Wednesday is my night to cook dinner. But it is also a weekly opportunity for me to share some fantastic drivel—things you didn’t care you didn’t know—with you, dear reader.
FYI: I used to make dinner on Wednesday nights but, for scheduling reasons, had to switch to Tuesdays. I already had my Pinterest board, Another Wednesday Dinner, and I’ve grown rather fond of the title. “Another Wednesday or Tuesday Dinner” doesn’t really do it for me. And at this point I have more Wednesdays under my belt than Tuesdays, so “Another Tuesday Dinner” seems somewhat disingenuous. I guess it’s also disingenuous to keep calling them “Wednesday” dinners when I know they are on Tuesdays, but at least I have tradition to back me up. Sorry; this FYI is becoming TMI.
November 05 is Guy Fawkes Day. It is also known as Guy Fawkes Night, Bonfire Night, Fireworks Night, and (in some times and places) Pope Day. The holiday is always celebrated with fire, so some kind of flambé seemed like a good choice.
That’s all the cooking stuff…but at this point you are probably asking:
what is guy fawkes day?
(click more to find out!)
call me guido
a “guy” by any other name…
You could also call him “John Johnson” or “Agent Smith,” but I won’t go into that now.
Guy Fawkes was born in 1570 in York (the Olde one, of course). At the time, Catholicism was not very popular in England (c.f. the 1593 statute “An Act for restraining Popish recusants,” the first of several “Recusancy Acts” that imposed fines, property confiscation, and imprisonment on Catholics), but somehow Guy turned out Catholic.
In 1591, Fawkes sold off his inheritance and traveled to the continent to fight for Catholic Spain against the Dutch and the French. He became an alférez (junior officer) in the Spanish Army, and was on the cusp of captaincy by 1603. That year he adopted the Italian name “Guido” and sought support from the Spanish crown for a Catholic rebellion in England. Spain said “no, gracias.”
A frustrated Fawkes found a friend in Robert Catesby, an English Catholic who assembled a posse of Popish pals with the intent of assassinating the Protestant King James. The first five conspirators met in May of 1604 at an inn called the Duck and Drake. They decided to blow up the Parliament House with gunpowder, wiping out the King and his government in dramatic fashion. They leased an unused undercroft (i.e. a filthy basement) underneath the House of Lords, stuffed it full of gunpowder, and concealed it all under piles of firewood and coal. Parliament was to reconvene on November 5, 1605, at which time a Guy known as Guido would light the fuse and escape across the Thames.
Things didn’t go quite as planned. By October, 1605, thirteen conspirators were involved, and at least one of them didn’t like the idea of Catholic collateral damage. On October 26, an anonymous letter was received by Lord Monteagle, warning him to avoid the Parliament. Word got back to the conspirators, who decided to go ahead and blow up Parliament as planned. Word also got back to the King, who decided to go ahead and search the undercroft below the House of Lords. And so Guy Fawkes was discovered in the wee hours of November 5, hiding in the undercroft with 60 barrels of gunpowder, a long fuse, and an unlit match.
Fawkes gave his name as John Johnson and was first interrogated by members of the King’s Privy Chamber, where he remained defiant. When asked by one of the lords what he was doing in possession of so much gunpowder, Fawkes answered that his intention was “to blow you Scotch beggars back to your native mountains.” … Fawkes admitted his intention to blow up the House of Lords, and expressed regret at his failure to do so. His steadfast manner earned him the admiration of King James, who described Fawkes as possessing “a Roman resolution”. |from Wikipedia
Even Romans get tortured, however. KJ ordered that the torture be light at first, but John Johnson/Guido/Guy Fawkes proved a tough nut to crack. Things got downright brutal, and eventually the King’s men got the names of most of the conspirators. Guy Fawkes, along with seven others, was convicted of High Treason, sentenced to be hanged and then drawn and quartered. I won’t go into the specifics of what that all entrails, but you can read about it here if you like. It’s gross.
This engraving captures some of the gory details. The caption at the top translates:
exacted from the eight conspirators in Britain,
on January 30 & 31 Old Style, 1606,
actually exacted in separate groups of four,
but nevertheless on account of the very same cause of Punishment,
depicted in this illustration together.
Indeed, upon further examination, I noticed that all eight conspirators were not only depicted, but numbered for ease of identification:
Hunting around this illustration, looking for all eight numbers, reminded me of those Martin Handford books from my youth. Each two-page spread had huge crowds and tons of detail, but there was only one question that really mattered: Where’s Waldo?
Similarly, Visscher’s engraving has huge crowds, tons of detail, and all eight conspirators…but there’s only one question that really matters: Where’s Guido?
evolution of a fire festival
creeping popery, the whore of babylon, and guy faux
On November 5, 1605 (the same day Fawkes was discovered in the undercroft), Londoners celebrated the King’s deliverance with bonfires. November 5th was declared a national holiday, and became widely known as “Gunpowder Treason Day.” The celebration had some anti-Catholic undertones from the start, but things got nasty in 1625 when King James’s son, the future Charles I, married the Catholic Henrietta Maria of France. On November 5, 1625, effigies of the Pope and the devil were publicly burned: the beginning of a sordid tradition that would continue for hundreds of years. In certain times and places, November 5th was known as “Pope day” for this reason.
