With the clocks going back this weekend, it can only mean one thing. Winter is upon us. And with it comes all of our favourite reasons to celebrate. 31st October marks Halloween, it’ll be Christmas before you know it but this week, it’s the only quintessentially British celebration we can think of that openly celebrates a criminal and a failed treason attempt. Yep. It will soon be 5th November – aka Guy Fawkes Day or Bonfire Night – where the country unites to enjoy pyrotechnics and a mild pyromania.
But you know all about the trend as it stands now: sparklers, toffee apples, Catherine wheels, bangers and burning of the Guy. You know all about the story behind the trend: the English Catholic who planned the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605. You probably know the rhyme too.
But what else was going on in 1605? What did Guido eat before he popped over to Parliament in the hopes of making it go bang? Why on Earth do we celebrate what was essentially an act of religious extremism? And did you know that Bonfire Night is BANNED in Australia?
We’re here to answer all the questions you’ve (n)ever asked about the history of this hallowed November evening.
You know food is always at the forefront of our minds so let’s start there. It was a time of political turmoil at the turn of the 17th Century, but appetites of the wealthy were starting to enjoy food from mainland Europe. Anchovies, capers and wine made their way over from France, along with coulis, roux, ragouts and fricassé – enriching palettes with a heavy dose of flavour. Our ancestors learned that raw fruit and vegetables were not poisonous, so soon began enjoying salads with their meals (THANKS TEAM!). But traditional British fare – cakes, pies and puddings – retained their popularity, and we’re pretty pleased they did.
A whole range of new drinks were introduced to England in the 17th century. Rum was first distilled in the Caribbean, but made its way across the ocean. Gin and champagne became popular in the latter part of 17th century, but these were both introduced fairly late, so it’s unlikely Guido was supping on a shot of gin on the eve of 5th November, 1605. It wasn’t safe to drink water at this time, so it’s more likely he was tucking into sherry, ale, beer, or a wee dram of Scottish whiskey to gain his Dutch courage.
It seems somewhat strange to celebrate this historical cock-up but after the failed plot was revealed, Parliament declared 5th November a national day of thanksgiving and this is something that has been carried forward to the present day. The first celebration took place in 1606. Today, Guy Fawkes Day is celebrated across the UK and in many other countries that were part of the British Empire. Effigy’s of Guy are burned to mark this historical treason but over recent years, this has evolved to include a range of contemporary political figures too. We dread to think who will be burned this year.
Even now, every year before the annual State Opening of Parliament in May, the Yeomen of the Guard search the Houses of Parliament to make sure there are no would-be conspirators hiding in the cellars. This has become more of a tradition than a serious anti-terrorist precaution, but it’s a pretty fun fact.
Do you know what’s funny? He has this whole day named after him but Guido wasn’t even the ring leader of the clan who attempted to blow up the houses of Parliament. Robert Catesby, a charismatic Catholic who spoke out against the Crown frequently was, but Guido got all the credit after being caught actually attempting to light the explosives. Catesby was shot a few days after the 5th November. Guy Fawkes dobbed him in as being the plan’s mastermind.
Wonder if Robert Catesby Day would have caught on quite as well? It just doesn’t seem as catchy to us.
You can probably tell just how much we love Bonfire Night. It’s a lot. Whether you’ll be outside ooohing and aaaahing at the sky changing colour or tucked up at home with your pets avoiding the bangs, we hope you enjoy celebrating this bizarre and brilliant British day.
Happy Bonfire night from us all at The Chapel Bar!