Is Guy Fawkes Night really a relevant celebration in the 21st Century?

November 5, 2010

I suppose I’m a rarity in this day and age in that I think Guy Fawkes Night does still have a message behind it worth celebrating, just not the same one it had back in the seventeenth century. Back then, it was just unashamed Protestant triumphalism, an Anti-Romanist propaganda coup, nothing more.

However, if you look at it from a modern perspective, without attaching as much importance to the exact religious persuasions of those involved, we can see parallels with the world today, particularly the intermittent horrors that religious fanatics cause. The social paranoia and state manipulation of it by Robert Cecil also resonate strongly in the conduct of Governments today, most particularly the attempts by the right wing in the USA to stoke up anti-Arab hysteria.

Even retaining the importance of the religious identity, we can see an ongoing relevance, because the failure of the Catholic Church to re-establish itself in Great Britain was a small but crucial step to ending the Papacy’s status as a world power.

The occasion is also worth celebrating for purely contemporary reasons. This is not to celebrate the death of Catholics, or to view the burning in effigy of Guy Fawkes in good taste, but the conspiracy’s failure should be celebrated in far broader terms; it averted a national disaster. For if the plot had succeeded in destroying Parliament, and slaughtering the entire English ruling class, the consequences for the British Isles would have been devastating, most particularly (ironically enough) for English Catholics themselves. There would have been Civil War across England, with the Catholic minority probably being targeted more harshly than ever, perhaps even being exterminated as a reprisal for Regicide. There would have been a power struggle to claim the vacant throne. There would also have been war between Scotland and England over the death of the King, (James I of England, let us not forget, was also James VI of Scotland) and potentially invasion by Spain or even France, taking advantage of the leadership vacuum..

All-in-all, the Civil War that did happen about four decades later would have been brought forward, and fought over baser, less visionary ideas.

Ask me anything

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