What Does "Remember, Remember the 5th of November" Mean?

Guy Fawkes Night takes place on November 5th each year.
Guy Fawkes Night takes place on November 5th each year.

“Remember, remember 5th November…” is the first line of John Milton’s poem In Quintum Novembris (On the Fifth of November). The poem alluded to the happenings on November 5, 1605.

The Origin of Guy Fawkes Night

On November 5, 1605, police arrested a man known as Guy Fawkes who was a member of the Gunpowder Plot Group. He was guarding explosives intended to blow up the House of Lords, ending the lives of King James I and the entire Great Britain’s government. The explosion would have also led to the death of many other citizens of London. Once the government had been “swept” away, then Britain’s Catholic monarchy would be restored. When the news of Guy Fawkes arrest spread, people were in jubilation. They lit bonfires around London celebrating the king’s safety and the safety of all people. Guy Fawkes faced torture, trial, and execution for his actions. However, November 5th became an annual British holiday called “Guy Fawkes Day.”

Different Meanings of Guy Fawkes Day Throughout the Years

At the onset of the Guy Fawkes Day celebration, the Observance of 5th November Act described it as a day of celebrating the failure of the plot against the king, government officials and the people. However, in the 17th century, Protestants honored the day as a celebration of God’s providential deliverance. According to them, the Lord had delivered Great Britain from the dangerous rule of the Roman Catholic rule. The ceremony carried with it Protestant religious overtones as well as anti-Catholic sentiments. Under the Hanoverians, the Guy Fawkes Day had increasingly violent class-based confrontations. London’s militias influence the proclamation of a ban on bonfires and fireworks in 1682. In the 1850s, anti-Catholic rhetoric toned down and violence became a thing of the past. As a result, the Guy Fawkes Day became a social commemoration. The introduction of bonfires and fireworks to the celebration came in the 20th century when Queen Victoria’s reign in England ended.

What Fawkes Night Means Today

Presently, large events such as bonfires and extravagant firework displays are part of celebrating the Guy Fawkes Night. The increased popularity of the Halloween celebration threatens the future of the Guy Fawkes Day celebration. Nonetheless, the day has become a universal emblem used by groups that detest suppressive actions by their governments. Supporters of the “Occupy Movement" often wear the mask of Guy Fawkes. The movement protests against the increasing corruption, greed, and lack of accountability in financial and political spheres. People have different opinions with regards to the meaning of the mask. To some, it is a symbol of “active terrorism.” Such a view is pegged on the acts of the intended killings in 1605. However, to others, the masks are a demonstration of unity against corporate and political greed. The Guy Fawkes Day celebrated today has a greater meaning than anyone present in the 16th century could imagine. A more noble meaning than the person it was named after intended.

Therefore “Remember, remember 5th November” is an expression referring to the celebration of Guy Fawkes Day. Guy Fawkes and his group members acted in protest to the continued persecution of the English Catholics.


More in Did You Know