Usually associated with pretty things like fireworks, sparklers and toffee apples, the true meaning of the festival can get easily lost…
1) Guy Fawkes was a mercenary who, along with several other men, conspired to blow up the Houses of Parliament on the 5th of November in 1605 and kill King James I. Fawkes was caught in the act and sentenced to death for treason so technically we’re celebrating the execution of terrorists. A tad controversial but perhaps no more so than rejoicing the supernatural (Halloween) or a religious leader coming back from the dead (Easter).
2) For some time after The Gunpowder Plot, the event was commemorated as’ Treason Day’ and had an anti-Catholic overtone as James I was a Protestant King and his followers wanted to celebrate his survival of an intended assassination. Over the centuries, the occasion has become less and less religious and better known as Bonfire Night or Firework Night.
3) Each year, the UK spends a combined amount of 15 million pounds on fireworks. Guy Fawkes and his gang started with just 36 barrels of gunpowder, unaware that the UK’s population would mark their endeavour hundreds of years later with more explosions than they could ever imagine. For as many people who love fireworks, there are as many people who hate them; the Emergency Services are overrun with accidents and owners of dogs and cats have to endure a period of frightened pets.
4) Guy Fawkes did not die from being hung, drawn and quartered, as is commonly thought; as he awaited his grisly punishment on the gallows, Fawkes leapt to his death – to avoid the horrors of having his testicles cut off, his stomach opened and his guts spilled out before his eyes. He died from a broken neck.
5) Guy Fawkes was not actually the Gunpowder Plot’s ringleader; there were 13 conspirators in the plot, which was masterminded by Robert Catesby, a charismatic Catholic figure who had a reputation for speaking out against the English crown. But it was Fawkes who gained notoriety after the plot was foiled, for he was caught after sneaking into the cellar beneath the House of Lords to ignite the explosives.
6) The Houses of Parliament are still searched once a year to make sure there are no conspirators hiding with explosives; before the annual State Opening of Parliament, 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.
7) Guy Fawkes has an island named after him; he is one of Britain’s most infamous villains, whose effigy has been burned and whose demise has been publicly celebrated for more than four centuries. Yet to the north-west of Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos Islands, a collection of two uninhabited, crescent-shaped islands is named Isla Guy Fawkes, or Guy Fawkes Island.
8) Another tradition that seems to have died out in recent times is Penny for the Guy. Even when I was a child in the 1970s, we would make our own effigy of Mr Fawkes and ask people for a financial contribution for our artistic effort, which would eventually end up on the bonfire. Perhaps today’s children have better things to do than making a man out of old clothes and hassling strangers for cash.
Darcus is a local horror writer and film-maker. Based in the Peak District, his work and writings are often inspired by the strange phenomena that occurs right here in the Peak District and Buxton area.