Remember, remember! The Fifth of November, the Gunpowder Treason and plot;
I know of no reason why the Gunpowder Treason should ever be forgot!
So the poem starts that commemorates the Gun Powder Plot of 1605 and Guy Fawkes, a member of the Gunpowder Plot, was arrested while guarding explosives the plotters had placed beneath the House of Lords.
November 5th – which this year falls on a Saturday – commemorates the failure of the November 1605 Gunpowder Plot by a gang of Roman Catholic activists led by Warwickshire-born Robert Catesby.
When Protestant King James I acceded to the throne, English Catholics had hoped that the persecution they had felt for over 45 years under Queen Elizabeth I would finally end, and they would be granted the freedom to practice their religion.
When this didn’t transpire, a group of conspirators resolved to assassinate the King and his ministers by blowing up the Palace of Westminster during the state opening of Parliament.
Guy (Guido) Fawkes, from York, and his fellow conspirators, having rented out a house closed to the Houses of Parliament, managed to smuggle 36 barrels of gunpowder into a cellar of the House of Lords – enough to completely destroy the building.
(Physicists from the Institute of Physics later calculated that the 2,500kg of gunpowder beneath Parliament would have obliterated an area 500 metres from the centre of the explosion).
The scheme began to unravel when an anonymous letter was sent to William Parker, the 4th Baron Monteagle, warning him to avoid the House of Lords.
The letter (which could well have been sent by Lord Monteagle’s brother-in-law Francis Tresham), was made public and this led to a search of Westminster Palace in the early hours of November 5th.
Explosive expert Fawkes, who had been left in the cellars to set off the fuse, was subsequently caught when a group of guards discovered him at the last moment.
Fawkes was arrested, sent to the Tower of London and tortured until he gave up the names of his fellow plotters.
Lord Monteagle was rewarded with £500 plus £200 worth of lands for his service in protecting the crown.
That night has been celebrated in England on November 5th as Guy Fawkes Night or Bonfire Night ever since with bonfires and masks inspired by Guy Fawkes’ image. The holiday, the poem and, especially, the mask was made popular again by the 2006 motion picture “V for Vendetta.” Set in the future, “V” is an anonymous masked revolutionary working to destroy the fascist, totalitarian government with elaborate, violent, and intentionally theatrical campaign that kills the leaders of the government and inspires the people to take back self-rule.
The mask was adopted by the group Anonymous whose members wore the mask during a 2008 protest of the Church of Scientology. The group has been called “freedom fighters,” “digital Robin Hoods,” “a cyber lynch-mob” and “cyber terrorists.” Whatever you call them they were named of Time‘s “100 most influential people in the world for 2012.
It also became a symbol of the Occupy Wall Street movement that raised the awareness of the world to social and economic inequality, greed, corruption and the undue influence of corporations on government, especially Wall Street. Their slogan “We Are the 99%” became the probably the best known phrase of the protest and the mask one of the most recognized symbols of the movement next to the dancer on the Wall Street bull.