Gruesome story behind Bonfire night and why effigies are set on fire

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    On November 5, some Brits will put on their gloves, wrap their mitts around something warm and watch fireworks or even huddle around a bonfire.

    Throw in a jacket potato and you've got yourself a great — albeit it chilly — night out. All perfectly normal late autumn behaviour, then.

    But Bonfire night comes with a heavy dose of history and its own rhyme:

    “Remember, remember, the fifth of November;

    "The gunpowder treason and plot;

    I know of no reason why the gunpowder treason,

    Should ever be forgot.”

    The 17th century poem refers to the alleged 1605 plot by rebellious Catholics to blow up Parliament and the Protestant monarch, James I of England.

    The event, more than 400 years later, is still marked with fireworks and burning of a Guy — here's why.

    The story behind Bonfire Night

    The story goes that Catholics were looking to murder King James due to the suppression they faced in the years after the Reformation (when the Church of England was set up and England's Christian religion split from the Catholic Church).

    Guy Fawkes, a former veteran mercenary of the Spanish army, was said to have been found with barrels of explosives in tunnels under the House of Lords.

    Some historical documents suggest he was ready to ignite the Palace of Westminster during the opening of Parliament, with the King potentially due to be in attendance.

    Following a tip-off, an inspection of the cellars caught Fawkes — whose real first name was Guido — with gunpowder barrels, and he was sent to the Tower of London.

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    On orders of the King, he was tortured, eventually signing a confession and being executed in January 1606 for high treason.

    Those behind the alleged plot were ordered to be publicly hung, drawn and quartered, in what amounted to a grizzly death.

    Fawkes managed to avoid the latter part of his execution by leaping to his death as he awaited the gallows and subsequently died of a broken neck.

    Is the Gunpowder Plot true?

    Historians have started to question how true the Gunpowder Plot was, claiming the evidence for it is "vanishingly thin".

    Some say it was largely a fabricated story pushed by inner members of the King’s court in a bid to continue the persecution of Catholics.

    While it was true there were Catholic uprisings at the time, they were a flop and failed to get off the ground.

    Two particular historians say anti-Catholics in the King's circle, including Lord Salisbury, might have been tempted to tack an alleged gunpowder plot on to the uprising tale in order to keep such religious practitioners suppressed.

    Witness tales do not mention gunpowder and Fawkes’ confession cannot be taken at face value due to being tortured out of him.

    Hosts of the History Cafe podcast, Penelope Middelboe and Jon Rosebank, a former Oxford professor, wrote in The Tablet magazine: “Had this evidence been produced in modern … Iran, ….Sudan or any of the other brutally intimidatory regimes listed by Freedom from Torture, it would be dismissed out of hand, with loud outrage.

    “In the case of the Gunpowder Plot, if we strip out all the evidence derived from torture (or the very present threat of it) and the government’s own contradictory accounts, there is effectively nothing left.”

    Why are effigies burned on Bonfire Night?

    The effigies hark back to some of the first observances of what became known as Gunpowder Treason Day.

    As news spread of the plot, Londoners began lighting bonfires in celebration of the fact James I was still alive.

    In 1606, the Observance of November 5 Act was passed, enforcing an annual public day of thanksgiving for the plot's failure.

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    In the years that followed, effigies of the Pope were burnt on November 5, continuing the anti-Catholic sentiment of the time.

    Celebrations became more elaborate, with fireworks and mini-explosives let off in what became a raucous and even violent event.

    Towards the end of the 18th Century, children began walking the streets with homemade masked effigies of Guy Fawkes, begging for "a penny for the Guy".

    As such, Guy Fawkes eventually replaced the Pope atop the burning bonfires and the day shifted from Gunpowder Treason Day to Guy Fawkes Day.

    The commemoration had begun to lose its religious and political undertones and, in 1859, the Observance of November 5 Act was repealed, according to History.co.uk.

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