A brief look back to the past.
The General History of Carnival
The timing of the West Country Carnival close to the British celebration of Bonfire night (November 5th) is no coincidence, as the roots of the original carnival in Bridgwater date back to 1605.
Guy Fawkes is the character most associated with the plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament, however the instigator was Jesuit priest Robert Parsons from Nether Stowey, a short distance from Bridgwater. Parsons and his colleagues Edmund Campion and Ralph Emerson were Catholics, who wanted to put an end to the Protestant monarchy and parliament of the day, in order to put an end to Catholic persecution. In 1580, they were discovered attempting to garner favour with northern-English based nobility in the English Mission, and were then associated with the failed Spanish Armada of 1588, both plots to replace protestant Elizabeth I of England with catholic Mary Queen of Scots. After the deaths of Campion and Emerson, Parsons continued to plot to restore Catholic power in England, and hence his last ill-fated attempt against parliament and King James I on 5 November 1605. After the failure of the Gunpower Plot, Parsons was key in corresponding with Thomas Morton over the authority of use of St Paul in the creation and implementation of the Jacobean Oath of Allegiance.
Bonfire night is a major annual celebration across the whole of England, but it is likely that the reason that the West Country Carnival was originally so keenly celebrated is that the South West towns were predominantly Protestant – hence the celebration of Robert Parsons’ (and Guy Fawkes’) failure. The religious origins of the event are almost forgotten and far less significant today.