On 5th November every year, we Brits celebrate Bonfire Night. Or Fireworks Night. Or Guy Fawkes Night. And even Guy Fawkes Day. We just can’t seem to make up our minds (see Brexit). We construct huge bonfires, generally in a field or the back garden, from pieces of wood, sometimes gathered throughout the year, and on top of the bonfire, an effigy of Guy Fawkes is placed. As it burns slowly away, we have a firework display, and people gather round the fire, eating hot dogs and toffee apples, drinking warm cider and waving sparklers in the air. Everyone has a jolly time, it’s a big family occasion, there are lots of ‘ooohs’ and ‘aaahs’ as fireworks explode in the sky and general drunkenness abounds.
Sounds fun, right? What does it represent? Is it a way to get rid of useless rubbish (see Brexit), or is it just another excuse for a jolly? Well, yes, it is an excuse for a jolly, but Bonfire Nights’ origins are actually somewhat sinister.
On 5th November, 1605, a plot to blow up the Houses Of Parliament (like the Capitol Building) was uncovered. This is known as The Gunpowder Plot. On that night, Guy Fawkes was apprehended in the cellars of the International Houses Of Parliament (Ihop for short), with 3.5 tonnes of gunpowder and a match (lighters hadn’t been invented yet. Or torches. It was a health and safety nightmare). His intention was to kill King James I, who was upstairs, opening the new session of Parliament. Guy Fawkes didn’t like James because James used to make cutlery-based jokes about his surname (Fawkes – Forks), so the knives (matches) were out. Back to the plot. Guy was caught red-handed and back in those days, the punishment was to be hung, drawn and quartered. So that’s hung, pretty self-explanatory. Drawn. Yeah, tied to the back of a horse and dragged (drawn) to the gallows. And quartered. Er….put any food down and sit down….emasculated (look it up), disembowelled, beheaded and then cut into 4 pieces. The head was generally displayed at The Tower Of London, and the rest of the body publicly displayed around different parts of the country to deter anybody from thinking of doing it again. No last meals, no Green Mile, just covered, smothered and meaty (later popularised by Waffle Houses hash browns).
One final plot twist. On his way up to the hangman's noose, Guy Fawkes fell from the steps and broke his neck. Some say he slipped, others that he did it on purpose. His family sued and were awarded a goat. It was the first recorded instance of a ‘no win, no fee’ trial. The lawyers got half the goat.
Since 1605, no-one else has tried to burn down the Houses Of Parliament. So the deterrent worked. In the 400 years since the attempt, we’ve calmed down a bit, and become a bit more tolerant. We’d rather have a party than a fight. Unless of course we were ever incited to storm the Houses Of .…...leave it.
Start the party at The Queen's Pantry this November 5th with bangers and snacks.