I know that the fifth isn’t until Friday, but I figured I’d get it out of the way now. November 5th is famous in the English-Speaking world — although more so in the commonwealth than the US — for the Gunpowder Plot.
That was the night in 1605 during which authorities caught Guy Fawkes, then 35, guarding a whole shit-ton of gunpowder being stowed beneath the House of Lords. Said gunpowder was there because Fawkes and his conspirators wanted to blow the place up in order to eliminate King James I of England.
James I of England was the successor to the late Queen Elizabeth (who was not yet the First), and they had to import him from Scotland, where he was already King James VI. Why they didn’t just round up to the total as only King James VII is a bit of a mystery.
Of course, this would have tied his grandson, known as James II but alternatively being James VIII, with Henry VIII as having the highest regnal number in the British monarchy.
James II doesn’t come into the picture until the next century, though.
If you’re American, probably the most you know about Guy Fawkes is that his face is on the mask worn by the anonymous anti-hero of the film adaptation of the Alan Moore and David Lloyd graphic novel V For Vendetta, later adapted into a movie with the same name.
The film came out in 2005 and, at the time, the stylized mask image of Guy Fawkes became the face of the members of Anonymous, even though the group was founded two years before the movie but eleven years after the graphic novel.
Anonymous were kind of a Robin Hood group, using their hacking powers against governments and the Church of Scientology rather than using them to profit from private citizens, and in that regard they would appear to be cast in a similar mold to the titular V of graphic novel and movie fame.
And even V’s mission appears noble, as he struggles against a truly dictatorial government that has taken over England, and gone after minorities like Muslims, homosexuals, and political dissidents.
The cast is pretty much all-star, and it’s a very smart script, but it may have been too smart for a lot of its audience.
See, what’s written around the edges of the movie but was probably a lot clearer in the graphic novel (I haven’t read it yet) is that V was, in fact no hero.
For one thing (and, again, I’m only going from the movie here, but so were most people) he appears to live a very opulent lifestyle. His secret lair, hidden in the abandoned Victoria Underground Station (I checked the graphic novel synopsis), is stuffed with antique artwork and furnishings, gold and jewels, and of course weapons, and is somewhere between the lair of a Bond villain and the aforementioned Henry VIII.
Or, in other words, V has no lack of creature comforts or assets — a detail which will be important in a moment.
The film begins with V rescuing a young woman from a gang of secret police turned would-be rapists immediately before blowing up the Old Bailey, basically the central courts of England. But his rescue of the woman, Evey, is not quite the noble act it seems, because he basically kidnaps her, brings her to his lair, and tells her that she has to stay there for a year, taking away her government ID, meaning that she couldn’t go out if she’d wanted to.
He assaults a broadcast center in order to give a speech live on air to the people, urging them to resist the government and join him on the next Guy Fawkes Day in one year to carry out that plan.
In other words, V reveals himself to be an anarchist. Anarchism is the exact opposite of a dictatorship, mostly, because it has no rules or laws. In other words, it’s just as bad. It just turns into millions of dictatorships of the individual rather than a single monolithic dictatorship of a government entity or cult leader.
You know who does well when anarchy reigns, though? People like V, who have all the wealth and security they need, and can buy what and whom they have to in order to survive. If right now you’re thinking of the 1%, congratulations, because that’s exactly what’s going on right now.
They don’t care if the world burns, because they have the means to survive. They’re just exploiting you to make it happen, which is what V is really doing in the film.
In addition to that, he’s been going around murdering government officials in cold blood ostensibly in revenge for what they did to him when he was a prisoner in an asylum that did medical experiments and made him what he is now — although since they seem to have inadvertently given him borderline superpowers, he really should be grateful.
Also, as an anarchist fighting a dictatorship, he should have been a lot more understanding of the kind of power such a government can have to coerce an individual. Instead, he pretty much turned his political leanings personal.
But the height of his callousness comes later in the film, SPOILER ALERT, although if you don’t know after sixteen years, that’s not my fault.
When Stephen Fry’s character of the closeted gay chat show host features on that show a slapstick parody of the country’s dictator trying to catch V and failing miserably in what is basically a Keystone Cops routine all around the set, said dictator is not amused and sends the secret police to raid his home. There, they find the homoerotic art and a forbidden copy of the Quran hidden in a secret room and they arrest him.
Evey is also there and apparently arrested, thrown into prison and interrogated.
It’s not clear how long she’s locked up, but she finds a letter under her door from a prisoner in a neighboring cell who has been locked up for being a lesbian, has been tortured, and isn’t sure what’s going to happen. All the while, the jailers demand that she give up info on V, but she refuses.
When the door finally opens, she expects to be executed but, instead, finds out that she was in V’s place the entire time and it was all a charade. The letters she found were real because a woman in the cell next to V slipped them to him when he was in prison, but otherwise it was all a fake.
Or, basically, one gigantic brainwashing operation, all in V’s effort to turn Evey into his successor as the faceless vigilante — and it works. Far from being royally pissed off at him, she suffers the biggest case of Stockholm Syndrome in the universe and helps him complete his plans.
So on the next Guy Fawkes day, he winds up bringing down the government and starting a massive public revolt of people all dressed exactly like him, with the Guy Fawkes mask, hat, black wig, and cloak.
The part that a lot of people missed, though, was that this was not supposed to be a good thing. Why? Because what are those people going to do now that they’ve destroyed their government? They may get anarchy for a week, but live through an earthquake or major flood or hurricane, and you get that anyway.
All that V has really done is get his petty revenge on people who may or may not have had any choice in doing what they did, brainwashing a young woman into continuing his insane crusade and, maybe or maybe not, dying for his efforts.
