Last Thursday was Guy Fawkes' Day in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. What? You good folks across the pond thought I forgot? Hell no, my friends. I was just saving it up for a special day. Too bad it fell on a Thursday this year because Guy Fawkes was the ultimate in Totally Blowing Shit Up Tuesdays. He's also right up there for being the ultimate Fail in history.
So...who is this Fawkes guy, many of you might ask, and just what is his connection to massive detonations? Well, Guy Fawkes was, in all respects of the word, a fall guy for the Catholic Restoration movement that gripped England while several wars were being fought on mainland Europe revolving around Protestant and Catholic tensions. In 1605, when Guy was getting involved with the Catholic Restoration in England, James I was King of England. See, King James I (who was also James VI of Scotland) ascended the throne of England when Elizabeth I died, who was also a Protestant. When James continued the persecution of Catholics along with his adherence to (I'm assuming) the Church of England, the English Catholics became restless and decided to take matters in their own hand.
James was married to a Dutch princess, with whom he had three kids, most notable among those was his eldest daughter, Elizabeth...who was Catholic. Since she had a legitimate claim to the throne of England (and Scotland), she became integral in what was later known as the Gunpowder Plot. The head conspirator, Robert Catesby, hatched a plot to blow up James, his wife, most of the protestant aristocracy and nobility, and all of Parliament, Catholics included. Acceptable casualties, move along, I guess. At the same time--most likely during the confusion fomented by the explosion--someone would kidnap James' children, thereby setting up his daughter Elizabeth to become the next queen of England. As she was Catholic, this would restore Catholicism to the kingdom and, presumably, she would then funnel monies toward King Philip II of Spain who was leading the Catholic fight on the mainland of Europe.
Guy Fawkes had spent some time on the continent, fighting in the battles for the Catholic side, and had garnered some experience in handling and detonating explosives. He was selected to take care of the exploding 36 barrels of gunpowder--some 1800 pounds--due to his experience handling explosives. So, on the night of November 5th, 1605, Fawkes was found in a chamber beneath Parliament. After stuttering around for a bit and offering up a fake name, someone poked around under a pile of wood and coal and discovered the ass load of gunpowder Fawkes had smuggled in and hidden there. He was arrested immediately.
And what would that much gunpowder do? This, but presumably on a much grander scale:
Watch that a few more times. If you're like me, then that will get funnier with each subsequent viewing.
Fawkes was imprisoned in the Tower of London, where he was tortured until finally he offered up the names of his co-conspirators. Unfortunately, they were all either already dead or captured. Finally, on January 31 on 1606, Fawkes was executed. He climbed to the gallows himself and threw himself from the platform, breaking his neck and thus saving him from being drawn and quartered.
However, it was encouraged around the kingdom on November 5th to celebrate the king's escape from the assassination plot. The preferred celebration was setting bonfires, and children would burn little dolls made up to look like Guy Fawkes on the bonfires (though this practice has fallen out of vogue). Eventually, fireworks were also added to the celebration. The celebration is carried out throughout the commonwealth, stretching to South Africa, Bermuda, New Zealand and especially in eastern Canada. Since fireworks were outlawed in Australia in the 70s, the celebration has faded away.
Because I'm one of those word nerds, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the term "guy" to refer to a man came from Guy Fawkes, though the "guy" was originally used to describe and ugly or malformed men. When the word moved over to North America, it lost its negative connotations and is now just used to refer to a man.
And, also because I'm chock full of nerdly information, the mask that V wears in V for Vendetta is a Guy Fawkes mask. Fawkes has been a symbol for anarchists for quite some time, which fits in well with the character of V from the graphic novel and the movie adaptation.
Of course, Guy Fawkes was the inspiration for the name of Fawkes, Dumbledore's pet Phoenix, which again makes sense with the whole death in fire symbolism.
Conveniently enough, Guy Fawkes night next year will be on a Friday. Start preparing your bonfires now.