On this day in 1606, Guy Fawkes (or Guido Fawkes) was executed for plotting against the British Parliament and King James I. Fawkes and his gang planned to assassinate the King and restore a Catholic monarch by blowing up the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament, attended by the monarch. The group leased a cellar beneath the House of Lords and Fawkes stockpiled gunpowder there. The authorities were alerted by an anonymous letter, and arrested Fawkes on 5th November 1605, who was questioned and tortured and finally revealed their plans.
Fawkes was hanged on 31st January. His failure has been commemorated in England ever since when every 5th November, people gather to burn his effigy and observe a fireworks display.
Recently, Fawkes has become something of an international emblem for political protestors. The ‘Guy Fawkes mask’ is worn by members of the group Anonymous and was a regular image of the Occupy protests. Fawkes was indeed a radical in his day, and it is interesting to see the resurgence of interest in him. He has become a symbol of the ability of the populace to affect political change, albeit his plan was rather violent and drastic. However it begs the question, would he be remembered this way if he had been successful? Even as a failure, he was still traditionally a hated figure. Bonfire Night now is about fireworks and sparklers but it was originally a day to celebrate his failure. Today we even still burn his effigy, though with less malice than in the past. Had he been successful he would have been an even more hated figure in the UK. Regicide is a grave crime, and had he succeeded he would have destroyed one of London’s most treasured landmarks: the Houses of Parliament. I generally support the actions of the protestors, but I do have to wonder what they would be wearing had Fawkes been successful. It seems it was his failure that makes him an icon, and had he succeeded he would not be upheld in this way.