Why has the Gunpowder Plot Been Remembered for Centuries?

Four historians consider the extraordinary longevity of a popular English festival.

Guy Fawkes, Print made by Rowney & Forster after John Augustus Atkinson, created after 1821. Yale Center for British Art.

‘The newly Protestant nation was remarkably bare of regular festivity’

Ronald Hutton, Professor of History at the University of Bristol

Guy Fawkes’ Night, the ‘Fifth of November’, has been popular and long-lived for two different reasons. The first is the spectacular nature of the event that it commemorated. Had the Gunpowder Plot succeeded, it would have killed the majority of the English political nation of the time, including most of the royal family, aristocracy and leading gentry and many merchants, as well as demolishing Westminster Palace and much of the Abbey and surrounding houses. It was intended not just to overthrow the existing monarch and central and local government, but the Church of England, as established since the Reformation, and the Protestant faith dominant in England. In its place the plotters planned to restore the Roman Catholic religion and enthrone a puppet princess.

Virtually all people believed the government message that this had only been averted at the last minute by providential good luck: so an explosion of relief and rejoicing was both inevitable and appropriate.

To continue reading this article you will need to purchase access to the online archive.

Buy Online Access  Buy Print & Archive Subscription

If you have already purchased access, or are a print & archive subscriber, please ensure you are logged in.

Please email digital@historytoday.com if you have any problems.