Guy Fawkes

November 5th is traditionally a Bonfire Night which people usually celebrate. This year we may miss it due to the second lockdown.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, there were religious conflicts in Britain. In the 15th century, King Henry VIII established the Church of England (Protestant) and cut off the link with Catholic Pope in the Vatican.

However, it was not a smooth passage. His older daughter Mary tried to revert the country back to Catholicism. But again her half-sister Elizabeth II, steer back away from Catholicism and back to Protestantism.

Queen Mary was persecuting the Protestants and earned the nickname, ‘Bloody Mary’. During the reigns of Queen Elizabeth II and her successor James I, the Catholics were persecuted.

In an effort to end the persecution of Roman Catholics by the English government, a plot was organized by Robert Catesby who wanted to take revenge for the persecution of his father by the regime of Queen Elizbeth II for being a Catholic. There were 13 conspirators in the plot, which was masterminded by Robert Catesby. Guy Fawkes was also in the group. He and others hoped to replace the country’s Protestant King with Catholic leadership.

The Group of Plotters

But one of the conspirators cared for his brother-in-law who didn’t want to die. So, as the November 5 opening meeting of Parliament approached, Lord Monteagle, the brother-in-law of one of the conspirators, received an anonymous letter warning him not to attend Parliament on November 5. However, Monteagle alerted the government, and hours before the attack was to have taken place authorities took action.

At about midnight on the night of November 4-5, Sir Thomas Knyvet, a justice of the peace, found Guy Fawkes lurking in a cellar under the Parliament building and ordered the premises searched.

Guy Fawkes as he found in Parliament’s celler

The plotters leased an under-croft beneath the House of Lords; Fawkes was placed in charge of the gunpowder that they stockpiled. Thirty-six barrels of gunpowder were found, and Fawkes was taken into custody. After being tortured, Fawkes revealed he was a participant in an English Catholic conspiracy to annihilate England’s Protestant government and replace it with Catholic leadership.

Fawkes and other conspirators involved in the plot were tried and executed for treason. The failed attempt become known as the ‘failed Gunpowder Plot’. Gunpowder Plot, a conspiracy to replace the Protestant King James I with a Catholic sovereign.
From that day onwards, Guy Fawkes became the nation’s favorite villain. Every November 5, the British celebrate Guy Fawkes Day by burning Fawkes in effigy.

He was born in 1570 and educated in York. When Fawkes was eight, his father died and his widowed mother married a Catholic, Dionis Bainbridge. Fawkes converted to Catholicism when he was a teenager.

In 1604 Fawkes became involved with a small group of English Catholics, led by Robert Catesby, who planned to assassinate the Protestant King James and replace him with his daughter, third in the line of succession, Princess Elizabeth.

The trial of eight of the plotters began on Monday 27 January 1606. The jury found all the defendants guilty, and the Lord Chief Justice Sir John Popham pronounced them guilty of high treason.

The Attorney General Sir Edward Coke told the court that each of the condemned would be “put to death halfway between heaven and earth as unworthy of both”.

Their genitals would be cut off and burnt before their eyes, and their bowels and hearts removed. They would then be decapitated, and the dismembered parts of their bodies displayed to warn others.

His fellow plotters were then hanged and quartered. Fawkes was the last to stand on the scaffold. He asked for forgiveness of the King and state which was refused.

Weakened by torture and aided by the hangman, Fawkes began to climb the ladder to the noose, but either through jumping to his death or climbing too high so the rope was incorrectly set, he managed to avoid the agony of the latter part of his execution by breaking his neck.

His lifeless body was nevertheless quartered and, as was the custom, his body parts were then distributed to “the four corners of the kingdom”, to be displayed as a warning to other would-be traitors.

Dragging the plotters to be punushed

In 1606, Parliament established November 5 as a day of public thanksgiving. On 5 November 1606, Londoners were encouraged to celebrate the King’s escape from assassination by lighting bonfires, provided that “this testimony of joy be careful done without any danger or disorder”.

The effigies of the “guy” are normally created by children from old clothes, newspapers, and a mask.

According to historian Lewis Call, Fawkes is now “a major icon in modern political culture” whose face has become “a potentially powerful instrument for the articulation of postmodern anarchism” in the late 20th century.

Famous mask of Guy Fawkes