung, Drawn and Quartered: To be dragged by horses, hanged until nearly dead, then the body cut into 4 pieces.

Remember; if you have any questions about the Gunpowder Plot or any other History you may want help with, email the Handy Histories Team at [email protected] and we will try and help you out!

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