I take a lot of pride in the history of Britain, but one of the main things that baffles me is that year on year every 5th of November we celebrate the life of a terrorist…although burning his effigy isn’t exactly a glorious tribute.
In recent years Guy Fawkes has become a folk hero and his image is a used as a symbol for anti government feelings and a voice of civil discontent. Works such as Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta have romanticised Guy Fawkes as a freedom fighter trying to throw of the yoke of a totalitarian autocracy. In the Graphic Novel the eponymous V takes up the mantle of Guy Fawkes in order to overthrow a fascist dictatorship that has swamped Britain in an almost Orwellian dystopia. It is worth mentioning that one of the most prevalent images associated with Guy Fawkes now is the mask of V from V for Vendetta and is now even the symbol of online hacktivists and vigilante group Anonymous.
But here’s the rub Guy Fawkes wasn’t actually anti government, he wasn’t even anti monarchy, he was just anti King James the 1st. The reason that Guy Fawkes chose Westminster Palace was fairly simple, firstly it was accessible from the river, secondly the labyrinth of cellars provided a decent hiding place and thirdly it was a place he knew the king would be. The initial bombing was planned for the state opening of parliament an event in public during which the king would have to be in attendance and stay for the duration. Guy Fawkes actually had a great admiration for the work of government and the only reason he was caught was that he was stupid enough to warn a member of the House of Lords about what was going to happen. And the rest is history.
So how has Guy Fawkes gone on to become the symbol of anti government feeling? Well blowing up parliament will do that. But in this day and age Guy Fawkes is seen as the last honest man to enter parliament (a claim which I find highly insulting). I think that sometimes though it’s nice to have a reminder of what people are capable of when they are unhappy with the status quo and whilst I don’t agree with his cause and certainly don’t agree with his methods I think that Guy Fawkes does symbolise that sometimes the actions of those in charge need to be questioned and that positions of power are only as stable as the people that put them there.