Who Was Guy Fawkes?

[Note, all page references refer to V for Vendetta.]

As we all know, the mask that V dons is supposed to be of Guy Fawkes.

As we all know, we first meet our hero on the night of the fifth of November 1997—otherwise known as Guy Fawkes Day.  It’s a Wednesday.

As we all know, V recites part of the the traditional rhyme about the man that night before (or, while) blowing up parliament (p. 14).

As we all know, exactly one year later, the fifth of November 1998, V blows up two more buildings, then goes on the radio and describes Guy Fawkes as “a great citizen” who “made a most significant contribution to our common culture” (pp. 184–187).

We know all of this.  But…

Who was Guy Fawkes?

Guy Fawkes, also known as Guido Fawkes and born on 13 April 1570, was a Catholic extremist who had been previously employed as a distinguished member of the military.  He is most famous for the part he played in a conspiracy to blow up Parliament.

According to one website, Fawkes

was recruited by disgruntled Catholics who plotted to blow up Parliament and kill King James I.  James had worked to institute a fine for people who refused to attend Anglican services, adding to the oppression Catholics already suffered in England.  One of the conspirators rented a house which shared part of it’s cellar with Parliament, and the group filled the basement with gunpowder.  Fawkes was chosen to start the fire, and was supposed to escape in the fifteen minutes before the explosion; if he could not escape, he was quite ready to die in so holy a cause.”  One of the conspirators had a friend in Parliament; he warned the friend not to attend the opening on the day choosen for the plot, and the paranoid King James immediately ferreted out the plot.  Fawkes was caught in the basement with the match, and was tortured.  He was executed directly across from Parliament on January 31, 1606.

In 2002, Guy Fawkes was voted the 30th greatest Briton in a poll conducted by the BBC.  Nevertheless, this poll should be taken with a grain of salt, for, as we all know, the English philosopher John Locke was the greatest Briton, but he doesn’t appear anywhere on the list.  Lord Acton also doesn’t appear anywhere on the list, nor Auberon Herbert.  Now that’s a pure travesty.