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James I and Gunpowder treason day

Williamson, P.; Mears, N.

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P. Williamson


The assumed source of the annual early-modern English commemoration of Gunpowder treason day on 5 November – and its modern legacy, ‘Guy Fawkes day’ or ‘Bonfire night’ – has been an act of parliament in 1606. This article reveals the existence of earlier orders, explains how these orders alter understandings of the origin and initial purposes of the anniversary, and provides edited transcriptions of their texts. The first order revises the accepted date for the earliest publication of the special church services used for the occasion. The second order establishes that the anniversary thanksgiving was initiated not by parliament, but by King James I; it also shows that, in a striking innovation, he issued instructions for regular mid-week commemorations throughout England and Wales, expecting the bishops to change the Church of England’s preaching practices. The annual thanksgivings were not just English, but ordered also in Scotland and observed in protestant churches in Ireland. The motives for these religious thanksgivings are placed in a Stuart dynastic context, with Scottish antecedents and a British scope, rather than in the English ‘national’ setting assigned to the anniversary by English preachers and writers and by recent historians. The parliamentary act is best explained as an outcome of tensions between the king and the house of commons.


Williamson, P., & Mears, N. (2021). James I and Gunpowder treason day. Historical Journal, 64(2), 185-210.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Oct 11, 2020
Online Publication Date Nov 4, 2020
Publication Date 2021-03
Deposit Date Oct 1, 2020
Publicly Available Date Oct 1, 2020
Journal Historical Journal
Print ISSN 0018-246X
Electronic ISSN 1469-5103
Publisher Cambridge University Press
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 64
Issue 2
Pages 185-210


Accepted Journal Article (318 Kb)

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Copyright Statement
This article has been published in a revised form in Historical Journal This version is published under a Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND. No commercial re-distribution or re-use allowed. Derivative works cannot be distributed. © The Author(s) 2020.

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