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updated 1:59 AM UTC, Mar 14, 2023

Who Was Guy Fawkes? Gunpowder Plot And Why We Remember Him On Bonfire Night Explained

Mirror, 5 November 2022: ‘Who Was Guy Fawkes? Gunpowder Plot And Why We Remember Him On Bonfire Night Explained’ By Patrick Daly.

Guy Fawkes has gone down in history as being part of a treasonous plot to overthrow the king in 1605. But his memory has found modern resonance for a global audience thanks to a graphic novel and film.

An effigy of Guy Fawkes has traditionally been burned on British bonfires every November for more than 400 years.

Nowadays, he is just as much associated with modern day protests and rebellion as he is Bonfire Night and the alleged 1605 gunpowder plot.

Ever since the 1980s graphic novel V For Vendetta and the 2006 film of the same name, the mask of Guy Fawkes, with its prominent goatee, has become symbolic of uprising.

In the novel and film, which stars Natalie Portman and John Hurt, an anarchist wearing a Fawkes mask battles a neo-fascist regime in the UK.

The mask has now become a popular symbol to use in protest against tyranny.

But just who was the man central to the alleged gunpowder plot and the modern face of rebellion?

Who was Guy Fawkes?

Guy Fawkes was a British solder who was born in York, and is most famous for being a participant in the Gunpowder Plot.

Also known as Guido, he was said to have been discovered in the cellars of the House of Lords with 36 barrels of gunpowder on November 5, 1605.

It was alleged that Fawkes was part of a dissident group of Catholics who wanted to blow-up Parliament and King James I in part of a move to install a Catholic monarch.

Caught on the eve of the state opening of Parliament, Fawkes was thrown in the Tower of London.

On orders of the king, he was tortured until he confessed to being part of a treasonous plot.

A veteran mercenary of the Spanish army, Fawkes was born in 1570 and had been brought up in York, later converting to Catholicism.

At the time, Catholics were being suppressed by the Protestant state, with the Reformation and establishment of the Church of England occurring around 70 years earlier.

Fawkes went to fight for Catholic Spain in the Eighty Years’ War against the Protestant Dutch, with some claiming he fought in a bid to encourage Madrid to aid British Catholics in their plight against their monarchy.

Upon his return to England, he is believed to have become acquainted with Catholic rebels, including Robert Catesby, who were plotting to overthrow the King.

Plot failure and execution

On November 5 in 1605, Fawkes was said to be found guarding the explosives, leading to the failure of the plan and the execution of many of the plotters.

Fawkes was tortured until he coughed-up names of associates. He was likely placed on the rack, where his limbs would have been agonisingly stretched out.

Those behind the alleged plot were ordered to be publicly hung, drawn and quartered, in what amounted to a gory death in January 1606.

Fawkes managed to avoid the latter parts of the capital punishment sentence by jumping from the gallows as they planned to hang him, resulting in his neck being broken by the rope and killing him.

Today, historians are less sure about the accuracy of the gunpowder plot and say it could have been trumped-up to whip-up anti-Catholic sentiment.

Why is Guy Fawkes remembered?

Guy Fawkes is remembered every year as part of the British tradition of Bonfire Night.

But he is also well-known around the world, thanks to V For Vendetta.

In 1606, a law was passed ordering that November 5 and the failed plot be remembered each year, with the act remaining on the statute books until 1859.

People would often light bonfires that autumn night, with effigies of the Pope burnt on top, in a sign of the anti-Catholic sentiment of the time.

As such, Guy Fawkes eventually replaced the Pope atop the burning bonfires and the day shifted from being known as Gunpowder Treason Day to Guy Fawkes Day.

The effigies have become less popular, with November 5 more known for its public firework displays rather than Guys on top of a huge fire.

However, Guy Fawkes continues to live in the public imagination during protests and in popular culture thanks to V’s iconic mask.

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