A few years ago, the film V for Vendetta prompted me to learn more about Guy Fawkes, as the film’s character ‘V’ adopts Fawkes’s image in rebelling against Parliament. A big fan of Antonia Fraser’s comprehensive and engaging books on historical figures (Marie Antoinette is a favorite, which inspired Sofia Coppola’s film of same name), I discovered that she’d written a book about the conspiracy in which Guy Fawkes was involved and ultimately lost his life over.
Faith and Treason chronicles England’s infamous Gunpowder Plot. In 1605, thirteen conspirators attempted to blow up Parliament in order to assassinate the king and his heir so that the persecution of Catholics would end and England could be restored as a Catholic nation. While he clearly did not act alone, Guy Fawkes is nonetheless singled out as the namesake of England’s holiday, Guy Fawkes Day (a.k.a. “Bonfire Night“). Held on 5 November, people mistakenly think that the public is celebrating Fawkes’s attempt to overthrow government; rather, it is a celebration of the plot being thwarted thanks to Guy (or Guido, as he preferred to be called) getting caught on his way to ignite the powder kegs. Nice going, Guido.
“Remember remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot…”
So goes the poem…
The reason why I bring this up now in August is simply because my fascination with this story has unintentionally converged with my UK life. I am entertaining family that is in town, and last weekend we wandered through the Tower of London for six—count ’em—SIX hours (just goes to show you how much there is to see there—you’ll get your money’s worth!). This was my fourth time touring the inside of the Tower, and yet my previous visits must have been too cursory, as I hadn’t yet seen all the prisoner graffiti carved into the walls of the individual towers. This feature is particularly gripping, as it really brings the Tower to life when you realize you are standing within walls that confined convicted souls for months if not years until their release or execution. There are so many to take in that I scanned at a relatively quick pace, but then I saw inside the Broad Arrow Tower the inscription by Sir Everard Digby, one of the gunpowder plotters who paid the ultimate sentence there. Also to be found on these walls were the prayers of Catholic priests and sympathizers likewise imprisoned.
This was enough to make me want to pull Fraser’s book back off my shelf, yet then lo and behold, just a couple nights ago I learned that my husband and I will be staying in Ashby St. Ledgers tonight on our way up north for a wedding tomorrow. Apparently, this town is home to the Manor House where a significant amount of the Gunpowder Plot was developed—the very room can be found above the Gatehouse, which we’ll hopefully have a chance to visit in the morning.
I…am…PSYCHED. Speaking of which, I’d better wrap this up so I can go home and pack. Happy weekend, everyone!