My number one hero is a man called Guy Fawkes. He was an Englishman who, at the start of the 17th century, quite simply wanted to blow up the Houses of Parliament in London, along with all the members and the king, present for the opening session.
Alas, he failed, because the plot was revealed before he could act, but his attempt has never ceased to inspire me…
In reality, the story is quite complex. Guy Fawkes was born into Protestantism, but he converted, becoming a Catholic, and eventually a fervent activist for that branch of Christianity. He despaired of ever seeing England becoming a Catholic nation again.
He was approached by a group of like-minded conspirators who believed they had a solution : they would assassinate the king, James I, a die-hard Protestant, and replace him with a sovereign who would be favourable to Catholicism.But how could they get rid of the king ? Quite simply, by blowing up the House of Lords on the day parliament would open, in the king’s presence.
The conspirators rented a cellar beneath the Parliament building and gathered together some 600 kilos of gunpowder.On November the 5th, 1605, Guy Fawkes was in the cellar, next to the barrels of gunpowder, ready to act. But someone had denounced the plot…Guards burst into the cellar and arrested Guy Fawkes just as he was about to light the fuse.
He was imprisoned and tortured, and finally gave up the names of his co-conspirators. They were all tried, and he was sentenced to death : to be hung, drawn and quartered. Somehow, he jumped from the high scaffold and broke his neck and was killed, thus avoiding much of the inevitable agony.
Since then, every time the Parliament opens in November, a detachment of Yeomen in their picturesque renaissance-style uniforms carefully search the Westminster cellars to avoid any such incident from occuring again.
Guy Fawkes became a popular character in British folklore. Every year, on November 5th, children parade an ill-dressed dummy in a wheelbarrow, and ask for money. « Remember the Guy », they say. They then burn the dummy, or the « guy », on a bonfire, to commemorate the Gunpowder Plot. Fawkes’ first name has even become, over time, and via the USA, a synonym for a man, or a fellow.
The unfortunate Guy Fawkes may not have succeeded in his mission, but perhaps he still serves as an example, and even an inspiration.