Monday, 5 November 2012

All about Guy Fawkes!

Happy 5th of November! Today is Guy Fawkes Day, also known as Bonfire Night and Firework Night, an annual commemoration of when Guy Fawkes, a member of the Gunpowder Plot, was arrested on the 5th November 1605, whilst guarding explosives his fellow plotters had placed beneath the House of Lords. 
Celebrating the fact that King James I survived the attempt on his life, people lit bonfires all over London, and months later the Observance of 5th November Act was passed, to mark the day as an annual public day of thanksgiving for the plot's failure. 
The English, among other talents, are adept at nurturing their grudges. This explains the prolonged hatred of Guy Fawkes; over four hundred years after Fawkes was caught, tortured and executed for his role in the scheme the British are still celebrating his death. One of the ironies of Fawkes' legacy is that he was actually a late addition to the Gunpowder Plot. Fawkes was born a Protestant in 1570, fought in the Spanish army in the Netherlands in 1593, and at around the same time converted to Catholicism. The founders of the Gunpowder Plot brought Fawkes in to the plot because they thought his military background and anonymity would be helpful.
Things didn't go according to plan. The plotters started trying to gain more and more followers, and as the story goes, one of the men to whom they reached out for support alerted his brother-in-law, a lord, not to attend Parliament on 5th November.The building was searched, and Fawkes was caught along with his stockpile of gunpowder. Tortured on the rack, he revealed the names of his co-conspirators. Some of them were killed while resisting arrest; others, including Fawkes, pled not guilty and went to trial, where they were convicted of high treason. In January, 1606, the remaining conspirators were hung, drawn and quartered. Parliament immediately established Nov. 5 as a day of celebration.
In recent years, Fawkes' legacy has become less well known, to my disappointment  Whilst children all over the country have spent the last week setting off fireworks and dancing around bonfires, I wonder how many of them actually know why we celebrate Guy Fawkes Day every year. However Fawkes has provided the inspiration for the tile character in the Wachowski brothers' V for Vendetta, in which a masked crusader embarks on a terrorist campaign against a totalitarian British dystopia. Fawkes also proved an effective fundraising rally for U.S. presidential candidate Ron Paul, who made more than $4 million on the holiday in 2007 from a website commemorating Fawkes. 
An interesting fact which I did not know before researching this topic is that guards will also perform an annual search tonight —more for tradition than precaution— of the Houses of Parliament to ensure no would-be Fawkes is trying to replicate the Gunpowder Plot. Though the celebrations and rituals are mostly symbolic nowadays, Guy Fawkes Day is still a great way to spend some time with family and friends and enjoy the fireworks, bonfires and food.