Bonfire is a ritual that goes all the way back through the generations to January 21st 1606, when James I declared that 5th November each year was to be a day of thanksgiving for ‘the joyful day of deliverance’ (of King, Church and Parliament). There was to be a ringing of bells, a lighting of bonfire, a celebration that in one form or another continues to this day.

This Bonfire Season, throughout the county of Sussex countless Guys will be committed to the flames. This old villain is one of the last vestiges of a forgotten time. The fact is, however, that Guy (Guido) Fawkes is in fact a much maligned and misunderstood man. Born a Protestant, he converted to Catholicism in his teens and by the age of 21 he was off fighting in the Lowlands for the Catholic cause. Clearly, Fawkes was a man of great conviction. During his time as a soldier there, he became an explosives expert and a skilled miner.  Such talents were to make him an attractive addition to the conspirators.

In 1603, Fawkes took part in the siege of Calais, where he met a fellow Catholic, and later co-conspirator, Christopher Wright. Whilst there, the two men sought counsel with his most Catholic Majesty, Phillip II of Spain in order to persuade him to support the Catholic cause in England. The Catholic position in England at the time was indeed a sorry one.  Not only did they have to cope with a reformist parliament, but the burning of the Protestant Martyrs in towns such as Lewes during the reign of Mary I and the Babington plot against Elizabeth I, led to the accusation that through their loyalty to Rome, they were potential traitors. It is an often forgotten fact that there were 13 conspirators in all, led by Catesby. In the spring of 1605, the conspirators rented a cellar that lead right under the Palace of Westminster. There they stored 36 barrels of gunpowder and went there separate ways.

However, the path to failure is strewn with good intentions and it was from within that the plot failed. Francis Gresham warned his brother-in-law, the Mp, Lord Monteagle not sit in parliament that day. Monteagle immediately alerted the authorities. In 1604, Fawkes returned to England where Robert Catesby invited him to join the Gunpowder Plot. From the outset, the express intention of the conspiracy was to reduce parliament to rubble and to kill King James I in doing so.  The cellars below the palace were searched that very evening, with Guido discovered guarding the barrels, though not as the Bonfire Prayer would have it, with a lighted match. The early Stewart period was a brutal time. The punishments bestowed upon all traitors at that time were severe. Fawkes was racked, but remained loyal to his co-conspirators. Catesby and the other plotters managed to get away from London. Despite his Fawkes silence, however, their escape was short-lived.  They were eventually cornered at Holbeach in Lincolnshire. In the bloody skirmish that followed, Catesby was fatally wounded.  As for Guido Fawkes, he was sentenced to a grisly death, that of hanging,  drawing and quartering.

So, as we celebrate this most Sussex of nights, nod your head to the man who sold his inheritance for his beliefs and refused to betray his comrades.  A true  Englishman.  A man prepared to die for his beliefs.