5 things you thought you knew about – The Gunpowder Plot

  1. Remembered as Bonfire Night – known as Guy Fawkes Night until late 20th century – but originally known as Gunpowder Treason Day
  2. Guy Fawkes led the plot – well no, the plot was led by Robert Catesby. Guy (or Guido) was a relatively minor conspirator, a soldier who had been in Europe for the previous decade.
  3. Why the bonfires? This was not a new idea. Bonfires were lit as beacons and in celebration (remember the Spanish Armada?) for centuries before. But this one stuck. They were lit on this occasion to celebrate the foiling of the plot.
  4. You won’t find Parliament commemorating the events of 5 November any more – actually they do. Presumably due to some nervousness that the same thing might be tried again, guards began searching the cellars the night before the State Opening of Parliament. In 1682 Sir Christopher Wren was ordered  “forthwith to cleer and cause to be cleered the Sellars & vaultes under and neer adjoyning the house of Peers, Painted Chamber & Court of Requests of all Timber, firewood, coales & other materialls of what kind soever and that passages be made throughout… & hightes be opened where they may that Gardes may passe throughout the day or night”. and the tradition continues – an official search of the Palace of Westminster’s cellars takes place every year before the State Opening.
  5. And the significance of the date 5th November? None. Due to calendar changes the 5 November would be later.  And the only reason for the state opening of Parliament being on 5 November in 1605 was that it had been postponed twice, from February, to July and finally to November – due to plague. Sadly, that sounds familiar. 
Photo by Alexander Kagan on Unsplash

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