Bonfire Night and The Gunpowder Plot
According to market research Company Mintel, in 2018 UK consumers spent £316m celebrating the event variously called, `Bonfire Night’, ‘Fireworks Night’ or `Guy Fawkes Night’. The majority of that money literally went up in smoke, having been spent on fireworks and bonfires. Fireworks displays were recorded as the most popular way of marking the night, with up to 38% of the population attending some form of event.
The Gunpowder Plot
This peculiarly British annual entertainment can be traced directly to the aftermath of a 17th Century religious and political event. The Gunpowder Plot was a failed conspiracy by a group of English Catholics. Led by Robert Catesby, they planned to blow up the Protestant King James, and his government, at the State Opening of Parliament on November 6th 1605. (Catesby had been involved in a previously failed rebellion against Queen Elizabeth from which he extricated himself only at the cost in today’s money of £6 million.)
This was to be the prelude to a revolt that would replace James with a Catholic head of state. Ending the persecution suffered by many Catholics following the split with the Roman Church over half a century previously.
Though we now principally associate the name of Guy Fawkes with the plot, he was a minor player in the conspiracy. He was, however, literally left holding ‘the baby’ or in this case 36 barrels of gunpowder when, following an anonymous tip-off, the authorities searched the cellars of the Palace of Westminster and discovered the explosive cache.
This ‘search’ continues today before every State Opening of Parliament, albeit ceremonially, with the searchers, the Yeoman of the Guard, being rewarded with a glass of port.
Happy Fourth of July Independence Day🎉
Also referred to as Independence Day, the Fourth of July marks the anniversary of the then 13 colonies declaring independence from the British crown. It has a rich history of celebrations throughout the United States.
On July 2nd 1776, the then continental congress voted for independence. Consequently, two days later the 13 colonies adopted the declaration of independence. Thomas Jefferson famously drafted the document. The Fourth of July has been celebrated ever since. Fun fact, as it was the 2nd of July that congress passed the decision on Independence, future President John Adams refused to celebrate American independence on the fourth of July and marked celebrations on the second. He would die fifty years later on July 4th 1826 (History.com).
Celebrations range from family barbecues to street parades. In addition, firework displays are notorious and have been part of celebrations since 1777, with the first reported in Philadelphia. Early celebrations included having mock funerals for King George III, and the firing of muskets and cannons. These were followed up by a public reading of the declaration of independence (History.com). In 1870, it was recognised by Congress as a federal holiday, although it was not until 1941, that it would be a paid holiday for federal employees. It was in the late 19th century with the rise of leisure time that family get-togethers and barbecues became more common celebrations (History.com)
Whatever you are doing this year have a happy fourth of July Independence Day!
Read about other celebrations on our blog such as St.Patricks Day and Chinese New Year
Want to learn more about American History? Try Librarysearch.napier.ac.uk for all sorts of information. Need to know how to use it? Read our Guide here.
By Maya Green
Photo by Paul Weaver on Unsplash