Friday, November 07, 2014

That 'Guy' in British History

Guy Fawkes Mask - which became a symbol of protests
against governments, popularized by
the movie 'V for Vendetta'.
Who is this guy called Guy?

And why did the people of UK,  for about 400 years, give his name to 5th of November?

Many years ago, these questions took me to a British Council Library  where I looked up ‘Guy Fawkes Day’ in one of those huge volumes of Britannica Encyclopedia.

Who is Robert Cecil, the 1st Earl of Salisbury?

And why is his letter – that now comes under hammer at a London auction house of Sotheby’s – expected to fetch 960,000 US Dollars or more?

Today, these questions took me to the Internet and Google.

Guy Fawkes’ role in the failed “Gunpowder Plot” to overthrow King James I of England and VI of Scotland, on 5 November 1605, makes up an intriguing story.

He was arrested after being caught with 36 barrels of gunpowder, hidden directly underneath the House of Lords, which would have reduced the building to a rubble, had the plot succeeded.

As a member of a gang of English men - who wanted to see a Catholic King returned to the throne – Guy, who had had long military experience, conspired  to overthrow the King.

Yes. It was the same king who commissioned the English translation of the Bible, which is now known as King James Version (KJV), and which for long remained the authorized version for churches.

The Conspirators - Including Guido Fawkes
Interestingly, what led to the tip-off which got Guy Fawkes arrested was an anonymous letter. It was a letter addressed to one Lord Monteagle asking him not to attend Parliament that day, as there was a dangerous plot afoot.

Lord Monteagle took the letter to the king’s spy-master Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, who immediately made a plan to catch the plotters in the act.

And that is how Guy Fawkes was caught. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Cecil himself, within a few days, had written a six-page letter detailing how the government planned the capture of plotters, and how they succeeded in catching Fawkes red-handed, with matches and fuses in his possession.

And now, this historic account of Cecil - the first investigative report on the Gunpowder Plot - is ready for auction, at the Sotheby’s. And it is estimated to go for about 960,000 US Dollars.
Gabriel Heaton, an expert from Sotheby's says, “This letter is an incredible document. It is so fresh and alive and exciting and you get a real sense of this really horrific plot which was in the process of being uncovered.

“The level of detail is amazing and shows just how much had been found out about the plan in the first few days of it being foiled”.

Now, personally,  even if I have money, I am not sure I will pay that much to own this piece.

But out there, I know, are many collectors who clearly see great value in it. Many may have even calculated the enormous future-value to which this amazing historical asset can appreciate.

I wonder, however,  if the seventeenth-century torture to which Guy Fawkes was subjected to, at the Tower of London, before he finally broke down to reveal names of fellow plotters, was anything like the twenty-first-century ‘water-boarding’!

I also wonder, if Fawkes – after his conviction for high treason - had not jumped from the scaffold where he was to be hanged, and had not broken his neck, how he could have faced the agony of the mutilation that was planned.

I even wonder how his severed parts of the body must have been sent to four corners of the kingdom, to be displayed to all, as the definite fate of traitors.

But all history, and not just of the British, is filled with blood and gore.

And that 'Guy' just gave a good excuse for Great Britain to have fireworks and bonfires, which he himself wanted, but did not get to see. 

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