On November 5, 1605, England held a celebration for the opening of Parliament. Guy Fawkes tried to spark a revolution by blowing up the building, and the royals inside, in protest over the Protestant leadership's treatment of Catholics, which included torture and hangings.
Unfortunately for Fawkes, he was nabbed before he blew up anything, tortured, and -- before he could be publicly executed -- leapt from the gallows and broke his neck.
Afterwards, Londoners were encouraged to mock Fawkes -- probably because the thought of a lone loon getting that close to assassinating royals spooked the hell out of the oligarchy. Thus, the popular contemporary verse was born:
In modern times, it became tradition for children to burn effigies of Fawkes as part of the Bonfire Night celebration.
He has a complicated legacy -- part mocked, part celebrated. Fawkes has sort of become history's clown -- the man who took on impossible odds, accomplished nothing, and died a pointless death. Though no King has disseminated orders, he's still burned in effigy today. Yet, he's also a beloved symbol of Anarchist resistance. Fawkes was ranked 30th in the 2002 list of the BBC's 100 Greatest Britons by the public. Rivers, parks, and islands are named after him.
Even as people mock Fawkes, they seem to love him, and this year, protesters finally understand the spirit of Guy Fawkes Day. Though this group still decided to burn an effigy, they aimed their anger at the ruling class.
Protesters calling for Parliamentary reform in the wake of the MPs' expenses scandal are using Guy Fawkes day today to float an effigy up the Thames to the Houses of Parliament.
The campaigners are setting off from an East London wharf pulling a 10ft high duck house to dock at the Palace of Westminster while they claim MPs are busy plotting to overturn Sir Christopher Kelly's recommendations on claiming for mortgages and employing relatives.
The Vote for a Change campaign is calling for a referendum "to bring accountability to Parliament."
A quest for accountability really was the root of Fawkes's plot. Admittedly, he picked the crudest, most violent means to express his disdain for the governing principles of the royals. However, a suppressed people who feel they lack representation in their government usually lash out in "uncivilized" ways. Human beings can only be beaten, mistreated, and marginalized for so long before they snap.
As Stephen Addison wrote on the Reuters blog, "should it not now be conceded that [Fawkes] might have had a point, even if his methods were a little extreme?"
The oligarchy is misbehaving once again. Corrupt, overfed, and cruel to their constituents -- who are poorer, sicker, and angrier than ever -- the residents of the Houses of Power should not raise their brows in surprise when a flaming effigy floats by them. It's just a sign that the people finally recognize the true villains of history -- and it's not some dead dude who wore a funny hat.