Saturday 5 November 2022

in quintum novembris (10. 272)

Whilst not the mastermind behind the failed regicide and plan to blow up the House of Lords during the opening ceremonies of Parliament on this day in 1605 and restore the Catholic monarchy, Guy Fawkes has become the most well-known of the plotters—having been caught red-handed as it were guarding thirty-six barrels of gunpowder stored in a rented sub-cellar below Westminster, after authorities were tipped off by an anonymous letter sent to the Catholic member William Parker, Baron Monteagle, warning him not to attend and retire himself to the countryside that day. Gruesomely tortured the following day after his capture for the names of his co-conspirators, whom had all fled for Europe, Fawkes, who employed the nom-de-guerre of Guido while fighting as a mercenary for Spain during the Eighty Years War and now preferred to be called John Johnson, became the focus of pubic rage with Londoners encouraged to observe a thanksgiving for the “joyful day of deliverance” when the king escaped assassination by lighting bonfires—provided that “this testemonye of joy be carefull done without any danger or disorder”—and the burning of effigies, or Guys as the ragged strawmen came to be called. This Wanderwort was used in the American colonies but lost its proppish and pejorative and even specifically male sense, and reimported was a general way to refer to people. In contemporary times, other figures are subject to being burned in effigy and Fawkes is reformed and adopted as a figure of activism, anarchy and anonymity.