“Remember, remember the fifth of November, the gunpowder treason and plot, I know of no reason why the gunpowder treason should ever be forgot…”
Do you remember how fucking cool it was to watch this movie for the first time? I do. By the way, if you don’t know what film I’m referring about, it’s V for Vendetta. I clearly remember the first time I heard that rhyme I thought, “Hey this is pretty cool, finally something original!” By the end of the movie, I was instantly floored by how amazing it actually was. The movie had it all, action, a bit of romance, an actual compelling story-line, interesting multi-layered characters, Natalie Portman, and even the hero was not so much a hero as he was an ANTI-hero. It even had what my geeky ass liked, a political theme to stand behind- the breath of revolution.
At that time, the Wachowskis were still uber famous for their billion dollar Matrix franchise and they were hot shit in Hollywood. Many people inside and outside the industry were worried whether they could pull off a follow up to The Matrix that was just as compelling and successful, or whether they were just a one-trick pony (can you say M. Night Shymalan?).
Then all bullshit speculation vanished away when the movie came out and everybody seemed to dig it tremendously. Hell, it even created a symbol that inspired an entire generation of people to adopt as their revolutionary banner, the Guy Fawkes mask that our anti-hero wears in the film.
You’ve seen it everywhere, from Halloween costumes to protests masks and it even was adopted by some members of the hacktivist group Anonymous, you know those guys with the creepy YouTube videos- “We do not forget, we do not forgive…” Yeah those dudes.
Anyways, it’s pretty rare when a film does that. And I don’t mean simply make something popular, that happens all the time. I mean when a film has the power to change communities, even influence governments that is something very rare. Oliver Stone knows this feeling all too well. That is something that this film did.
And yet, very few people (even outside of England) know who the real Guy Fawkes actually was. Different from how the character of V is portrayed in the movie, the real Guy (pun intended) was not a terrorist- well sorta. And very, very different from how V is portrayed in the comic version, Fawkes was certainly not an anarchist, although he was a revolutionary of sorts.
The real life story of Guy Fawkes is an interesting one in many ways, one of which fits into the context of counter-revolution perfectly. But here’s where the irony comes to bite us in the ass once again, as it often does in this blog.
The story of Guy is not a complicated one, however if you’re one to support acts of rebellion, you might not really like what the man stood for. Approach the story with an open mind and remember that those times were different, when tolerance wasn’t as widespread as it is today (says something about our world today huh!). Enjoy.
The Guy Behind the Mask
Guy Fawkes- or Guido as he was known from when he was fought with the Spanish- was an English man born in York in the year 1570. During that time, there was a rather brutal oppression of Catholics in England, as the established religion since the time of Henry VIII had turned from Catholicism to Protestant for everyone. Or nearly everyone. (For a loose interpretation of the facts around this time period, watch The Tudors. Or pick up a book.)
Guy’s family on his father’s side were mostly Protestant or attended services for the Church of England. Whether they were actually Protestant or just closet Catholics is left up to interpretation. But what historians do know, is that his grandparents on his mother’s side were hardcore Catholics come-what-may, as was the man his mother married after Guy’s father died when he was 8.
When he was in his 20’s, Guy went to fight for the Spanish in the Low Countries even though Spain and England were technically still in a state of war. During his military campaign, Guy completely switched sides supporting Spain and finally adopting the Italian version of his name Guido to win favor with Spanish, to whom he would later make a plea to support a Catholic rebellion in England to depose the king- James I.
King James I Credit: photopin.com
James I was a Protestant king who succeeded Elizabeth I, youngest daughter of the famous King Henry VIII and sister to Queen Mary (Bloody Mary), and the last in the line of Tudors. By that time Catholicism was no longer the official religion of England, and there was still bad blood between the Protestants who wanted to drive out the Catholics, and the Catholics who wanted to reinstate Catholicism as the one true faith.
When his requisition was denied by the Spanish, a discontent Guido then went back to England and in 1604 he met Robert Catesby, the leader of a group of disheartened Catholics who wished to assassinate king James and replace him with a monarch sympathetic to the Catholics.
Together, along with a group of 11 other men, they set out to plan out how the assassination would take place, and eventually decided that they would blow up the House of Parliament while it was in session, which meant that the king would be there to precede the session. Guy being the most militarily experienced of all, was given charge of the barrels of gunpowder that would level the palace and kill the king and most of parliament loyal to the crown.