Which brings me back to the original Guy Fawkes, because if you had this image in your head of his also being some great freedom fighter against a tyrannical king, you’d actually have it 100% wrong.
James was the son of Mary, Queen of Scots and had become James VI of Scotland upon his mother’s abdication in 1567, when he was only a year old. He became James I of England in 1603, and this single action helped eventually lead to the United Kingdom.
It’s kind of ironic that he was Elizabeth I’s successor, too, since that monarch had forced his mother to abdicate and then later had her executed. But he apparently had no hard feelings. He also was a peacemaker, ending a long-running war between England and Spain in the first year of his reign.
This was a war that Guy Fawkes had run off from England to fight in, by the way. For the Spanish.
Did I mention that Fawkes was Catholic and James I was not? And thanks to Elizabeth I’s father, Henry VIII, the Pope had been pretty much told to go piss up a rope and the Church of England, with the monarch as supreme pontiff, was founded?
Catholics at the time didn’t take very kindly to that, which was why England had troubles with Ireland, France, and Spain for such a long time. They got along with Germans in the right parts of that country, though, once they’d all started to follow Martin Luther.
Anyway… we have a peace-loving king who unites two Protestant countries, although he’s not so forgiving toward the Catholics. Fawkes only because a Catholic after his mother was widowed when he was eight years old and she married a “recusant Catholic,” that is, a British Catholic who refused to join or worship in the Church of England.
Now, when the supreme pontiff of the Church is also the head of state, I think you can see where this might cause some issues. Not that I agree with the idea at all, of course, and it’s a large part of why the Founders in the U.S. put that big ol’ wall between church and state in the first place, but the part I can’t wrap my head around is why take it all so goddamn seriously?
They want you to go to that building instead of this one every Sunday, sing some songs, listen as some fat bastard goes on and on, hope you don’t get molested by a priest (or hope you do if you’re ambitious) and maybe drop the shilling your dad gave you on the plate (or not), then you’re done.
Okay, not as easy in the 16th Century. The point was this. Guy Fawkes was not some noble warrior fighting against tyranny, just like V was not some hero fighting for democracy and the little people.
Nope. V wanted to just destroy the system because he was pissed, because he could, and because he could survive the destruction.
Fawkes, on the other hand, wanted to assassinate a duly chosen King who followed a different religion and who had also dared to broker peace with the country Fawkes had been fighting with against his country.
Fawkes wanted to change England back to a different kind of Theocracy, one ruled by a foreign king, for all intents and purposes, and not in the interests of the people.
In modern terms, Fawkes would be considered a religious terrorist, nothing more nor less.
Why do you think people in Britain are still burning him in effigy 415 years after his crime?
Although, honestly, despite the Head of State and the Head of the Church being the same person in the UK for all those years, they certainly really haven’t taken it too seriously, except for a couple of incidents of witch-hunts which… oh, right. Those were Puritans, not the Church of England.
Otherwise, I think it was only a big deal when Henry VIII had to tell the Pope to go fuck himself so that he could get divorced, and then the monarchs lost interest after that because it was all so boring. So they foisted it off on various Archbishops and really only used the Church anymore for big, fancy weddings, funerals, investitures, or coronations.
So, here’s the refresher. Guy Fawkes — and remember, that was probably pronounced more like the name “Guido” with the “do” chopped off (Guido was his name while he fought with the Spanish) than like the modern English name Guy — was really hoping to kill the king and restore a Catholic monarch to the English throne.
Although where they would have found one at that time was a puzzlement. Ironically, the last Catholic monarch of England was the aforementioned James II, grandson of James I, who started out in the Church of England but after spending time in France converted, around 1668 or so, about a century after his grandfather was born.
Most likely, he got a little pushy over the concept of the Divine Rights of Kings and Parliament pushed back. He was deposed in the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which deposed him without need for execution, putting the very protestant and Dutch Willian and Mary of Orange on the throne.
Mary II, wed to that William of Orange, was the daughter of James II, so it was a somewhat legit line of succession. But this was also about the point when Parliament put their feet down and said, “You know what? Succession is no longer going to depend upon who fucks whom. We’re going to start making some rules here.”
But, again, we’re losing Guy Fawkes here. And the point of reminding you all about him again now is that he was no hero, not by any stretch of the imagination. He wanted to blow shit up in order to impose his personal religion on the existing government (which believed very differently) and that is always, always wrong.
If he were around today, Fawkes would be tossing bombs at abortion clinics, or walking suicide vests into mosques or synagogues full of women and children, or beating LGBTQ+ people to death in dark alleys for shits and giggles, or sitting in the House of Commons and supporting armed insurrection, or sitting in the House of Lords and blocking every bit of legislation meant to help people outside of the 1%, or figuring out in statehouses how to make it harder and harder for people of color and college students to actually get to the polls and vote while not also gerrymandering their districts so that they were ridiculously outnumbered anyway.
TL;DR: Fawkes, like V, was not a fucking hero. There are reasons he’s still burned in effigy and should be until time immemorial. he tried to destroy a government because it conflicted with his own, personal religion.
He should have just moved to Spain and stayed there. But he didn’t, and to this day he should be a Pariah. So, this Friday night, why not take your own Guy Fawkes effigy out into a field, invite some friends and (after getting a permit, of course) burn that fucker down and explain why?
The Fifth of November,
That asshole, sans reason, that twat
I know of no reason
Why twat-hunting season
Should ever be forgot
Never forget. Religious fanaticism and hatred is one of the most destructive forces in the world, and we need to do what we can to stop it. Even if it’s wearing a very cleverly marketed corporate plastic mask.
Oh, wait. Let me take that back. especially if. That’s the important part here.