Remember, remember, the Fifth of November. Today is an important British holiday: Guy Fawkes Day, commemorating the foiling of the 1605 plot hatched by a group of Catholic conspirators to blow up the House of Lords upon the occasion of the opening of Parliament, when King James I and his family were in attendance. Even though the plot was led by a zealous English Catholic named Robert Catesby, his accomplice Guy Fawkes somehow became more identified with the conspiracy. The unsuccessful plot (and its holiday), along with the earlier attack of the Spanish Armada and the machinations of the later Stuarts, fueled English anti-Catholicism for quite some time.
Two early seventeenth-century broadsides from the British Museum: the Conspirators and their fate; God points out Guy Fawkes as he approaches the House of Lords.
The Gunpowder Plot (along with its Day and Bonfire Night) have strict historical associations but have also been used in more metaphorical (and secular) ways in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, to raise a collective patriotic awareness of any attack on Britain. No one could have been more threatening to Great Britain than Napoleon in the early nineteenth century, and so here he is strung up alongside “Guy Faux” in a Thomas Rowlandson print from 1813.
Two centuries later, Guy Fawkes seems to have evolved from a seditious conspirator against Britain to a rebellious liberator for Britain, or at least the British people (and even the global 99% around the world). This remarkable development is largely due to the V for Vendetta comic books in general and 2006 film in particular, which broadcast the “Guy Fawkes mask” around the world and made it a symbol of popular movements. Guy Fawkes masks are clearly playing a prominent role in Occupy London, and not only on Guy Fawkes Day. It certainly is an interesting time to be a historian!
Occupy London protesters with their masks in October, from the Time Out blog and Ed London Photography.