“Remember remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder, treason
Should ever be forgot…”
– British Rhyme
Many of us have read or watched “V for Vendetta”, and most of us recognize the “remember” rhyme. However, only a few know who Guy Fawkes was and understand the historical background behind the movie’s scenes and plot. In short, V for Vendetta is the reconstruction of the “Gunpowder Plot” into modern day’s life whose events end up oppositely to what history has previously recorded. The movie (which gave the Guy Fawkes mask its fame) is set in 2020 in the city of London after a totalitarian system is erected by the fascist “Norsefire” party; a party lead by a zealous, highly religious leader who conspired against his own nation and setup concentration camps where homosexuals, political prisoners, and any other unwanted individuals were exterminated for the purpose of ensuring the establishment of a tyranny based around both religion and faith; thus raising the notorious motto ‘Strength through unity. Unity through faith’.
In the famous “V for Vendetta”, V; an unknown individual wearing a mask similar to the face of Guy Fawkes, takes over a TV station and reminds his nation about an incident which occurred on the 5th of November in 1605. He goes on to persuade the public to join him and stand outside the gates of the Parliament one year from his speech to give the people and the leaders of the current system them a fifth of November that would never be forgotten. But what historical incident took place on the fifth of November, 1605? Who was Guy Fawkes? And for what purpose is the mask used today?
Guy Fawkes, also known as Guido Fawkes and John Johnson, was presumably born on the 13th of April, 1570 in Stonegate, York. Guy was raised in a Christian family during a time in which Catholics were persecuted throughout Britain following the big dispute between the Church of England and the Pope. When Fawkes was born, King James I was ruling Britain; a Protestant country which had its past stained with decades of tension and violence between Catholics and the “new” religion. In a historical stage where Catholicism was the center of every individual’s life in the rest of Europe, the British monarch was the leader of the church and owned no allegiance to the Catholic pope in Rome. It was quite clear at that time that Catholicism was not only frowned upon by the state, but actively suppressed. Prior to King James I, particularly after the attempted invasion in 1588 by the Catholic Spanish Armada, which had been openly supported by the pope; Queen Elizabeth I made sure that persecution reached its highest heights on Catholics. By the time Queen Elizabeth I died, Catholics were forced to practice their rituals in secret and were obliged to participate in Protestant services. Citizens who refused to submit were fined for their ‘antagonistic’ behavior.
Guy was raised by his father as a Protestant while his maternal relatives were devout Catholics. At the age of eight, his father died, and soon after his father’s death, his mother got remarried to a Catholic. Later on in his life after converting to Catholicism, Fawkes enrolled himself into the Spanish army and demanded Spanish support for an English rebellion against the king whom he considered to be as “an evil monarch who sought to cleanse England from the Papist sect”. The Spaniards however were unable to provide Fawkes with any support.
After returning to England, Fawkes met his school colleagues John Wright, Priest Robert Middleton, Priest Oswald Tesimond, his brother, and Priest Edward Oldcorne; all of whom were zealous Catholics who envisioned a Catholic rule in Protestant England after the destruction of the oppressive government. After meeting Robert Catesby, the person who spearheaded the “Gunpowder Plot”, Fawkes’s comrades planned to detonate gunpowder under Parliament during a state opening shortly after King James I, his queen, and other members of the royal family and the government body got inside.
On the 5th of November 1605; the date at which the plot was set to take place, Guy Fawkes was arrested in the cellars of the Houses of Parliament after a number of anonymous members from the conspirators warned a group of Catholic attendees not to attend the state opening. The attendees then warned the King who subsequently ordered the Parliament cellars to be searched. Fawkes was found on the early hours of November fifth in the cellar with more than 20 hidden barrels of gunpowder. He was then tortured up until he revealed the name of the co-conspirators, but did not plead guilty and was sent to court where he met charges of high treason. The failed assassination attempt became known as the “Gunpowder Plot”, and Fawkes along with his associates, were executed. Today, the fifth of November is still celebrated in England with bonfires and fireworks.
400 years after the failure of the “Gunpowder Plot”, V for Vendetta recreated a mask which held rough similarities to Guy Fawkes’s facial features and entrenched it into an anarchist character placed in a dystopian future, wrestling government fascism and tyranny. A few years later, the mask became a global trend; a trademark symbolizing a revolution and representing the struggle against the tyranny of governments.