Thursday, 5 November 2009

Guy Fawkes - 17th Century 'mentalist.

Another year and again the universal misappropriation of the memory of Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.

Much as I love the work of Alan More and his creation of ‘V’ -  the anarchist avenger in the dis-utopian ‘V For Vendetta’ continues the mistaken mythology of the plot to blow up parliament as something worth celebrating.

In fact Guy Fawkes and his fellow conspirators could not have been further from   anarchist revolutionaries, or any other sort of radical. A more appropriate contemporary parallel would be Al-Qaeda or any other group of reactionary religious ‘mentalists.

In a period of general ‘Catholic-phobia’ – Catesby's conspirators  aimed at blowing up a large section of the Protestant ruling class, all conveniently assembled at King James’s state opening of parliament ceremony. This was to be the signal for a Catholic uprising that would seize power and install the nine year old (Catholic) Princess Elizabeth with a (Catholic) council of state effectively ruling as her regent.

There was no manifesto for the proposed  new regime  – but for the average English Protestant at the time  - familiar with the despotic and theocratic regime in Spain - the prospect of such a regime was probably about as appealing as that of a Taliban government is to us today.

Just as 9.11 hardened attitudes of Islamophobia – the Gunpowder plot succeeded in fanning the flames of anti-Catholicism. And in an ironic parallel, also created a myth for the conspiro-loons that the whole thing was a set-up by sinister state forces with Sir Robert Cecil and his proto-secret service cast in the role of the CIA or Mossad.

The Gunpowder Plot definitely has all the ingredients for a rollicking historical costume drama: Shadowy conspiracies (on all sides); fanatical bravery (the horrific torture of Guy Fawkes; farce (the planned uprising ended as a bodged shoot-out at Holbeche Hall); and irony (the plot was uncovered when the conspirators tried to warn a Catholic Lord to stay way from the opening ceremony).

But I’m afraid there’s nothing remotely radical in the story. Given the  current expenses scandals and the low public esteem  of parliament and MP’s  blowing the buggers up may have more appeal now than ever  - but we’re going to have find inspiration elsewhere.

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