However, the plot wasn’t to be. On the eve of the terrorist attack, authorities were alerted of the plot via an anonymous letter. Historians aren’t exactly sure whether this letter was sent by one of the members of the group who repented due to concern to kill civilians or whether it was tortured out of someone with knowledge of the plot. What they do know is that when a sweep of the grounds of the palace was conducted, they discovered Fawkes keeping guard of enough barrels of gunpowder to blow the House of Lords to smithereens.
In the succeeding days, Fawkes was arrested, tried, tortured, and prepared for execution. His fellow planners fled England with their honor semi-intact- whatever that means. Some tried to raise a small army to fight the king’s men while others were arrested and executed alongside Guido.
In 31 January, 1605, Guy Fawkes along with other conspirators were set to hang. While some jumped from the scaffold and survived only to be tortured to death later, Fawkes was able to jump before he was hanged and broke his neck thus avoiding the pain of torture and death by hanging. Just like many others before him, his body was quartered, decapitated and displayed for all to see as punishment of high treason to the crown.
A sad story indeed.
In the aftermath of the events, poets, writers, and common-folk remembered November 5th as a day not of tragedy, but of celebration. Not of condemnation but of remembrance of the man who paid with his life for his ideals and for the freedom to practice his religion. And while Bonfire Night was a forced-upon celebration where people burned effigies of Guy Fawkes to celebrate Britain’s Protestant tradition and the saving of the king, over time it has become an anti-establishment celebration.
If you are like me, then you will think that it was a waste of life to fight and die for something as useless and oppressive as religion. But you must remember that during those times- and for many centuries after that- the only thing worse than being a Catholic, or Protestant, in England was being an atheist. In fact, there was no such thing, if you were smart enough. So the only thing to accept was one religion or the other.
Also, it is noted that during the following years, there was a slow reformation in England that took place about civil liberties and freedom of religion. Of course, this didn’t happen for many years to come, but by the time of the Enlightenment, Europeans were becoming increasingly more concerned with matters of science rather than religion, and all religious matters were already in the process of taking a secondary stance in people’s views.
Why We Remember November the Fifth?
It’s important to know where history comes from, the story of history if you will. And as ironic as it may be, while England was a violent place to be if you were part of the wrong religion, now intolerance has shifted in part to America. It’s true that although we don’t torture people to death for belonging to a different religion anymore, there is still severe discrimination in the United States, and in many other parts of the world, if you choose NOT to be part of any religion at all, while in England the percentage of atheism rises every year.
The story of V and his inspiration- Guy Fawkes- has brought a little piece of history to center stage. Today many more people know who Guy Fawkes was and what he meant to the English. Today those words recited by the very talented Hugo Weaving (Matrix Trilogy, The Lord of the Rings) in the guise of V will be remembered by a new generation of revolutionaries who fight against injustice and who speak out for reason whether is behind a keyboard or in public forums, “People shouldn’t be afraid of their governments, governments should be afraid of their people.”
And on this November 5th, are you gonna strap on your mask and walk out to your local march and show support for the cause of Guy Fawkes? I am.
And just so you know that the writers of the movie weren’t just pulling a fancy rhyme out of their hats for the sake of entertainment, here’s the full rhyme as it was sung on Guy Fawkes Night.
The Fifth of November
The fifth of November,
The Gunpowder treason and plot;
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!
Guy Fawkes and his companions
Did the scheme contrive,
To blow the King and Parliament
All up alive.
Threescore barrels, laid below,
To prove old England’s overthrow.
But, by God’s providence, him they catch,
With a dark lantern, lighting a match!
A stick and a stake
For King James’s sake!
If you won’t give me one,
I’ll take two,
The better for me,
And the worse for you.
A rope, a rope, to hang the Pope,
A penn’orth of cheese to choke him,
A pint of beer to wash it down,
And a jolly good fire to burn him.
Holloa, boys! holloa, boys! make the bells ring!
Holloa, boys! holloa boys! God save the King!
This information was gathered with the help of several websites. For more information on Guy Fawkes, November the Fifth, The Gunpowder Plot, and related articles and websites please visit the following links.
For information on the hacktivist organization known as Anonymous please visit:
Credit for picture of King James I: photo credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/60861613@N00/3483779833/”>lisby1</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>cc</a>
Credit for picture of Gunpowder Plot conspirators: photo credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/zongo/12912053305/”>David Holt London</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>cc</a>
Credit for picture of French protestors: photo credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/equinoxefr/6857192421/”>equinoxefr</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>cc</a>