Will the real Guy Fawkes please stand…

guy fawkes, james i
Nineteenth-century depiction of the Gunpowder Plot’s discovery.

Yesterday November 5th all England and the countries once under British rule celebrated Guy Fawkes day. This is the day marking the failed attempt in 1605 by a small group of conspirators whose plan was to blow up Parliament and King James I.  The failed attempt is known as the Gunpowder Plot. I have always been curious as to why this is  such an important day to commemorate and as a Catholic just a bit curious as to who was this Guy Fawkes.

All  one has to do is google his name and a wealth of material pops up stating, as fact, that indeed he was part of “A small group of angry Catholics, fed up with ongoing persecution at the hands of the Protestant monarchy, hatched an elaborate plot to blow King James I and his government to smithereens.”  He was a notorious traitor, a Catholic, who wanted to replace the throne with a Catholic monarchy.  This incredible act of treason for which most of the conspirators either died or were first heinously tortured and then executed is a day of fireworks and celebrations.  Wow!

In fact, even the government gets in the “fun” for since 1928 to this day, on the opening of the Houses of Parliament, the Yeomen of the Guard search by  lantern the Parliament cellars before the state opening.

Beefeaters carrying out the Ceremonial Search

The night of fireworks follows with the burning of straw dummies of Guy Fawkes (along with a few modern politicians).  To the world today Guy Fawkes represents “notorious treason.”

But is this the whole story? What part did Guy Fawkes play in the Gunpowder plot?

As I continued my search for details, much to my delight I found a connection of Shakespeare’s Macbeth to the Gunpowder Plot.  Shakespeare wrote each line of each play deliberately and pointedly, often adding references to events going on in is time.  “To commemorate the discovery of the heinous scheme, King James had a medal created picturing a snake hiding amongst flowers. Lo and behold, we find a nod to the medal right in the play when Lady Macbeth tells her husband to look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under it. “

“Faith, here’s an equivocator, that could swear in both the scales against either scale; who committed treason enough for God’s sake, yet could not equivocate to heaven. O, come in, equivocator. (Macbeth Act3.2.9-12).”

In these lines we see the reference to Father Henry Garnet, a Jesuit priest who was hung for supposedly hiding his knowledge of the plot. “When Father Garnet finally confessed, he insisted that his previous perjury was not really perjury because he lied for God’s sake. For this bit of spin doctoring he became known as the great “equivocator” and was promptly hanged. Sure enough, in Act 2, when Macbeth’s Porter wonders what kind of people would enter the gates of hell,” he recites the lines above.

The Gunpowder Plot is still the subject of controversy and anti-Catholic feelings. To get the full view of this historic event, there is a fabulous read,  The Gunpowder Plot, written in the 50’s by Hugh Ross Williamson. This book explains in detail, with tons of primary source references, what happened almost 400 years ago in England.  The bibliography alone, at 13 full pages, is a treasure trove of well researched documents on the subject.  It is well worth the read and told in an engaging style.  There is no doubt that this is a fascinating true story, full of intrigue and suspense…involving heroic actions, cowardly politics and unwavering faith! You can meet the real Guy Fawkes literally, in person, though this amazing book.

The book now out of print is available here as a pdf:

http://www.strobertbellarmine.net/books/Williamson–GunpowderPlot.pdf