The Plague and Guy Fawkes

The Plague (aka a cold) is…plaguing…the Riskies. Janet is the latest to succumb, although we are unsure how the germ was transmitted from Elena in upstate New York to Janet in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC. Janet is sufficiently under the weather that her pale, trembling fingers tapped out an urgent message for somebody, anybody, to take over the blog for today. Personally, I think her secret stash of Gerard Butler DVDs finally arrived from Netflix and she’s holed up in front of the telly.

On Monday I missed the grand opportunity to blog about Guy Fawkes Day. Life sometimes gives us second chances, you know…

Who was Guy Fawkes and why do the English make a holiday of him?

He was one of the zealot Catholic conspirators in 1605 who plotted to blow up Parliament and all the lords attending and King James I, effectively putting an end to the existing government. November 5 was the opening day of Parliament and all the important governmental men would be in attendance. Someone snitched, however, and the cellar beneath Parliament was searched. Guy Fawkes, the fellow who was supposed to light the fuse to blow up 36 kegs of gunpowder, was discovered, arrested (as were all the other conspirators, eventually), tortured, hanged, drawn and quartered. And the English have celebrated that event ever since……

The BBC website has some neat stuff about Guy Fawkes and his Day, including an interactive game where one must find the gunpowder in the cellar and answer questions about GF Day along the way. If you don’t want the powder to explode, I suggest you first read the history of the Gunpowder Plot–voice of experience, here. There’s also a very interesting piece about what would have happened if the conspirators had succeeded.

And that brings me to what the Plague has to do with Guy Fawkes. Well, it seems that Parliament was originally supposed to open October 5, but was postponed a month to make certain the Plague was gone from London. By delaying a month, more conspirators became involved in the plot, increasing the chance that somebody would snitch. What’s more, the gunpowder, sitting around all that time, separated into it various compounds and would have merely fizzled had Guy lit the fuse.

Now if he’d lit that fuse on Oct 5….
Read about how history would have been changed for want of a few plague germs.

Do you ever wonder what would have happened if some pivotal event in history had been altered?


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Mary Blayney
15 years ago

Alternative history has never appealed to me — except in my own life. In that case my life is filled with “what ifs” but I don’t think that’s what you’re looking for.

Thanks for the info on Guy Fawkes — so they celebrate the fact that the plot was foiled? Fascinating that it’s named after the perp and not the guy who saved the king and the rest of Parliament.

Megan Frampton
15 years ago

Yeah, I think it’s odd that they named it after the villain too, Mary.

And I loved V For Vendetta, which had similarities to the Guy Fawkes thing, most notably the ‘hero’ wearing a Guy Fawkes mask to conceal his identity.

I have not, so far, succumbed either to the plague of colds or Gerard Butler.

Cara King
15 years ago

I first learned about Guy Fawkes from E. Nesbit’s lovely books. My favorite Nesbit Guy Fawkes bit is from THE HOUSE OF ARDEN, in which the time-traveling (and confused) young heroine recites the famous little rhyme about the Gunpowder Plot to someone right before the whole thing happens…and gets thrown in the Tower, natch.

And, as Nesbit’s version of the rhyme is a tiny bit different from the standard version, I’ll share it here:

Please to remember
The Fifth of November
the gunpowder treason and plot.
I see no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.


Diane Gaston
15 years ago

Wikipedia shows a photo of the wax Madame Tussaud’s figure of Guy Fawkes hung naked and bloody. Very civilized people, these English!

15 years ago

LOL at the civilization of the British, Diane!! Only they could think that hitching a man’s limbs to horses and pulling him apart, eviscerating him alive and THEN beheading him was the thing to do. I got to see Guy Fawkes celebrations up close as a child. It was all good fun. Fireworks and burning the man in effigy. I am fascinated by playing the ‘what if’ game with history. It completely boggles then mind. What might have happened if the plot to blow Hitler up had succeeded? What if William Wallace had succeeded?

Keira Soleore
15 years ago

Very civilized people, these English!

Those would be our Upper Ten Thousand at breakfast, after which they order that a sovereign nation be taken over and its people subjugated and persecuted, then sit down for a nice lunch at 1 o’clock.

BTW Diane, I wonder if the English would also admire the sleight of hand at doing one a favor while casting one’s ancestors to perdition. Ahem, Risky Janet.

15 years ago

I can definitely enjoy a good alternative history story. Probably my favorite is The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick, but I’ve read several that are well done. And then there is Ada, or Ardor by Nabokov, which is an alternative history novel (sort of), and also just bizarre.

I also enjoyed V for Vendetta, both the movie and the comic. (Sorry! I mean, graphic novel!) And one of Diana Wynne Jones’s books is an alternative history book where the change stems from the Gunpowder Plot!

BTW, I thought it was weird that both V for Vendetta and The Children of Men came out in the same year, and both were nominated for Hugo awards. They should have had their own category: “Films in which a future Britain becomes a totalitarian dictatorship…”


Diane Gaston
15 years ago

Bwaaahaaaahaaaa! You caught me!

I saw V for Vendetta! On TV, or part of it. I just remembered. Weird movie.

While we are wondering…What if Napoleon had won at Waterloo?

Keira Soleore
15 years ago

What if Napoleon had won at Waterloo?

All world languages would’ve been wiped out, there would be no war, the world would be under one dictatorial rule, we would have one culture, there would be millions of Sophies and Colettes and other such from the Academie Francaise’s list of approved names, and… we would all be speaking French — Thank God for the civilized English!

Bertie dear, what say you?

Bertram St James
15 years ago

Bertie dear, what say you?

I had not realized Napoleon was at Waterloo.

Understandable mistake. Expect the pictures left him out because he was so short the artist could not see him.

Bertie the Beau (beautiful as always)

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