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Happy Guy Fawkes Night!

Happy Guy Fawkes Night!

[via Guy Fawkes]

Guy Fawkes was born in York in April 1570. The exact date of his birth is uncertain, although many believe he was born 13 April. It is believed that Fawkes was raised Protestant, but is widely presumed that he was a confirmed Catholic by age 21, likely due to the influence of a Catholic man named Denis Bainbridge, who married Fawkes' mother after his father died.

In 1591 Fawkes sold the property he had inherited from his father and joined the Spanish Army of Flanders (diddly diddly). The Army of Flanders was a Spanish Habsburg army based in the Netherlands during the 16th to 18th centuries. It was notable for being the longest standing army of the period, and took part in the Dutch Revolt and the Thirty Years War. Fawkes spent the next 12 years fighting with Catholic forces against Protestant resistance. During this time, Fawkes acquired in-depth knowledge of gunpowder.

Guy Fawkes was not the man who initiated the infamous Gunpowder Plot. The Gunpowder Plot was led by Robert Catesby, who was part of a Catholic group in England which inlcluded two of Fawkes' old school mates, the Wright brothers: Jack and Christopher (not the "high-flying" Wilbur and Orville). This group schemed to overthrow the Protestant rulers. Fawkes was recruited to carry out the mission because of his reputation, his devotion to his faith, and his knowledge of gunpowder.

Guy Fawkes, who adopted the name Guido by then, set out to assassinate King James I and the entire Protestant (and even most of the Catholic) aristocracy and nobility who were inside the Houses of Parliament. The conspirators saw this as a necessary reaction to the systematic discrimination against English Catholics.

The scheme was foiled, and Guido was arrested a few hours before the planned explosion, in a vault under the Palace of Westminster, during a search of the cellars underneath Parliament in the early hours of 5 November prompted by the receipt of an anonymous warning letter. This vault contained 36 barrels of gunpowder, enough to level the Houses of Parliament. He was arrested, imprisoned in the Tower of London. Fawkes gave his name as John Johnson. He was tortured, and Fawkes eventually succumbed and confessed to his inquisitors. In the end, however, the torture only revealed the names of those conspirators who were already dead or whose names were already known to the authorities.

On 31 January, 1606, after Fawkes and a number of others implicated in the conspiracy were tried in Westminster Hall and found guilty, they were taken to Old Palace Yard in Westminster and St Paul's Yard, where they were to be hanged, drawn and quartered. Fawkes, weakened by his torture, was the last to climb the ladder to the gallows, from which he jumped, breaking his neck in the fall and thus avoiding the latter part of his execution. Fawkes' lifeless body was quartered and his various parts were then distributed to "the four corners of the kingdom", to be displayed as a warning to other potential traitors.

The Fawkes story continued to be celebrated in poetry. The Latin verse In Quintum Novembris was written c. 1626. John Milton’s Satan in book six of Paradise Lost was inspired by Fawkes as the Devil invents gunpowder to try to match god's thunderbolts. Post-Reformation and anti–Catholic literature often personified Fawkes as the Devil in this way. From Puritan polemics to popular literature, all sought to associate Fawkes with the demonic. However, his reputation has since undergone a reformation, and today he is often toasted as "the last (or only) man to enter Parliament with honourable intentions." Guy Fawkes has, for many, become a symbol of rebellion against governmental, religious, and political oppression.

William Harrison Ainsworth's 1841 historical romance Guy Fawkes; or, The Gunpowder Treason sheds a more sympathetic light on Guy Fawkes. Fawkes subsequently appeared as the protagonist in children's books. In the film "V for Vendetta" (and the ten-issue comic-book series on which the movie is based), Guy Fawkes is depicted as a freedom fighter, rebelling against a tyrannical government. Codename: V, the protagonist of the film, emulates Guy Fawkes both in appearance and in action, striking against the oppressive (and notably religiously conservative) political leaders who have robbed the people of their freedoms. As Guy Fawkes fought against religious discrimination (according to one interpretation), V fights against those who discriminate against anyone who's "different."

In 18th-century England, "Guy Fawkes Night" or "Firework Night" or "Bonfire Night" became a tradition in which children display a grotesque effigy of Fawkes, termed a "guy", as part of the Bonfire Night celebration. As part of the tradition, they would often stand on street corners begging for "a penny for the guy". The "guy" would be burned on a bonfire at the end of the evening. As a consequence, "guy" came to mean a man of odd appearance. Subsequently, in American English, "guy" lost any pejorative connotation, becoming a simple reference for any man.

The story of Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot raises many questions: questions concerning how we understand terrorism versus a righteous revolt against tyranny; the implications of the separation of church and state (or the lack thereof); the power of indoctrination; the importance of religious liberty and tolerance; and what actions are justifiable in the face of oppression (to name a few questions). This is why this American enjoys celebrating this British holiday - not to mention that I enjoy setting things on fire.


Remember, remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes,
'Twas his intent
To blow up the King and the Parliament.
Three score barrels of powder below,
Poor old England to overthrow.
By God's providence he was catched
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Holloa boys, holloa boys,
God save the King!
Hip hip hooray!
Hip hip hooray!
A penny loaf to feed ol' Pope.
A farthing cheese to choke him.
A pint of beer to rinse it down.
A faggot of sticks to burn him.
Burn him in a tub of tar.
Burn him like a blazing star.
Burn his body from his head.
Then we'll say ol' Pope is dead.
Hip hip hooray!
Hip hip hooray!

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