The English have been burning effigies on 5 November to mark Guy Fawkes Day for almost 400 years. But, who was Guy Fawkes and how did he become so famous?
Guy Fawkes, although just one of eight principal conspirators involved, is notorious for the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605. The plot, uncovered on November 5th 1605, was a failed attempt to blow up the King, his family and Parliament. All came to light just as the bomb was set to go off and disaster was averted. What causes led to these men facing the fate detailed above? Would you believe, religion?
England in the 1500’s witnessed religious seeds of discontent. Protestant was pitched against Catholic from the throne right down to the peasant. It was the reign of Henry VIII, a catholic monarch, who wrote frequent condemnations of Protestantism.
Henry was happy with the Catholic faith until the Pope refused to grant him a divorce from his first wife Catherine of Aragon. It was at this point that Henry turned his back on Catholicism and the church of Rome. In the years after Henry’s death, the throne remained a see-saw of religion. Henry’s successor Edward VI, drove the Anglican church towards Protestantism, whilst his sister, Mary I tried to bring back the Catholic through severe persecution of the protestants.
When Elizabeth I ascended the throne, things changed again.
Elizabeth feared a Catholic Europe and embarked on a course of persecution towards Catholics within her own country. When James VI took Elizabeth’s place it was hoped this persecution would cease, James however reintroduced Elizabeth’s policies. Within a few weeks of this event, five men,faithful to the Catholic cause, one of whom was Guy Fawkes, met and swore an oath, to blow up James and the Houses of Parliament.
The conspirators rented a cellar in the Parliament buildings. It was in this cellar that the men placed 36 barrels of gunpowder.
On the night of the 4th of November, a day before the scheduled blast, Fawkes was caught in the cellar with the gunpowder and arrested. Fawkes was tortured until he revealed the details of the plot and named all involved.
Guy Fawkes was executed in the old palace yard at Westminster, he was hanged, drawn and quartered.
I’m not entirely sure why it is that Fawkes became the most famous of all the conspirators involved, maybe because he was the man caught in the actual act. Irregardless, he remains the most notorious of all of the conspirators, and is remembered today and every November 5th, year after year.
As mentioned previously, the practice of burning effigies has been in existence for almost 400 years. In these first bonfires, called “bone fires” it was not the bones or effigies of Guy Fawkes who were burned, but those of the Pope. It was not until 1806, that the people started burning the effigies of Guy Fawkes and still in some communities today, people throw effigies of both Fawkes and the Pope into the fire.