Gun­pow­der, trea­son and a fa­mil­iar plot

For four cen­turies, Guy Fawkes has been the sym­bol of re­li­gious an­i­mos­ity... so, what’s re­ally changed?

Sunday News - - NEWS -

IF there’s one thing that his­tory can show us, it’s that hu­mans used to be way more in­sane.

Con­sider the true story of the man who for the last 412 years, has had to­day’s date named af­ter him.

Guy Fawkes was a 35-year-old dude who in 1605 was part of a plot to blow up the Bri­tish par­lia­ment, with the ex­press in­ten­tion of killing the king and as many MPs has pos­si­ble

But he wasn’t even the leader of the group. That was a charis­matic Catholic fig­ure named Robert Catesby. Robert Catesby Day doesn’t nearly have the same ring as Guy Fawkes Day, so per­haps it’s just as well Novem­ber 5 is named af­ter Fawkes.

Per­haps Fawkes earnt the hon­our be­cause he took on the riski­est job: light­ing the ex­plo­sives.

The group might have suc­ceeded but, in late Oc­to­ber, they’d writ­ten to Catholic MPs warn­ing them to stay away from Lon­don. One let­ter was made public, there was a po­lice search and, on Novem­ber 5, Fawkes was found with 36 bar­rels of gun­pow­der – enough to de­stroy the build­ing (although some ex­perts now think the ex­plo­sives had de­cayed and pos­si­bly wouldn’t have gone off).

Fawkes was tor­tured on the rack for four days, be­fore he narked on the other 12 men. And then they were all given pun­ish­ments that you’d have to say were a bit over the top.

Just for starters, Fawkes faced hav­ing his tes­ti­cles cut off and burnt be­fore his eyes. He’d then be dragged around by a horse, his head on the ground, be­fore hav­ing his heart and bow­els cut out, this head chopped off and his re­mains left out for the birds. Any­thing still avail­able af­ter all that would be quar­tered and sent to dif­fer­ent cor­ners of the coun­try as a warn­ing to other Catholics.

Wow. Back then, they re­ally didn’t muck around. That’s pretty com­pre­hen­sive.

No won­der Fawkes de­cided to take things into his own hands and leapt to his death from the gal­lows.

English me­dia have this week been re­veal­ing rarely known de­tails about his life. He was eight years old when his dad died. His mumthen mar­ried a Catholic and, when he was a teen, he con­verted – some­thing that was a life-risk­ing move in 17th cen­tury Britain. The Church of Eng­land was in charge, and, hav­ing no tol­er­ance for Ro­man Catholics, drove their ser­vices un­der­ground.

When Fawkes turned 21, he had gone to Europe to help Span­ish Catholics fight the Protes­tant Dutch in a war that lasted eight whole years.

Dur­ing this time Fawkes changed his first name to Guido, ap­par­ently be­cause it sounded more con­ti­nen­tal. He re­turned to Eng­land and was drawn into the Gun­pow­der Plot while work­ing as a foot­man for a wealthy fam­ily that Catesby had mar­ried into.

Such was the up­roar at the at­tempt to blow up par­lia­ment, that, be­fore the end of that Novem­ber, ‘‘Guy’’ had be­came a term of abuse for any­one con­sid­ered ugly or re­pul­sive. Over time that mean­ing has be­come blurred and, now, a bit hi­lar­i­ously, it’s just an­other slang word for a male.

Time, too, has changed how Guido Fawkes has been re­mem­bered – in 2002, he was even voted the 30th great­est-ever Bri­ton.

But, while the UK’s col­lec­tive mem­ory may have changed, the en­vi­ron­ment that led to that 17th cen­tury plot re­mains strangely fa­mil­iar.

Fawkes’ whole life un­folded dur­ing a time of hate be­tween re­li­gions. Through mod­ern eyes, the fact such prej­u­dice ex­isted, should be hard to imag­ine. But that hasn’t re­ally changed.

Time, too, has changed how Guido Fawkes has been re­mem­bered – in 2002, he was even voted the 30th great­estever Bri­ton.’

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