At the beginning of the 17th century there were a number of plots to overthrow King James I as a protest against some oppressive laws that were being introduced in Britain. The most notable of these plots was the 'Gunpowder Plot'. Their idea was to blow up the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament on 5 November 1605 when the King, together with members of the House of Lords and House of Commons, would be present in the Lord's Chamber.
Although Robert Catesby was the leader of the conspirators, it was Guy Fawkes who was to become the most famous of them.
Initially the plan was to dig a tunnel under the House of Lords. However, when this failed the conspirators were lucky enough to be able to rent a cellar directly beneath the Lord's Chamber in which they stored 36 barrels of gunpowder (purchased from official Government supplies!). Guy Fawkes was tasked with remaining in the cellar and lighting the fuse at the appropriate moment.
Their plot was discovered when an anonymous letter was sent to Lord Monteagle, warning him not to attend the State Opening. In the early hours of 5 November 1605 the Houses of Parliament were searched by Sir Thomas Knyvett, Justice for Westminster resulting in the discovery of Guy Fawkes in the cellar along with the 36 barrels of gunpowder.
Guy Fawkes was taken to the Tower of London where he was held until he and his fellow conspirators were tried for high treason at Westminster Hall on 27 January 1606. All were found guilty and sentenced to execution on 31 January 1606.
An Act of Parliament was passed appointing 5 November each year as a day of thanksgiving for 'the joyful day of deliverance'. This Act remained in force until 1859 although it is still traditional in Britain to have bonfires and let off fireworks on or around 5 November.
Another tradition is for the Yeoman of the Guard to conduct a ceremonial search of the Houses of Parliament an hour before the State Opening.
The first recorded fireworks in England were at the wedding of King Henry VII in 1486. They gained popularity during the reign of Henry VIII, and Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603) appointed a Fireworks Master so that someone would be in charge of organising firework displays for great occasions. James II even knighted his fireworks master after a particularly excellent show of fireworks at his coronation.