Guy Fawkes (13 April 1570 – 31 January 1606), belonged to a group of Roman Catholic restorationists from England who planned the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. Their aim was to displace Protestant rule by blowing up the Houses of Parliament while King James VI and I and the entire Protestant court, and even most of the Catholic aristocracy and nobility were inside. The conspirators saw this as a necessary reaction to the systematic discrimination against English Catholics.
The Gunpowder Plot was led by Robert Catesby, but Fawkes was put in charge of its execution. He was arrested a few hours before the planned explosion, during a search of the cellars underneath Parliament in the early hours of 5 November prompted by the receipt of an anonymous warning letter. This search is still performed over 400 years later before the opening Parliament. The conspirators were executed.
Guy Fawkes Night (or "bonfire night"), held on 5 November in the United Kingdom and some parts of the Commonwealth, is a commemoration of the plot, during which an effigy of Fawkes is burned, often accompanied by a fireworks display. The word "guy", meaning "man" or "person", is derived from his name.
In 18th-century England, it became a tradition for children to display a grotesque effigy of Fawkes, termed a "guy", as part of the Bonfire Night celebration. As part of the tradition, they would often stand on streetcorners begging for "a penny for the guy". The "guy" would be burned on a bonfire at the end of the evening. As a consequence, "guy" came to mean a man of odd appearance. Subsequently, in American English, "guy" lost any pejorative connotation, becoming a simple reference for any man.
Antonia Fraser's 1996 book The Gunpowder Plot is excellent!
There is also some fun/excellent poetry concerning this event, a tradition that continues to today.
B McIver (2004, in progress)
The 5th of November,
For Gunpowder, Treason and Plot......
Guy Fawkes, the offender,
Tried on evidence slender,
Was sent to the dungeon to rot.
His aim? To be sender
Of the message: "Surrender!
"King James and his troops will be shot!
"That Protestent bender
"Is doubtful of Gender,
"And the True King cannot be a Scot!"
But the erstwhile offender
To jailors was rendered,
And here are the orders they got:
"His body dismember
Then throw on the embers
Of a fire stoked up, burning hot."
So this 5th of November,
While in joy you remember,
By burning the effigy's bot;
The price you may render
To be "freedom's defender",
Is to burn in Hell if you're caught!
A bit of home
7 years ago