The Fifth of November or the Guy Fawkes Bonfire are two names of a plot that took place in 1605 in England. It was a failed assassination attempt against King James I of England and VI of Scotland by a group of provincial English Catholics. However, the plot resulted in the death of each and every of the participants led by Robert Catesby.
To first understand the reasons behind the plot, we have to go back in time to the late 16th century Europe, the time when Catholics and Protestants fought bitter wars. The Protestants, supported by kings and princes, demanded separation from the Roman Catholic Church and the Pope’s authority, but the Catholics suppressed the new “heresy”. In the 1530s, Henry VIII broke with the Vatican and became the supreme head of the Church of England. During the reign of his son, Edward VI, Protestantism became stronger within the English Church. His sister Mary I tried to push back protestantism, but her death thwarted these ambitions and under the rule of Elizabeth, England became the greatest Protestant power in Europe.
During the reign of Elizabeth, Catholics were persecuted and tortured and even burnt. After the succession of James, and his wife’s conversion to Catholicism, it was expected that the haunt against the Roman Catholics would stop, which didn’t happen. Affected by all of the previously mentioned, a group of men led by Robert Catesby, begun planning the plot. The plan was to blow up the parliament building with the king inside of it in order to “restore England’s true faith” according to them and end the witch hunt. At the beginning, the group consisted of 5 members; later on, it expanded to 13. They first met in 1604 and began plotting.
By march 1605, the conspirators rented the cellar under the Parliament building and began stockpiling 36 barrels of gunpowder. Guy was in charge maintaining the barrels until the next meeting of the House of Lords. In October, an anonymous letter was delivered to Lord Monteagle advising him not to attend the meeting. It was suspected that one of the plotters leaked the conspiracy after he had a change of heart. All of the plotters escaped London, after the news was leaked except for Guy Fawkes, who was caught under the Parliament, and after conducting a search he was arrested after the guards found the barrels.
Guy (Guido, his alias) Fawkes was born in England in 1570, he earned a reputation of bravery and skill after spending years fighting for Spain (long time rival of England, and was seen as an ally to the English Catholics) in the Netherlands. The history of his strong Catholic family and his pro-catholic activities brought him to the attention of Thomas Winter, who recruited him and Robert Catesby initiated him to the plot.
The day before the Parliament opening session, the 4th November 1605 and after a routine search of the basement, Guy was found there. The explications he gave for why he was there were unconvincing. However, after the guards found the barrels of the gunpowder that was enough to bring down the entire establishment, he was arrested, interrogated and tortured. After two days he confessed the details of the plot. Several members were killed during the haunt to arrest them; the ones who survived were captured, tried, found guilty of high treason, and were executed.
Allegedly, Father Henry Garnet, the principal Jesuit of England knew about the assassination attempt, through the confessions of the plotters, but he was prevented from informing the authorities by the Seal of Confession, which is the absolute duty of priests not to disclose anything that they learn from penitents during the course of the Sacrament of Penance (also called Confession). Even so Garnet was convicted and sentenced to death.
The plots failure is celebrated by lighting bonfires around London the same day the event took place, but after the introduction of Observance of 5th November Act, it was enforced as annual public day of thanksgiving for the plot’s failure.