I must tell you that on the day I started this blog a couple years back, all that I knew about Guy Fawkes was... um... nothing, actually.
Today, I know a little bit more about the holiday, though I still don't know why you would want to have a holiday for such a man. It is as if we in the U.S. were to have a Benedict Arnold Day, or, more to the point of bombing government buildings, a Bill Ayers Day. Now, if you were to have a "Burning Guy Fawkes in Effigy Day," that I would understand. I am going to use this space today to tell you what I've learned about Guy Fawkes.
First, a couple of really cool words I have added to my vocabulary:
Recusant: a person who refuses to submit to an authority or to comply with a regulation. Primarily refers to historic Roman Catholics in England who refused to attend the Church of England.
Undercroft: a basement or cellar under a building, often bricked and with vaulted ceilings. Used for storage, of, say, gunpower or like that.
Guy Fawkes (1570-1606) was born in York. His father died when he was eight years old and his mother then married a recusant Catholic. Fawkes himself converted to Catholicism and emigrated to Spain. Where there were a LOT of Catholic folk.
As often happens with religion, Spain fought the 80 Years War with the Protestant Dutch just because, and Guy (called "Guido" by the Spanish) took part and became a fairly knowledgeable soldier. I don't know how long the war lasted. I'm guessing Guido was a demolition man, but I don't know that for sure. Somewhere along the way I'll bet he learned to speak Spanish. According to another unreliable source (Wikipedia being the first) it is said that when he was about to be drawn and quartered, he shouted, "Ole! Ole!" just before he jumped. Only this source had two upside down exclamation marks and mine doesn't.
Sometime after his military discharge, Guido, having fallen in with a bad crowd, thought it would be a good idea to return to England and kill King James I. As you do.
Security being not quite what it is today in our airports, the conspirators were able to rent some storage space in the undercroft under Parliament. "Hire," I mean. They have since installed motion detectors and retired security guards down there. But, back then, it didn't occur to anyone that renting out space under Parliament to people who frothed at the mouth was anything unusual.
Quickly, the protestant-hating renegades moved in a couple megatons of explosives and chose Guido F. to guard the stuff until D-Day.
Someone who either loved James or hated Guido sent an anonymous letter to the authorities, though, and in the early morning of 5 November, 1605, the coppers came arrestingly, and read the hapless G.F. his rights.
"You have the right to be tortured until you confess." And, before long, Guido broke. As you do.
Yes, Guido broke from the torture (no pun intended) and the hanging/quarter-drawing was scheduled for January next.
Well, getting more or less right to the point, on 31 January 1606, standing on the gallows and a-waitin' his hanging, no doubt freezing his treasonous arse in the January breeze, contemplating the agony that was awaiting him at the drawing and quartering party which was scheduled after the half-hanging (partial strangulation, actually) and came to the obvious conclusion: "Fuck this!" and jumped off the scaffold and broke his neck. By breaking his neck, he thus avoided hanging and... um... breaking his neck. He showed them.
But, truly - and there is no real reason not to throw in a tidbit of truth here - back then they didn't hang you like we think of hanging. No, when that many people show up for the show, they drug it out more. So instead of dropping you with a rope around your neck, they slowly RAISED you with a rope around your neck. When you turned purple enough, they took the rope off and brought you back to consciousness, then they had four horses yank your arms and legs off your torso. Then you just sort of lay there looking up at the sky, blinking rapidly, yearning for some pain killers. I assume. Piking your head was then optional. This was supposed to act as a deterrent for any would-be traitors in the viewing audience. It probably did.
Since Guy Fawkes was to be hanged and then drawn and quartered, of course the British celebrate this event with bonfires and fireworks. Go figure.
You'd think they'd hold horse-pulling contests or something.