Guy Fawkes, hero or villain?

posted by Eivind on March 4, 2012, at 4:41 pm

guy-fawkes_thumb10Last weekend, I wrote my review of V for Vendetta. I take my writing process very seriously so I did a significant bit of research about the historical background for the Gunpowder Plot, the historical event from which the movie takes its inspiration. This brief post features some historical background and some reflections towards the end.

In 1605, a group of Catholic zealots led by Robert Catesby had grown weary of being prosecuted in Protestant England. They planned to stage a coup by blowing up the House of Lords at the state opening of the Parliament, at which point everybody who was somebody in England was gathered in the same room. The plot failed because Catholic nobleman Lord Monteagle received an anonymous warning letter, outlining what was about to happen.

This letter reached King James I and on the morning of November 5, 1605, mere hours before the House of Lords would convene, Guy Fawkes was caught. He was found waiting with 36 barrels of gunpowder in the vault that had recently been vacated directly under the House. Thus began a long tradition for the English, in which on every November 5 the capture of Guy and the continued rule of King James I is celebrated.

But in doing research on Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot, I become confused about how he is actually perceived. “Guy Fawkes – the only man to ever enter the House of Parliaments with honest intentions” is a tongue in cheek statement that I’ve come across several times. And myriad people describe him as their hero. I suspect they do so less from resonance with his Catholic cause and more from resonance with his willingness to fight the power.

In the movie review, I go into the abdication syndrome, an archetypal dynamic in which people’s “inner throne” gets inhabited by outside forces. A person suffering from this basically surrenders control of his life to another. I observe that many people today have surrendered their throne, refraining from the undeniable stress of accepting full responsibility for their lives. The consequence is that they become vulnerable to the influence of demagogues and propagandists, be they politicians, ideologues, economists or cynical marketers. Maybe instead of truly taking charge of their life, they would rather sit back and criticize their puppet masters for doing a bad job. Are these the people who idolize Guy? Does thinking about him offer a temporary reprieve of some sort?

And I wonder what true feelings are hidden in the English ritual of celebrating November 5. Is it merely tradition? Or is it genuine pride for the Crown and country? No matter – the fact that many English celebrate and others name Guy Fawkes as their hero indicates that the polarization which is such a central theme in V for Vendetta may also be taking place here.

What are your thoughts on this? Is Guy Fawkes a hero or a villain?