The Gunpowder, treason, and plot.
I know of no reason why the gunpowder treason,
Should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes (known as Guido when fighting in Spanish Holland, April 13, 1570 January 31, 1606) is remembered as the explosives expert recruited for the infamous Gunpowder Plot of 1605, led by Robert Catesby.
Around that time, Britain was ruled by the newly-installed James I of Great Britain, who reigned as king over a unified Britain from 1603 to his death in 1625 (the U.K. consisting of England, Ireland, and Scotland after the crowns were politically united in March 1603) and as James VI of Scotland from 1567 to 1603 prior to becoming King over the U.K. (don't question the British monarchy), who was a Kirk Presbyterian Christian. That is, the new king was not a Catholic. The last Catholic ruler of England was Bloody Mary, who killed people of non-Catholic faiths and witches (there may have been overlap). James I & VI came to England in 1603 and supported the Puritan Christians, who were even less similar to Catholics than he was. The Puritans hated Catholicism and saw it as excessively indulgent and as tarnishing God's name. In 1604, James banned religious petitions and made England Puritan, which was decisively an anti-Catholic statement. The Gunpowder Plot was an effective Catholic Revolt, and it occurred primarily out of the real fear of being murdered for their faith.
The entire government, composed of members of the gentry, was to convene on the Palace of Westminster on the fifth of November for the opening of Parliament. A Lord received an anonymous tip-off to not attend this meeting, and it's clear that this information was passed to King James, who ordered the police of the day to check the building out. After doing some detective work, they asked why the basement had been leased for such a long period by a Catholic. The oddity of this was the length of time, since most people leased such a space for a short-term period for their goods. The police of the day searched the basement and found Fawkes at the end of a Powder Trail leading to ridiculous amounts of gunpowder. Enough to obliterate the building, the clock-tower, and a good portion of the Square Mile. Fawkes was subsequently tortured and sentenced to be hanged and afterwards to be drawn and quartered. As it so happened, they never got past the hanging, which resulted not in the intended suffering through strangulation prior to further torture but rather in a broken neck. He was then dismembered, and his remains were distributed and exhibited in different corners of England, with his head joining others on Tower Bridge.
Because of all that, every Fifth of November, his traitorous act is remembered with fireworks and a bonfire. An effigy of him — called a guy — is typically burned in a bonfire, and since the U.K. is by and large a bunch of small towns and communities vaguely connected by terrible roads, the effigy is often made and thrown on the fire by high school final years or recent leavers. This is a sort-of present from the town and is considered quite an honour. As Alan Moore noted, English history had a long tradition of secretly admiring and rooting for criminals, and over the decades, Guy Fawkes is often spoken of admiringly as "The last man to enter Parliament with honest intentions"note and November 5 celebrations often use the ambiguity of the day's title — "Guy Fawkes Night" — to mockingly celebrate and honour him. As such there is a long subversive tradition within England of making Fawkes into a quasi-Robin Hood figure even if the man was plainly a religious terrorist.
Bad blood seems to have been washed away since the Gunpowder Plot, since a descendant of ringleader Robert Catesby married a descendant of the crown — the parents of Kit Harington.
- V for Vendetta: V's costume includes a Guy Fawkes mask, Eye-Obscuring Hat and Badass Cape. In the film adaptation of V for Vendetta, the original Guy is portrayed in his bombing attempt, apprehended and hanged in the prologue set in 1605.
- Gunpowder: Guy appears as a Knife Nut Mad Bomber with a Badass Beard.
- Carry On Henry: Anachronistically, as a Catholic rebel.
- 100 Greatest Britons: Ranked 30th.
- Harry Potter: Dumbledore's phoenix is named after Fawkes due to its tendency to spontaneously combust.
- The Doctor Who Missing Adventures novel The Plotters is set during the time of the Gunpowder Plot, with Fawkes as a significant character.
- 1066 and All That describes the gunpowder plot as an attempt on the part of a "certain loyal citizen called Sir Guyfawkes, a very active and conscientious man" to put King James's oft-repeated maxim of "no bishop, no King" into action, and the annual "St Guyfawkes' Day" celebrations as a reminder to Parliament "that it would have been a Good Thing."
- Guy Fawkes goes against fellow lionized revolutionary Che Guevara in Epic Rap Battles of History.
- Neil Gaiman attributes the rhyme at the top of the page to William Shakespeare and Ben Jonson in The Sandman, composed on the spot when they came upon an early Bonfire Night preparation during a break in writing The Tempest.
- Tears for Fears: The song "I Love You But I'm Lost" brings up Guy Fawkes with the verse "To a fire on the fifth of November".
Tropes associated with Guy Fawkes include:
- Anti-Villain: Fawkes was clearly a religious terrorist, about to blow up all of British government in order to install a Catholic dictatorship. But his coolness under interrogation (until torture broke him) impressed even King James I himselfnote , and Fawkes' dedication to the task generated some respect even among those who would have been his victims.
- Atrocious Alias: When preparing the gunpowder plot, i.e. renting an apartment near Parliament to store said gunpowder, he rented it under the name "John Johnson"...the esteemed doer of job at place.
- Cool Mask: Masks bearing Fawkes' likeness were given away in early November, for the tradition of Penny for the Guy (the UK equivalent of Trick Or Treat). By the 1980s Guy Fawkes masks had declined due to the growing popularity of All Hallows' Eve, but underwent a revival in the 21st century due to protesters commandeering Fawkes' likeness (see below).
- Historical Hero Upgrade: Yes, Fawkes was opposing an oppressive regime, but his fans exaggerate how benevolent his goals was. His goal was to set up a Catholic theocracy, not create anything like the modern notion of a "free" country.
- Historical Villain Upgrade: He was one of a number of men who took part in the plot, although Fawkes did a lot of the heavy lifting. Because he was the one caught in the act with the gunpowder, and due to the torture he endured to make him give up his fellow conspirators, the public saw him take on a leading role and made him the figure most related to the plot (and to the Bonfire Night that now honors the event).
- Loveable Rogue: Fawkes has some times been claimed as this. And the Anonymous Fawkes masks make him even more like this:Alan Moore: "When parents explained to their offspring about Guy Fawkes and his attempt to blow up Parliament, there always seemed to be an undertone of admiration in their voices, or at least there did in Northampton...that era's children perhaps didn't see Fawkes as a hero, they certainly didn't see him as the villainous scapegoat he'd originally been intended as."
- Torture Is Ineffective: Famously didn't give up any of his co-conspirators whilst being tortured, though most were found anyway. One things often shown is a comparison of his signature before and after. Note: the after is little more than a scratch, as his arms became permanently disfigured.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: Thanks to British sympathy, it's quite understood that Fawkes just wanted religious freedom BUT definitely radicalised about it during his time spent in Europe. This is more of an Alternative Character Interpretation, because (light humour aside) he was ultimately a religious terrorist and extremist, in his motivations (recreate the world as Catholic) and actions (blow up London). Of course, to this day, only Anglican Protestants can be in the line of succession (and ascend to) the British throne.
- Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: A terrorist condemned by history, or trying to rescue Catholics from persecution?