“Remember remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder, treason
Should ever be forgot…”
Guy Fawkes Night commemorates the night Catholic Guy Fawkes’s Gunpowder Plot to blow up the House of Lords and assassinate Protestant King James I on this day in 1605. Bonfires were the way the people celebrated the survival of the King.
Punishment for this treason was… colourful:
He was stripped of his clothing, and wearing only a shirt, climbed the ladder to place his head through the noose. He was quickly cut down, and while still fully conscious was castrated, disembowelled, and then quartered, along with the three other prisoners. The following day, Thomas Wintour, Ambrose Rookwood, Robert Keyes, and Guy Fawkes were hanged, drawn and quartered, opposite the building they had planned to blow up, in the Old Palace Yard at Westminster. Keyes did not wait for the hangman’s command and jumped from the gallows, but he survived the drop and was led to the quartering block. Although weakened by his torture, Fawkes managed to jump from the gallows and break his neck, thus avoiding the agony of the gruesome latter part of his execution.
A book was made out of the skin of one of the executed which still exists today.
Over time children began begging for money to create effigies of Guy Fawkes to burn on the bonfires (“Penny for the Guy!”). Today we light bonfires, set off fireworks and give children sparklers.
V in V for Vendetta is dressed in the now iconic Guy Fawkes mask as part of his revolutionary campaign to bring down government, and has been subsequently been used by political and economic protesters.
Image by John Gannon