Guy Fawkes Day: What to Remember on the Fifth of November

Explore the brief history of how the national British holiday filled with bonfires, fireworks, and Guy Fawkes masks came to be.

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Guy Fawkes mask

Remember, remember the fifth of November. Sound familiar? You may have heard this quote from James McTeigue’s political action/sci-fi film, V for Vendetta (2005), starring Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving. If you’ve watched the film, then you’re probably familiar with the signature Guy Fawkes mask. (You might also recall the mask as the notorious Anonymous hacker group’s trademark).

The film was based on an 80s British comic book series written and illustrated by Alan Moore and David Lloyd. The storyline addresses multidimensional but very relevant concepts concerning the global political climate while incorporating exceptional dialogue, illustrations, and cinematography. Though the film and comics are purely fictional, these fascinatingly futuristic and dystopian interpretations initially pulled historical inspiration from the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.

V for Vendetta: Moore, Alan, Lloyd, David

On November 5th, 1605, a piously ambitious man with a knack for explosives, Guy Fawkes, and a group of English radical Catholics devised a plan to bomb the Houses of Parliament with the intent to assassinate King James I and other Parliament members.

Catholicism at the time was wrongly outlawed thanks the previous English monarch, Queen Elizabeth I. Hence, the Gunpowder Plot conspirators’ end-goal was to overthrow the government and reestablish religious tolerance of the Catholic church; their explosive plans, however, were blown because of an anonymous letter revealing the conspiracy. Spoiler alert: the plan ultimately failed.

The Gunpowder Plot painting by Ron Embleton.

Unfortunately for the poor old Guy (see what I did there), the king had him, along with the other members of the Gunpowder Plot, arrested, brutally tortured, and eventually executed for treason.

In the following year, Parliament marked November 5th as a national day of thanksgiving. Since then, many people in the United Kingdom continue to celebrate this 400-year-old cultural memory known as Guy Fawkes Day (a.k.a. Bonfire Night) by preparing popular dishes, hosting bonfires, burning effigies, or simply lighting up fireworks!

Happy Guy Fawkes Day! I hope you enjoyed this article. For more bookish content, click here.