As I write this blog, I’ve just come in on Saturday evening from watching a local fireworks display, and pretty magnificent it was too. There was a huge bonfire, too, of course, although with no guy effigy perched on the top. When I was a kid, November 5th (or the nearest Saturday to it) was always known as Guy Fawkes’ Night. These days it seems the generic Bonfire Night has taken over.
And it also seems that more people know the Guy Fawkes’ mask for the movie ‘V for Vendetta’ than they do for the man on whom it is modelled.
But the mask is still worn by protesters the world over when they want both to retain their anonymity and show a symbol of opposition to the government of the day. It would seem that these days more people applaud Mr Fawkes’ intentions rather than his notable lack of success.
For those of you unfamiliar with the story, Guy Fawkes (who changed his first name to Guido) was not the leader of the Gunpowder Plot, as it came to be known. He was one of a number of plotters, led by Robert Catesby, who planned to blow up the House of Lords during the opening of Parliament in 1605 and kill the Protestant King James I of England and IV of Scotland.
Allegedly, this plot came about after hopes for greater tolerance towards the English Catholics had faded. The plotters hoped to install James’s young daughter, Princess Elizabeth, on the throne to rule as a Catholic monarch.
Because Fawkes had fought in the Spanish Netherlands and had a decade of military service behind him, he was put in charge of the explosives¾thirty-six barrels of gunpowder, which were somehow smuggled into the cellars beneath Parliament. Guido Fawkes was given the task of setting them off.
However, the would-be plotters were betrayed when an anonymous letter was sent to William Parker, 4th Baron Monteagle, a few daybs beforehand, and Fawkes was arrested in the cellars. His fellow conspirators fled London and their leader, Catesby, was shot and killed during the ensuing chase. The eight survivors, including Fawkes, were transported back to London in search of confessions. Apparently, Fawkes held out for two days, earning him the admiration of the king, but not his mercy.
Fawkes was due to undergo the traditional punishment for treason¾he was to be hanged by the neck until he was almost dead, then cut down and emasculated and disemboweled while he was still conscious enough to be aware of the process. However, Fawkes avoided this fate by leaping from the gallows platform, a move which resulted in him dying of a broken neck instead.
There are those who believe the whole thing was a government conspiracy, allowing as it did the introduction of greater laws and controls of the Catholics. But that, as they say, is another story.
Meanwhile, every November 5th we get to light up a bonfire, burn a representational image of the most well-known of the perpetrators, and let off fireworks instead of flattening Parliament. And we don’t even get hanged, drawn and quartered for our pains.
Today is, of course, also Remembrance Sunday, and this year in the UK to mark the centenary of the start of the First World War, there’s been a stunning display at the Tower of London. The moat has been filled with over 800,000 ceramic red poppies¾one for every British or Commonwealth serviceman killed in the First World War. The installation was only ever intended to be temporary¾although there are plans to extend it to the end of November¾and is intended to disappear like the lives of those very soldiers it represents.
This week’s Word of the Week is deartuate, meaning to dismember.