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Remember remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot...
(Old childrens nursery rhyme)

The mask of Guy Fawkes pictured here has become "an international symbol for rebellion and anonymity." It has been spotted at various protests worldwide and is the face of a hacker group named Anonymous. Most Americans associate the mask with the movie, 'V for Vendetta' but its history is older than that.

Guy Fawkes (13 April 1570 - 31 January 1606) was the only son of Catholics Edward Fawkes and Edith Blake, and lived his childhood in Farnley, England.

He was described at this time as a man "of excellent good natural parts, very resolute and universally learned", and was "sought by all the most distinguished in the Archduke's camp for nobility and virtue". Tesimond also describes him as "a man of great piety, of exemplary temperance, of mild and cheerful demeanor, an enemy of broils and disputes, a faithful friend, and remarkable for his punctual attendance upon religious observance".

Old painting of Guy Fawkes, artist unknown.

It is believed that a plot 'for reliefe of the Catholique cause' was hatched between Guy and Thomas Wintour. In May of 1604, Guy Fawkes met with Wintour and three other conspirators at an inn called the Duck and Drake in the fashionable Strand district of London, and agreed to blow up the British Parliament. This has become known as the Gunpowder Conspiracy.

About March 1605, the conspirators managed to rent a cellar which was situated directly beneath the Parliament building. Over the next eight months, hey managed to sneak in enough barrels of gunpowder to fill the cellar, and hid them beneath iron bars. Because of his munitions experience, Fawkes was given the task of guarding the cellar until the planned detonation. By November, they were ready and the co-conspirators, all except for Guy, left for France.

On November 5, 1605, the Lord Chamberlain, Thomas Howard, and several guards discovered the gunpowder and Guy was arrested. King James ordered his torture which led to his eventual confession on November 9th. This led to the arrest of all of the conspirators.

The conspirators were tried on Monday January 26. 1606 at Westminster Hall, found guilty and hanged on Friday January 31.

David Jardine, in his book "A Narrative of the Gunpowder Plot" (1857), says that "according to the accounts of him, he is not to be regarded as a mercenary ruffian, ready for hire to do any deed of blood; but as a zealot, misled by misguided fanaticism, who was, however, by no means destitute of piety or humanity."

Celebrating the fact that King James I had survived the attempt on his life, and that the Parliament Building had not been destroyed, Londoners lit bonfires. Several months later the 'Observance of 5th November Act' enforced an annual public day of thanksgiving for the plot's failure. Gradually, Gunpowder Treason Day became Guy Fawkes Day with Guy Fawkes burned in effigy and people wearing "Guy Fawkes" masks.

While Britons still remember the 5th of November, after 400 years Fawkes has changed from traitor to folk hero. As some British people say, "Guy Fawkes was the only man ever to enter Parliament with honest intentions."

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