Bonfire night: Who was Guy Fawkes and why did he try to blow up Parliament?

By Sophie Parsons

Social Media and Engagement Editor

Bonfire night: Who was Guy Fawkes and why did he try to blow up Parliament?

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People around Britain will celebrate Guy Fawkes night on Friday November 5, but have you ever wondered why we burn a scarecrow of him every year?

It's one of the UK's stranger traditions, marking Guy Fawkes' failed attempt to blow up Parliament in 1605. 

416-years later, the tradition shows no signs of dying out as people prepare to gather around bonfires and watch fireworks once again in 2021. 

Ahead of Bonfire night on Friday, here's what you need to know about Guy Fawkes...

Who was Guy Fawkes?

Guy Fawkes was born in 1570 in York, converting to Catholicism after the death of his father aged 8. 

It may have been over 400-years ago, but Guy Fawkes was fairly well travelled, heading to Europe to fight for Catholic Spain in the Dutch War of Independence against the Dutch Protestants. 

Fawkes wanted to launch a Catholic rebellion in England, and sought people to support his cause.

After meeting Thomas Wintour and Robert Catesby, the three planned to assassinate King James I and replace him with a Catholic monarch in 1605. 

Having purchased the lease to a room under the House of Lords, they stockpiled and stored gunpowder, which Guy Fawkes was in charge of looking after, posing as a caretaker under the name John Johnson. 

However, an anonymous letter prompted authorities to search Westminster Palace, where they found Fawkes guarding the gunpowder. 

He was tortured and questioned over the following days before admitting to the plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament. 

Despite Fawkes' plans to kill him, King James actually expressed admiration for the man who was plotting his murder, claiming he had "a Roman resolution". 

The King quickly got over this admiration however, sentencing everyone involved in the plot to death. 

How did Guy Fawkes die? 

Fawkes and the fellow members of the gunpowder plot group were sentenced to horrific executions, where their genitals would be cut off and burnt before their eyes, their bowels and their hearts were removed and they were finally decapitated. 

Before Fawkes was hung however, he fell to his death from the platform, before being quartered and his body parts sent to "the four corners of the Kingdom" as warnings to other potential traitors.  

What did Guy Fawkes try to blow up?

Guy Fawkes tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament, to kill the King and his government. 

They wanted to replace the King with his daughter, who was third in line to the throne. 

Why do we celebrate Guy Fawkes night?

On November 5 1605, people in London were encouraged to celebrate the fact the King had avoided assassination by lighting bonfires. 

This became tradition, with the bonfires accompanied by fireworks from the 1650s onwards, while burning a model of Fawkes or other notable figures was introduced around 1673.