George Washington called Guy Fawkes Day a grave insult to America's Catholics. After the Revolution, America stopped celebrating it. Today, millions of British will celebrate it with "Bonfire Night."
As the famous English folk verse "The Fifth of November" goes:
Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, ’twas his intent
To blow up the King and Parli’ment.
Three-score barrels of powder below
To prove old England’s overthrow;
By God’s mercy he was catch’d
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Hulloa boys, Hulloa boys, let the bells ring.
Hulloa boys, hulloa boys, God save the King!
Guy Fawkes (April 13, 1570 – January 31, 1606) died trying to restore a Catholic to the throne of England. The Guy Fawkes gunpowder plot of 1605 has been famous ever since.
Fawkes was born and educated in York. His father died when Fawkes was eight years old, after which his mother married a Catholic.
Fawkes later converted to Catholicism and left for the continent, where he fought in the Eighty Years' War on the side of Catholic Spain against Protestant Dutch reformers. He traveled to Spain to seek support for a Catholic rebellion in England but was unsuccessful. He later met Thomas Wintour, with whom he returned to England.
Wintour introduced Fawkes to Robert Catesby, who planned to assassinate King James I and restore a Catholic monarch to the throne. The plotters secured the lease to an undercroft beneath the House of Lords, and Fawkes was placed in charge of the gunpowder they stockpiled there.
Prompted by the receipt of an anonymous letter, the authorities searched Westminster Palace during the early hours of November 5, 1605, and found Fawkes guarding the explosives. Over the next few days, he was questioned and tortured, and eventually, he broke. Immediately before his execution on January 31, Fawkes jumped from the scaffold where he was to be hanged and broke his neck, thus avoiding the agony of the mutilation that followed.
Fawkes became synonymous with the Gunpowder Plot, the failure of which has been commemorated in England since November 5, 1605. His effigy is often burned on a bonfire, commonly accompanied by a firework display.
* Originally published in 2011, updated in November 2020.