Things got worse in the 1670s:
By this time, London apprentices had turned 5 November into a fire festival, attacking not only popery but also “sobriety and good order”, demanding money from coach occupants for alcohol and bonfires.
Accompanied by a procession of about 1,000 people, the apprentices fired an effigy of the Whore of Babylon, bedecked with a range of papal symbols.
Along with the burning of large bonfires, a large effigy of the pope—his belly filled with live cats “who squalled most hideously as soon as they felt the fire”—and two effigies of devils “whispering in his ear”.
An observer noted the “many bonfires and burning of popes as has ever been seen”.
Violent scenes forced London’s militia into action, and to prevent any repetition the following year a proclamation was issued, banning bonfires and fireworks.
In 1688, William of Orange landed in England and took the throne—significantly, this happened on November 5th. The day then took on a different character (celebrating his reign and the restoration of Protestantism), and the violence and chaos diminished—for the ruling class, that is.
For the lower classes, however, the anniversary was a chance to pit disorder against order, a pretext for violence and uncontrolled revelry. At some point, for reasons that are unclear, it became customary to burn Guy Fawkes in effigy, rather than the pope. Gradually, Gunpowder Treason Day became Guy Fawkes Day. In 1790 The Times reported instances of children “…begging for money for Guy Faux”, and a report of 4 November 1802 described how “a set of idle fellows … with some horrid figure dressed up as a Guy Faux” were convicted of begging and receiving money, and committed to prison as “idle and disorderly persons”. |from Wikipedia
Although not the one mentioned in The Times article in 1802, the Guy Faux at right is definitely a “horrid figure”.
Lower class rioting continued, with reports in Lewes of annual rioting, intimidation of “respectable householders” and the rolling through the streets of lit tar barrels. In Guildford, gangs of revellers who called themselves “guys” terrorised the local population; proceedings were concerned more with the settling of old arguments and general mayhem, than any historical reminiscences… In 1831 an effigy was burnt of the new Bishop of Exeter Henry Phillpotts, a High Church Anglican and High Tory who opposed Parliamentary reform, and who was also suspected of being involved in “creeping popery”. |from Wikipedia
Lots of chaos, disorder, crime, and fire. However, with the exception of Henry Phillpotts and his “creeping popery,” most November 5th celebrations began burning effigies of Guy Fawkes instead of members of the Catholic church.
One notable aspect of the Victorians’ commemoration of Guy Fawkes Night was its move away from the centres of communities, to their margins. Gathering wood for the bonfire increasingly became the province of working-class children, who solicited combustible materials, money, food and drink from wealthier neighbours, often with the aid of songs. Most opened with the familiar “Remember, remember, the fifth of November, Gunpowder Treason and Plot”. |from Wikipedia
Perhaps you’ve heard some of this poem somewhere:
Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t’was his intent
To blow up the King and Parli’ment.
Three-score barrels of powder below
To prove old England’s overthrow;
By God’s providence he was catch’d
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Holla boys, Holla boys, let the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!
And what should we do with him? Burn him!
The rhyme scheme seems to fall apart at the end there. They must have been so excited about setting fire to the Fawkes that they simply didn’t bother trying to rhyme the last line. Not that it matters. The Star Spangled Banner keeps up its rhyme scheme to the very end, but you never hear the last word or two. Everyone is so excited to “Play ball!”
v for vendetta
what a difference 400 years can make
I’ll conclude this already-too-long post by mentioning the Guy Fawkes you might have encountered in your lifetime: the comic-book hero, freedom fighter from “V for Vendetta.” Guy Fawkes had been romanticized and reimagined in literature for hundreds of years, including the 1982 graphic novel “V for Vendetta” written by Alan Moore and illustrated mostly by David Lloyd. I don’t know how many people have read the graphic novel, but a lot of people have seen the 2005 Wachowski Brothers movie “V for Vendetta” starring Hugo Weaving’s voice and Natalie Portman with a shaved head. It’s a dystopian story: sometime in the not-too-distant future, the United Kingdom becomes a totalitarian regime. A freedom-fighter known as “V” uses guerrilla tactics to fight against the government. He wears a Guy Fawkes mask and plans to blow up Parliament.
I need to watch the movie again because I haven’t seen it since it came out. I remember thinking it was unfortunate, however, that I will never be able to hear Hugo Weaving deliver a line without expecting a “Mr. Anderson” sooner or later. Check out this video if you don’t know what I’m talking about: Every Time Agent Smith Says “Mr. Anderson”.
Anyway, “V for Vendetta” made Fawkes the Poster Guy for anarchist hacktivism protesters (read about the Guy Fawkes mask here). I guess it’s kind of in the spirit of the original Gunpowder Treason, but it’s remarkable how much cooler Guido has become in 400 years.
I pin photos of my Wednesday culinary creations to my Pinterest board, Another Wednesday Dinner. You can see other dishes I’ve made there, but you can only get the backstory right here, on fantasticdrivel. Thanks for reading!
PS: a piece of cool trivia I couldn’t work in anywhere else. In the Harry Potter books, Dumbledore’s pet phoenix is named “Fawkes.” He dies and is reborn in flame.