What of Guy Fawkes?
Already we have reached that time of year when British skies are filled with a frenzied shower of vermilion, dazzling white, gold and acid green. Crowds of people will ‘ooooh’ and ‘aaaaahhh’ amidst screeching rockets and the hysterical hiss of Catherine wheels. Processions of flaming torches will light the dark streets. Sausages will sizzle as they’re nestled in to a moist bed of buttery onions beneath dollops of ketchup. The air will be a tincture of gunpowder and barbecue smoke. Warm scarves and hats will come out from the back of wardrobes. Children will be hypnotised by the bright, crazed streaks of sparklers as they whizz them around at arm’s length. People will wrap their fingers around warm foam cups filled with rich and spicy mulled wine whilst enjoying a night of unified merriment and celebration.
It’s another tradition that demonstrates to me how lucky I am to live in a country built on layer upon rich layer of history.
But as we enjoy the parties and smoky food underneath skies that are ablaze with colour, does the wind that whips around the Great Tower of London whistle with the ghostly howls of a man tortured to confession back in 1605?
It is perhaps one of this country’s most famous stories and one that is shrouded in shades of grey that have got lost in the web of time. For most, we think of Guy Fawkes as the evil conspirator at the centre of the Gunpowder Plot. He planned to blow up the Houses of Parliament, King and all, “to blow you Scotch beggars back to your native mountains”. There were several names involved in this conspiracy – plotting, planning and performing the required tasks to rid the country of a Scottish King, James I. It took two days of torture for Guy Fawkes to at last name his conspirators and with a shaking hand, put his signature against the confession.
Scratch the surface of this story though and it becomes darker with twists and turns that point to Guy Fawkes being played like a pawn in a larger, political conspiracy, designed to curry favour for King James I and his protestant religion. For after all, it was God’s will that he should be saved from a crime so hideous and one that was of a Catholic making. Never mind the fact that the thirty six barrels of gunpowder would have been too damp or old to truly ignite. Had Fawkes been successful in lighting it, it may have resulted in nothing more than the pitiful smouldering disappointment of the firework that never quite makes it far off the ground in your dad’s back garden.
We will never truly know but there are many little strands to the story that could lead a writer’s imagination on an interesting journey.
Regardless of how Guy Fawkes ended up in that cellar beneath The House of Lords on 4th November, preparing to blow up King and Parliament the following day; or how he came to jump to his death, so that when he was served the horrific punishment dealt to men sentenced with treason, his neck was in fact snapped. Regardless of the hushed conversations behind closed doors or the mysterious letter to Lord Montague that led to Fawkes being caught red handed; or the agonising screams that echo through time to furnish London and its historical Tower with another great and grisly ghost story. It is the night that we remember Guy Fawkes, celebrating his evident failure to destroy the King and by extension, his failure to change all the subsequent events that I suppose have led us all to be here today – carefree and uniting underneath iridescent skies.