Remember Remember the 5th of November

John Milton once penned a famous poem that begins:

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.

The poem of course refers to Guy Fawkes and his now infamous plot to blow up London’s Houses of Parliament on November 5th 1605.  Fawkes’s aim was to remove King James I from the throne, and restore Britain’s Catholic monarchy. Had he succeeded Guy Fawkes would have not only killed the entirety of London’s governing body, but also taken much of London and its citizens down with them. However, the plot was discovered by authorities and Guy Fawkes was arrested, tortured, tried, and executed. After that Guy Fawkes should have become a forgotten martyr or terrorist of history. And yet November 5th has become a recognized British holiday: Guy Fawkes Day.

In the four centuries since November 5,1605, Guy Fawkes Day has taken on different meanings, “attracting the support of different groups, at different times, and for different purposes. During the seventeenth century, it was a Protestant celebration of providential deliverance.” Under the Hanoverians, “it became an occasion for riot, disturbance, and displays of misrule” amongst the lower classes. Only “at the end of Queen Victoria’s reign, and on into the twentieth century” did bonfires and fireworks become popular ways to celebrate the holiday in England.[1]Artistic rendering of Guy Fawkes

Today Guy Fawkes is remembered by even more than just a November 5th holiday.  The figure of Guy Fawkes has inspired Alan Moore’s novel V for Vendetta, a 2006 film with Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving, and the film’s distinct Guy Fawkes mask created by David Lloyd. In fact Guy Fawkes and his November 5th holiday, once only celebrated in England, has become an increasingly universal emblem used by anti-establishment protest groups throughout the international community.

The revolutionary tenor surrounding Guy Fawkes was used by supporters of the libertarian Ron Paul, an American politician in a very successful fundraising effort. Supporters of Ron Paul created a website called ThisNovember5th.com, which includes video clips of Ron Paul declaring statements such as, “The true patriot challenges the state when the state embarks on enhancing its power at the expense of the individual.”[2] On just one single day, November 5, 2007, the website, whose very URL name references Guy Fawkes and his plot, was able to raise more than $4.07 million for Ron Paul’s campaign.[3]

Protestors from the group Anonymous wearing Guy Fawkes masks. The group Anonymous, a leaderless hacker group responsible for online attacks and protests against governments and multimillion dollar corporations adopted the Guy Fawkes mask to protest the Church of Scientology in a movement called “Project Chanology.” In February of 2008 members of Anonymous donned Guy Fawkes masks and stood outside Church of Scientology Centers throughout the United States protesting the Church’s censorship and Internet policies. In addition, Anonymous members were also credited to disrupting the Church of Scientology’s online services and even making disturbing phone calls. [4]

More recently the mask of Guy Fawkes has been worn by supporters of the international “Occupy Movement” against politicians, banks, and financial institutions. From New York, Sydney, to Bucharest protestors wear the mask of Guy Fawkes as they stand outside their national financial centers protesting greed, corruption, and an increasing lack of accountability within financial and political sectors.

While use of the mask has increased, so have people’s opinions about what it truly represents. For some the mask has become a unifying “symbol of the movement against corporate and political greed” while for others it has become an abused symbol of “active terrorism.”[5] Indeed, the memory of Guy Fawkes has inspired a holiday and a mask that, for some, have become international symbols against political and financial tyranny. But, like all symbols Guy Fawkes Day has grown to acquire a meaning far greater, and perhaps far different, than what Guy Fawkes could have ever imagined.


[1] Cannadine, David. “Introduction: The Fifth of November Remembered and Forgotten.” Gunpowder Plots. London: Penguin Group, 2005. 1-6. Print.

[2] Kirkpatrick, David, D. “Guy Fawkes Day Helps Raise Millions for Paul.” New York Times 5 November 2007. Web.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Bilton, Nick. “Masked Protesters Aid Time Warner’s Bottom Line” New York Times. 28 August 2011. Web.

[5] Waites, Rosie. “V for Vendetta Masks: Who’s Behind Them?” BBC News: Magazine 20 October 2011. Web.

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About Christina John

Christina is a first year master’s student in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. She holds degrees in English & History from Chicago's DePaul University. Currently, she works as a Graduate Assistant at the International and Area Studies Library. She also works as an Alumni Relations & Special Events Intern for the Electrical and Computer Engineering Advancement Department. In the past she has worked in archives, museums, and the eclectic world of breakfast cafes. She is currently interested in non-traditional librarianship specifically how information science can be applied to benefit the fields of prospect research, fundraising analytics, community informatics, and knowledge management.

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