Why is Guy Fawkes day celebrated?

Everybody knows of Guy Fawkes because of his involvement in the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605. Guy Fawkes was caught while guarding a cache of explosives under the House of Lords, with the intention of blowing up the Protestant king James I and replacing him with a Catholic head of state. Fawkes had become involved in the plot the previous year, and was introduced to a small band of Catholics, led by Robert Catesby. The plan that they formed involved Guy Fawkes lighting the fuse and then escaping across the Thames, while a rebellion was to be started in the Midlands, with the intent of capturing James’ Protestant daughter Princess Elizabeth. The crisis was luckily averted when the plan was leaked in an anonymous letter addressed to William Parker, 4th Baron Monteagle, advising him to not go into Parliament on that specific day, the 5th of November. The letter stated that Parliament ‘shall receive a terrible blow… and yet they shall not see who hurts them.’

Upon his arrest, Guy Fawkes was tortured for the names of his twelve co-conspirators, and it is speculated that he was racked. After withholding information for several days, he gave the names of the men who he had worked with. Fawkes was executed on the 31st of January 1606 along with Thomas Wintour, Ambrose Rookwood and Robert Keyes. However, Fawkes managed to avoid the pain of being hanged, drawn and quartered, as he fell from the scaffold before and broke his neck.

The infamous letter

The thwarting of the plot was a major triumph and success for the kingdom. In commemoration, James I decreed that people should celebrate the failure of the plot with bonfires, provided that they were not too large or too dangerous. Several months later, the introduction of the Observance of 5th November Act decreed that the 5th of November should be celebrated as a thanksgiving for the plot’s failure. This was suggested by Edward Montagu, who believed that James’ divine protection and deliverance deserved some recognition. The day has not survived fully since its inception, and its celebration has been tarnished and associated with begging and violence. Sometimes effigies of the Pope would be burnt by the Puritans instead of Fawkes. However, with the advent of the 20th century, Bonfire Night, or Guy Fawkes day, has become a social occasion complete with bonfires and firework displays.

Fawkes himself as become synonymous with the plot, so much so that effigies are regularly burnt of him during Bonfire Night. This also led to the development of the Guy Fawkes mask, a stylised depiction of him that still survives and runs through popular culture today. The mask gained higher popularity and recognition with its use in the 2005 film ‘V for Vendetta.’ From then on the, the Guy Fawkes mask became a popular symbol of resistance against governmental tyranny.

A Guy Fawkes mask

Apparently, Guy Fawkes also haunts the Guy Fawkes Inn at York. There have not been many sightings of him, but there have been some reports. This location was the site of Guy Fawkes’ birth. Perhaps he achieved the fame that he wanted after all.

Thanks for reading!

Published by harpalkhambay

I am an English Literature and History graduate, and wanted a space to explore topics within those fields that interest me.

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