Guy Fawkes Night: A celebration of failure


By Laura Conaghan (@LauraPB)

As I write this now I can see out of my bedroom window fireworks already lighting up the skies of Glasgow’s Southside. A sure-fire sign (get it *insert suggestive emoji*) that bonfire night is just around the corner, literally for me… no really, Glasgow Green is just around the corner. And what with it coming up, the history student in me felt it apt to dedicate some words to Guido Fawkes, better known as Guy.

“Remember Remember the 5th of November, gunpowder, treason and plot”. Why? The night where skies glow in technicolour across Britain is to commemorate the failed Gunpowder plot of 1605. I won’t bore you with the details but in a nutshell, when Protestant King James I acceded the throne from Queen Elizabeth the I, Catholic persecution did not subside as hoped. Continuing repression of Catholics’ right to practice their religion freely did not bode well. A group of individuals decided to conspire to blow up King James in the House of Parliament.  Fawkes had a vast knowledge of gunpower, he was also a Catholic…you can see why he was an ideal candidate.

Fawkes and his cronies managed to smuggle 36 barrels of gunpowder into the houses, in a move almost as impressive as the fellow that made off unnoticed with an ATM machine at T in the park this year. However, an anonymous tip off to William Parker, the 4th Baron Monteagle, meant that the Houses of Parliament were searched and Guy Fawkes was found. He was then sent off to the tower of London and tortured until he gave up the other twelve conspirator’s names.

Many assume Fawkes died from the cruel treatment he received where in actual fact it was from a broken neck having leapt to his death in the gallows. The prospect of having his testicles cut off and stomach cut open didn’t seem too appealing, understandably. His body was still quartered and sent to the four corners of the kingdom.

Robert Catesby was actually the mastermind behind the entire plot, but Guy Fawkes was seemingly a better name to market. In all seriousness, Fawkes gained the infamous – or indeed famous (it’s debatable) – notoriety because he was caught, which is rather bittersweet. After the plot had failed, members of the public celebrated by lighting bonfires across London. Nowadays the cellars are still searched by the Yemon of the Guard with lanterns as a ceremonious act, although this isn’t the originally cellar that Fawkes was in because in 1834 it was destroyed in a highly ironic fire. Every 5th of November since has been celebrated in commemoration of Fawkes and his failed attempt at high treason.

According to Bonfire Night Safety, until 1959 it was actually illegal not celebrate bonfire night in the UK. The pretty colours that we stare at in awe, standing photographing every year to get that aesthetic insta pic so people know you did in fact see a firework on firework night, yeah, they can travel up to speeds of almost 150mph. As you put the woolly scarfs on and layer yourself with five pairs of socks, please remember to firework responsibly.

If this is your first bonfire night in Glasgow then get yourself down to Glasgow Green. It is a free event and it’s pretty easy to find, just follow the hoards of people that descend, stopping traffic along high street as they go. I’m not sure how Fawkes would feel about the celebration of his failure, but I can relate to that on a spiritual level.