Skip to content

Bonfire Night

Authored by Katherine Waite
Published on 5th November, 2022 2 min read

Bonfire Night

An illustration of the men involved in the plot to blow up Parliament.

On this day, 5th November 1605, Guy Fawkes was arrested whilst guarding explosives that were hidden under the House of Lords. This was part of the Gunpowder Plot, which was a failed attempt at regicide against King James I.

Guy Fawkes was part of a Catholic plot lead by Robert Catesby to assassinate the Protestant King James I of England. The thirteen conspirators planned to blow up the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament and install James’ daughter as a Catholic Head of State. 

The plot was discovered after an anonymous letter tipped off William Parker, 4th Baron Monteagle, advising him to stay away from Parliament on 5th November. The King was informed and an extensive search of the cellars revealed Guy Fawkes with thirty-six barrels of gunpowder.

Fawkes was tortured in the Tower of London and forced to reveal the names of his co-conspirators. By the time of his confession, four conspirators had died in a gunfight with English troops, and the remaining had been captured. After their trial in 1606, these men were publicly hung, drawn, and quartered.

In London people lit bonfires celebrating the survival of King James I. In the following months the Observance of 5th November Act introduced an annual public day of thanksgiving for the plots failure, Gunpowder Treason Day. Initially effigies of the Pope were burnt on the bonfires. However, during the eighteenth century Guy Fawkes replaced the Pope atop the bonfires, celebrations became more elaborate, and the commemoration began to lose its religious and political appeal. In 1859 the Observance of 5th November Act was repealed, in modern times, although many people still celebrate Bonfire Night, few can recall the historical context.

Authored by Katherine Waite

Katherine Waite

Katherine Waite is Head of Publishing at British Online Archives. Katherine studied History at Newcastle University, graduating in 2016. She has worked in the editorial and content teams at British Online Archives. As Head of Publishing she is currently working on curating a collection on the history of pandemic disease in the United Kingdom.

Share this article

Notable Days


The British Online Archives Notable Days diary is a platform intended to mark key dates and events throughout the year. The posts draw attention to historical events and figures, as well as recurring cultural traditions and international awareness days, in both religious and secular contexts.

Get Social

Back to Top