Photo: Vincent Diamante, Flickr
Largely thanks to the movie “V for Vendetta” a failed British rebel from over 400 years ago has become the face of international anti-capitalist protests.Maybe it’s a romantic thought that Guy Fawkes was a plucky man standing up to the establishment that has captivated the protesters. Or it could be the fact that the mask looks kind of cool and sinister that explains it’s popularity. Regardless, we’re seeing a lot more of Mr Fawkes these days.
Fawkes and his fellow plotters had planned to blow up the Houses of Parliament on November 5 1605, while all of England’s politicians (including the King) were in attendance. They were foiled in their attempt and today, Britain celebrates with fireworks and bonfires on the anniversary of the failed attack.
Long referred to as The Gunpowder Plot, it involved a group of 10 conspirators who managed to smuggle a great load of gunpowder under the Houses of Parliament before being caught at the last minute.
When James I ascended to the throne of England in 1603, it is said that there was optimism among English Catholics.
Having been subject to a lengthy period of Protestant rule under Elizabeth I, there was hope among Catholics that her succesor would be more sympathetic; his wife was Catholic for starters.
However, the monarch soon found he had to lean towards Protestants and Catholics were once again in a position of dissatisfaction.
Enter the plotters who decided that something needed to be done in order to take back their privileges.
Fawkes has long been the poster boy of the group for two reasons: he was the guy whose job was to light the gunpowder and he was the one who got caught red handed.
However, the real brains behind the whole operation was Robert Catesby, a loyal Catholic who had been forced out of university because of his religion.
Fawkes was more of a fighter than a thinker; he served in the Spanish army prior to being recruited into the band of plotters.
The initial meeting of four of the plotters occurred in the Duck and Drake pub in London. A good place to plan a revolution.
Pubs would go on to play a key role in the build up to the plot. The guestroom of the Olde Coach House in Northamptonshire would go on to become the group's headquarters. Catesby's family owned the land that the pub was on.
In order to smuggle an enormous amount of gun powder under the Houses of Parliament, the plotters needed to rent a house nearby.
They rented a property, but under Fawkes' fake name: John Johnson. Come on guys, you could have done better than that surely? Fawkes also said this was his name when he got caught.
One of the plotters wrote an anonymous letter to Lord Monteagle, a parliamentarian, who was due to be in the Houses of Parliament on November 5, warning him of the threat.
The letter was received on October 26, but after Monteagle told the Earl of Salisbury (the King's first minister) about the proposed attack it was decided the best thing to do would be to wait until the last moment to catch the perpetrators in the act.
After Fawkes was discovered about to light the fuse to ignite all the gunpowder, several of the plotters fled London to England's Midlands on stolen horses.
When they arrived at a safe house, they discovered that the gunpowder they were carrying with them was soaking so they laid it out in front of a fire to dry. Bad idea. It exploded, blinding one of the plotters.
Since then, England hasn't been fussy about who it appoints to lead firework safety demonstrations.
Once the dust has settled and all the plotters had been caught, the majority of them were tried and found guilty of high treason.
That only meant one thing: a horrible death.
The plotters were hanged, drawn and quartered. The were hanged until almost dead, then had their testicles removed and destroyed in front of their eyes. Their guts were then cut out before executioners beheaded and dismembered them.
They weren't burned at the stake, though one tradition when celebrating on November 5 is to burn a life size figurine or 'Guy.'
In the wake of the plot, new laws were passed which further restricted the capabilities of Catholics.
They were unable to serve in the armed forces or vote in elections. Nor were they allowed to practice law. It would be the 1800s when they regained the right to vote.
One theory that surrounds the Gunpowder Plot is that it was an elaborate sting staged by the some members of parliament in order to force the country into a more vigorous anti-Catholic stance.
The theory goes that the Earl of Salisbury recruited the men to conduct the attack, which may explain why they were caught in such dramatic fashion. None of the plotters mentioned a conspiracy when they were facing death but it's still up for debate whether Salisbury had a role or not.
Lord Monteagle, the man who told Salisbury of the letter that he was sent by one of the plotters was rewarded by being paid £700 per year.
That's a lot of money by modern day standards.
However, one of the plotters was Monteagle's cousin, Francis Tresham (who it is largely believed sent the letter). Is all that money worth condemning your own blood to his death?
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