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In 1605, Guy Fawkes was one of over a dozen conspirators in the famous Gunpowder Plot, an attempt to assassinate England's King James I. When the plot was discovered on the 5th of November, Fawkes and other conspirators were quickly convicted and executed, and the King asked his subjects to remember the 5th November as "the joyful day of deliverance".

Fawkes was but one of a countless number of failed assassins, but in a perversely ironic way, the King's declaration ultimately turned the 5th November into Guy Fawkes Day, a celebratory day that usually had children creating an effigy that would then be burned in a bonfire. While the effigy was usually Fawkes, others made it a custom to burn an effigy of the pope, a tradition that came to the Thirteen Colonies in America as well. Though he was only one of the plotters, Fawkes became the one most associated with the act, and he was viewed as a symbol of treason.

A strange thing happened, however, in the 19th century, as Fawkes began to undergo a sort of character rehabilitation, beginning with William Harrison Ainsworth's 1841 historical fiction Guy Fawkes; or, The Gunpowder Treason. Suddenly, Fawkes became an anti-hero who had the best interest of the public and was taking action to effect change. Other British literature of the century depicted Fawkes as a kind of action hero. In 2005's Remember, Remember: A Cultural History of Guy Fawkes Day, writer J.A. Sharpe noted Fawkes is sometimes remembered tongue-in-cheek as "the last man to enter Parliament with honest intentions."

With that new perception of Fawkes taking hold, Fawkes managed to become a symbol of defiance against government. The popular movie V for Vendetta reintroduced Fawkes to American audiences, and Fawkes and the Guy Fawkes Mask have taken on a new life as a rally cry and symbol for groups protesting the government. The major hacking network Anonymous uses the Guy Fawkes Mask as its hallmark, and the Guy Fawkes Mask was a common sight at Occupy protests across America in 2011.

British Legends: The Life and Legacy of Guy Fawkes looks at the life of the failed assassin and the Gunpowder Plot, but it also analyzes how Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot have been remembered over time and became a pop culture fixture.

©2012 Charles River Editors (P)2015 Charles River Editors

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