In 1603, following the death of Queen Elizabeth I, King James VI of Scotland inherited the throne of England and Wales as well. In both Scotland and England the Reformation of the church had taken place and both Elizabeth and James were Protestants. Indeed, the English Parliament would not have allowed a Catholic to become king.
However, there were still a substantial number of people in the country who adhered to the Church of Rome. Some of these had hopes of restoring Catholicism as the main religion in the country and Guy Fawkes, a Catholic zealot, plotted to blow up the Houses of Parliament, with the king and all the Members of Parliament. They believed that in the chaos that followed the Roman Catholics would be able to seize power. Their plans were thwarted initially be a delay in opening Parliament - from February to 5 November.
The Plan Goes Wrong
Guy Fawkes obtained a house which adjoined the Parliament building and from there was able to carry 20 barrels of gunpowder to the basement below the seat of government. However, one of the conspirators warned a friend to stay away from Parliament as it was to "receive a terrible blow". This alerted the authorities who discovered Guy Fawkes as he was preparing the explosion. Guy Fawkes was executed on 31 January 1606. Ever since the Gunpowder Plot, there has been a ceremonial search of the basement below the Westminster Parliament building prior to the opening of every session.
Remember, Remember, the 5th of November
Recent research has suggested that if Guy Fawkes had been successful, the amount of gunpowder involved was so large it would not only have destroyed the Houses of Parliament but also many nearby buildings. A relieved government passed a law compelling people to celebrate 5 November and it took until 1859 before the law was repealed.
Although there is no longer any government edict in force, a tradition has grown up of lighting bonfires, with an effigy of Guy Fawkes on top, every 5 November. In more recent years, it became customary for children to take the effigy round the streets and plead for money with cries of "A penny for the guy". Fireworks have also become popular, both in displays beside the organised bonfires and also by parents and children creating a firework display in their own back gardens. In recent years, fireworks have been in the shops for many weeks in advance of 5 November and so the sound of bangers and rockets has become part of Hallowe'en too. But the indiscriminate use of noisy fireworks (not to mention the distress caused to family pets) has led to the introduction of laws controlling the sale of many types of fireworks.
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