Know Your Fucking History: Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot

The mythos surrounding Guy Fawkes has gotten so diluted that even your average English hooligan probably can’t offer any more descriptive an explanation of the events surrounding the Gunpowder Plot than “Well he was this guy that tried to blow some stuff up, but didn’t, and now we have these sweet masks we wear and HOLY SHIT IS THAT A PILE OF STICKS. I WANT TO LIGHT THAT PILE OF STICKS ON FIRE. SOMEONE GET ME FIFTY BEERS I NEED TO LIGHT THAT PILE OF STICKS ON FIRE.”

The truth of the matter is, Guy Fawkes was both as involved and as uninvolved in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 as you think he was. He wasn’t exactly the brains behind the failed operation: that honor fell to Robert Catesby, known affectionately to his friends as “Ol’ Protestant Hatin’ Bob.” In fact, Fawkes was only one of a whopping thirteen men involved in the conspiracy. But he was the poor jerk caught literally holding a match near a bunch of barrels of gunpowder and kindling and wood. Circumstantial evidence, sure, but Fawkes wasn’t quick enough on his feet to suggest the possible albeit unlikely scenario that he was just walking the cellar corridors to check on his army of trained rats. So, arrested he was.

But first, a bit of the Gunpowder Plot, explained to you as if you were five.

In the sixteen hundreds in England, the two main religions really hated each other. The Protestants thought the Catholics were stupid pee-heads, and the Catholics thought the Protestants had poop for brains. Unfortunately for the Catholics, King James I was a Protestant, and didn’t want to give Catholics in England the freedom to worship freely or hand out “I Heart Pope Paul V!” buttons to passersby. This made a few Catholics in England super bummed. A guy named Robert Catesby thought it would be a good idea to gather twelve of his closest Catholic pals and try to blow up King James while the State Opening of England’s Parliament was going on in the House of Lords. After that they planned to put his nine year old daughter Elizabeth (who was apparently a Catholic, if nine year olds can really be anything other than annoying) in charge of the country, because I guess that seemed like a good idea. Get your finger out of your nose, I’m trying to tell a story.

Anyway, Guy Fawkes was one of the Catholic dudes that Catesby wrangled to help him with his plan to blow up one of the most powerful kings in Europe. Soon some of Catesby’s bros remembered that, oh, there are actually going to be a few Catholics in there as well. One of them, with the ridiculous title of Baron Monteagle, got an anonymous letter warning him that something real bad was going to happen at Parliament, possibly, who knows, and that he should stay away on the day of the State Opening, probably, maybe, wink wink nudge nudge. Monteagle told this guy and this guy told that guy and that guy told the KING. OOPS. So James was like, “Guys, go check below Parliament. See if there’s any blowey-uppey stuff down there.”

And guess what! There was! And also some idiot holding a match! So Fawkes was arrested, he and his pals were executed I mean sent to live with their Aunts on a farm, and England was free to hate Catholics something fierce for the next couple hundred years. Hooray!

My point is, although Guy* currently shoulders the brunt of the historical responsibility for the failed attempt on the King’s life, he was far from being the a lone conspirator.  But his name alone remains popularly attached to the plot, probably because of the intrigue and drama of having nabbed the guy who was about to flip the proverbial switch. Guy simply drew the short straw, so to speak, and had to sit on thirty six barrels of explosives holding a slow-burning match. I like to think that decision making process went something like this:

Catesby: Okay, we’ve all sworn our oaths of secrecy on the prayer book, we’ve all taken the Eucharist, we’ve all practiced the secret Assassination Plot Handshake a few times, let’s get this planning started! Keyes, you’re watching my house where we’re storing all this explodey shit, right?

Keyes: On it, boss.

Catesby: And Percy, you’re hauling all of it into the Undercroft tomorrow night, right?

Percy: Where there’s a wheelbarrow, there’s a way.

Catesby: Bitchin’! Okay I guess that just means we need someone to send down there to light all of it, and hopefully maybe but probably not escape in time to not also get blown up. Any takers?


Catesby: Guy?

Guy: (picking nose) Sir?

Catesby: You wanna…maybe…do that for us?

Guy: Do what, sir? (eats booger)

Catesby: Have you even been…look, nevermind. Just take this match and light the fuse when we give you the signal, okay? I promise nothing bad will come of this.

Guy: (brandishing match) FOR SPAIN!

Catesby: England, Guy.

Guy: FOR ENGLAND!

Thanks to seventeenth century England’s fair and totally objective judicial system, Guy was tried and found guilty under the “You Better Not Try to Kill the King, You Hear Me?” Law. Guy and seven of his fellow conspirators were to be, I kid you not, drawn backwards behind a horse until they were nearly dead, then have their genitals cut off, eyes burnt out, bowels and hearts and heads removed, and whatever remained would be displayed so they may become “prey for the fowls of the air.”

After watching the six other men endure the aforementioned fate, Guy rightly said “fuck that noise” and tried to jump off the gallows, breaking his neck. They quartered him anyway and strung up his parts as warning to potential conspirators, because I guess the five second rule applies to dead political scapegoats as well as Cheez-Its you drop on the floor: it’s still good.

An Act of Parliament designated November 5th as a day of remembrance, and although the act only stood until 1859, cities throughout Britain still celebrate Guy Fawkes Night by lighting fireworks and bonfires. The Edenbridge Bonfire Society in Edenbridge, Kent even chooses one celebrity a year to take the place of Guy Fawkes to be burned in effigy. This year they’re burning Lance Armstrong, because I mean wouldn’t you? If you could?

Guy Fawkes: Innocent fall guy with a severely ill-deserved reputation? Not really. Singular mastermind behind a failed assassination that could have changed the course of Western history? Nope, not that either.

Thankfully, lest we should forget the events that transpired that fateful night, we have a handy nineteenth century nursery rhyme to remind us. “Remember remember the fifth of November! The gunpowder treason and plot! I doo bee da doo bee sha doo boo mer herr doo should ever be forgot!”

-Katie Sisneros

*Who HILARIOUSLY went by “Guido Fawkes” when he was fighting for Catholic Spain in the Dutch Low Countries. What can I say? The bro didn’t make wise choices.

Previously in the Know Your Fucking History series:

The Forbidden Fruit

Columbus and the Flat Earth Myth

  1. sold24 reblogged this from thetangential
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    No comment except this one. It’s interesting how little we sometimes know about the history of our own holidays, how...
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    This is pretty much what I want to hear a child tell me when I question their knowledge of bonfire night every time I go...
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    This is so great. I can’t.
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    I did my best to censor. Sorry it still made me giggle. History rocks.
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