Bonfire Night and the Tower of London

Yeomen of the Guard

The Tower of London plays an important part in the story of one of Britain’s most embraced traditions: Bonfire Night. It was where the Gunpowder Plot’s most famous conspirator - Guy Fawkes - was tortured and executed, and today it offers some fascinating insights into this notorious tale of treason and intrigue.

Read on to learn how the Gunpowder Plot is remembered in the UK and how its legacy affects the Queen today.

The history of Bonfire Night

Guy Fawkes In 1605 Guy Fawkes and 12 others allegedly tried to assassinate King James I of England by blowing up the Houses of Parliament on the 5 November - during the State Opening. Their grievance was the continued persecution of Catholics under the new Protestant King.

36 barrels of gunpowder were smuggled into the Parliament’s cellars and explosives expert Guy Fawkes laid in wait. However, for reasons still not known for sure, Fawkes was intercepted at the last moment when a group of Guards were suddenly ordered to check the cellars. Guy Fawkes was arrested and taken to the Tower of London, where a prolonged and grisly fate awaited him…

To this day Britain remembers the near explosion with, well, lots of explosions.

The traditions

Bonfire night

“Remember, remember, the 5th of November: gunpowder, treason and plot”

Thousands of bonfires and fireworks are ignited around the UK to mark the day the Houses of Parliament could have gone out with a bang.

Burning the Guy

A rather macabre British tradition whereby a ‘Guy’ doll is made with old clothes and newspaper, then set alight on a bonfire. This burning effigy was begun as a celebration of the fact that the Gunpowder plot did not succeed and simultaneously as a symbol of anti-Catholicism. Today however it is adopted more as a quirky British tradition than a denouncement of the Pope.

Did you know? As a result of the making and burning of Guy dolls, the term ‘guy’ was first used in Britain to describe a man dressed or behaving in a bizarre fashion.

The Queen

As a consequence of the Gunpowder Plot, the reigning British monarch is only permitted to enter the Houses of Parliament once a year – on the State Opening of Parliament. Before the monarch enters, the Yeomen of the Guard, (the Queen’s bodyguards) will search the cellars for signs of explosives. This tradition, over 400 years old, is still observed to this day. The search is even carried out using old candle-lanterns, just as it would have been done in 1605.

You can find out more about Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot at the Tower of London.