“Remember, Remember” Guy Fawkes’ Gunpowder Plot

November 5th, 2013

In the United Kingdom, Guy Fawkes Night is celebrated annually on November 5th, paying tribute to a moment in the 17th century when Guy Fawkes and a group of co-conspirators were caught attempting to blow up Great Britain’s House of Lords. The conspiracy, referred to as the Gunpowder Plot, was an effort by Catholic militants to assassinate the leadership of the Protestant government of King James I of England and replace it with a Catholic theocracy.

In the UK, the holiday is celebrated as the day the government survived a plot against it. However, the fictional graphic novel and movie V for Vendetta pitted a Guy Fawkes mask-wearing revolutionary against a tyrannical government, which has inspired a generation of people to wear the masks as a protest against government tyranny (including participants in today’s “Million Mask March”). Take a look at a video documenting the conspirators behind the Gunpowder Plot, found below, and let’s reconvene after to discuss the event’s cultural impact.

The Reinvention of Guy Fawkes

Guy Fawkes was hardly a symbol of freedom against tyranny. That period in English history was a time of civil war between Protestant and Catholic forces. Though King James I did participate in shamefully tyrannical activities, including witch trials and his draconian response to the Gunpowder Plot, he didn’t have the bloodthirsty, brutal reputation held by earlier English monarchs. Guy Fawkes, as a Catholic revolutionary, was hoping to overthrow the government through violent means, thus killing innocents, in an effort to install a Catholic theocracy.

However, V for Vendetta‘s use of the Guy Fawkes mask has somewhat redefined the symbol as a warning against tyranny. The hacker group Anonymous is associated with the image. Protesters are often seen wearing the masks at demonstrations. The Ron Paul revolution’s first-ever historic moneybomb fundraising event took place on November 5th, 2007 and featured a Guy Fawkes theme. (Bonus Question: What year did Guy Fawkes attempt the Gunpowder Plot? Email your answers to blogger@SilverCircleMovie.com to be placed in a raffle for a FREE copy of our DVD.)

Different Perspectives on Guy Fawkes’ Symbolism

In the UK, Guy Fawkes Night is celebrated as a kind of reverse version of the Fourth of July. On Independence Day, Americans celebrate their Declaration of Independence from King George III of the United Kingdom. On November 5th, citizens in the UK celebrate the survival of King James I of England and the House of Lords after an assassination attempt by Guy Fawkes and his violent co-conspirators. This could explain the cultural confusion that causes many Americans to celebrate Guy Fawkes as a revolutionary figure.

However, Guy Fawkes is not a symbol of revolution against tyranny. His actions represented an attempt by violent, theocratic extremists to overthrow a government by bombing innocent people. His goal was to install a Catholic theocracy that would dictate how people should live. That said, Guy Fawkes masks have taken on a connotation of their own, primarily as a reference to their use in V for Vendetta. One must presume that those who wear them at protests today are doing so after being inspired by the graphic novel, rather than the historical event.

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About the Author: Barry Donegan

Barry Donegan is a singer for the experimental mathcore band Look What I Did, a writer, a self-described "veteran lifer in the counterculture", a political activist/consultant, and a believer in the non-aggression principle.