← back

Who is Guy Fawkes?

January 23rd, 2022

Today, I read an article from a political science dated 1964 about the Metropolitan Police Act of 1832. I will add that it was a stupefyingly boring read.

But something caught my eye: the article referenced a riot occuring on "Guy Fawkes Day." What did that mean? Was it a holiday? Why have I never heard of this before? And, crucially, who is Guy Fawkes?

Some googling was done. In 1605, a man named Guy (he also went by Guido) Fawkes attempted to assassinate the king of England by blowing up a building. An informant tipped off the government and they arrested him the day before his plan, caught red handed with 36 barrels of gunpowder. Guy was executed shortly after.

But what's funny is the holiday. On November 5th—the day of the failed plot—British citizens began celebrating Guy's death by burning effigies. Eventually the 5th became a nationally recognized "day of thanksgiving." And even now, British people still light bonfires with their families, centuries later, to celebrate the death of Guy Fawkes.

See, this is what I don't understand. First, it's a little vindictive to celebrate the death of a criminal, even if the crime was bad. I get that it's an old holiday but somehow this feels like the equivalent of, like, having a day to celebrate when Mussolini died. Perhaps that has to do with my second confusion, which is why on earth, if Guy Fawkes is a bad dude, the British are naming a national holiday after him. Like, shouldn't we be naming the holiday after the king who didn't die? I just feel like Guy Fawkes gets a pretty sweet deal from the whole thing.

Except for the bonfires. I still have trouble seriously believing people in the modern era are just like "Well honey, let's get the bonfire set up on this day, November 5th!" Shouldn't people put two and two together and realizing they're celebrating the time a terrorist from the 17th century was burned alive?

It's very idiosyncratic.