Beneath his mask there is more than flesh. Beneath his mask there is an idea. His name is Guy Fawkes and this is his story.
Guy Fawkes, also known as Guido, was born in 1570 and grew up in York, in the north of England. His father was a protestant and died young; his mother remarried a Catholic. Fawkes converted later and fought in the Eighty Years War, taking the side of the Catholic Spanish over the Protestant Dutch. He would later be a part of a group that would change the course of history.
The fifth of November,
The Gunpowder treason and plot;
The Gunpowder Plot of 1605, in earlier centuries often called the Gunpowder Treason Plot or the Jesuit Treason, was a failed assassination attempt against King James I of England and VI of Scotland by a group of provincial English Catholics led by Robert Catesby.
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!
The plan was to blow up the House of Lords during the State Opening of England’s Parliament on 5 November 1605, as the prelude to a popular revolt in the Midlands during which King James’s nine year old daughter, Princess Elizabeth, was to be installed as the Catholic head of state.
Guy Fawkes and his companions
Did the scheme contrive,
To blow the King and Parliament
All up alive.
Threescore barrels, laid below,
To prove old England’s overthrow.
But by God’s providence, him they catch,
With a dark lantern, lighting a match!
But an anonymous letter describing the plans was sent to the King. Fawkes was caught in the cellars of the House with 36 barrels of gumpowder nearby. He was tortured and conspirators were convicted of high treason in January 1606. The government was particularly heavy-handed in its treatment of the group in order to try to deter future terrorist attempts.
A stick and a stake
For King James’s sake!
If you won’t give me one,
I’ll take two,
The better for me,
And the worse for you.
A rope, a rope, to hang the Pope,
A penn ‘orth of cheese to choke him,
A pint of beer to wash it down,
And a jolly good fire to burn him.
Fawkes was arrested on the 5th of November, 1605 and he and several other co-conspirators were found guilty of high treason for their roles in the Gunpowder Plot. Although the execution didn’t take place until January 1606, the November 5 date is most strongly associated with Fawkes’s memory. Hence, the beginning of the poem.
Holloa, boys! holloa, boys! Make the bells ring!
Holloa, boys! holloa, boys! God save the King!
Hip, hip, hooor-r-ray!
The very lines used in the movie adaptation, V for Vendetta says it all: Why Guy Fawkes became the modern symbol for modern anti-greed protests. Because and his companions’ attempt may have failed but it ignited a flame.
But what of the man? We are told to remember the idea, not the man, because a man can fail. He can be caught, he can be killed and forgotten, but 400 years later, an idea can still change the world… but you cannot kiss an idea, cannot touch it, or hold it… ideas do not bleed, they do not feel pain, they do not love… And it is not an idea that I miss, it is a man… A man that made me remember the Fifth of November. A man that I will never forget.
Today, Guy Fawkes isn’t always seen as a villain. Although the original purpose of Guy Fawkes Day was to remember Fawkes as a villain and caution others not to follow in his footsteps, 21st century has turned him into a kind of folk icon.
What do you see him as? A villain? or a hero?
Perhaps you’ll remember. Every Fifth of November.