Bonfire Night: The Real Story Of Guy Fawkes

A photograph showing a sparkler

© By Gabriel Pollard (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons

    • Do you know what the men in the picture below are doing? If you look closely you can see they're carrying lanterns.

      Image showing a row of men walking through a grand chamber, dressed in red ceremonial clothes and black hates, holding lanterns.The Yeomen of the Guard in the Lords chamber with their lamps before heading down to check the cellars of the Palace of Westminster© Parliamentary copyright images are reproduced with the permission of Parliament
      They are the Yeoman of the Guard - the bodyguards of the British monarch - and they're about to conduct a search of the cellars of the Houses of Parliament before the official State Opening by the Queen.

      What are they searching for? Well, these days it's just a traditional part of the ceremony, but when it began in the 17th century, it had a very serious purpose.

      They were checking for gunpowder - and all because of a group of men including Guy Fawkes. You may have heard of him.

      Guy Fawkes was part of a group of men who wanted to blow up the Houses of Parliament in London but he was caught red-handed with the explosives. All this happened in 1605, more than 400 years ago, and nowadays we call it the story of the Gunpowder Plot.

      An engraving showing the plotters involved in the Gunpowder plot© National Portrait Gallery
      Here's Guy Fawkes (real name: Guido Fawkes) second from the right. This is a famous picture called The Gunpowder Plot Conspirators. It was made by Heinrich Ulrich in the early 17th Century. You can find out more about it with the National Portrait Gallery.

      Guy Fawkes wasn't even the ringleader, but has become the one we remember most.

      After Guy Fawkes was captured he was imprisoned in the Tower of London where he was questioned about the plot. 

      This is his signature before and after questioning - what do you think happened to him from the way his signature changed?

      A screenshot showing two versions of Guy Fawkes' signature, one from before his torture and one from afterwards.© National Achives
      Many people think he was tortured during his questioning and that's why his handwriting changed so much.

      Guy Fawkes and many of his fellow plotters were brutally executed.

      Here's the picture in the National Portrait Gallery of his execution:

      A picture showing the execution of Guy Fawkes© National Portrait Gallery
      This is a picture called The Execution of Guy Fawkes, (Guy Fawkes), by Claes Jansz Visscher. You can see it at the National Portrait Gallery. This type of picture is called an 'etching,' and this one was made in 1606.

      Find out more about the fascinating and gruesome story behind Bonfire Night on the Parliamentary Archives' Gunpowder Plot website. There's also a video in two parts telling the story of the Gunpowder Plot through the eyes of a fictional servant.

      If this story has sparked your interest and you want to do an investigation of your own into the Gunpowder Plot you can explore lots of other documents from the time on the National Archives website.

      you want to have a look through more documents from the time have a look at this resource from the National Archives, theres lots of tasks and questions

      Have fun on Bonfire Night but be safe and let the adults look after the fireworks.

      Thanks to the Parliamentary Archives, the National Portrait Gallery and The National Archives for their help with this story.
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