Remember, Remember the Fifth of November
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot
I know of no reason why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot

Who is Guy Fawkes, and what is his relation to V for Vendetta? Well, before you can understand his relation to the book, you need to understand why Guy is so (in)famous to begin with.

The short answer is this: Guy (alias Guido) Fawkes was one of the members of The Gunpowder Plot of 1605 in which a group of Catholics attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament and kill James I, the King of England, to protest Protestant rule. As the man chosen to light the fuse and the first captured, Guy has recieved the lion's share of attention among the conspirators. The long of it is as follows:

Since Henry the VIII's reign, England was divided between Catholics and Protestants with the factions fighting bitterly over control of the throne. Queen Elizabeth I had been staunchly Protestant, but with her death and the succession of James I as King, Catholics had thought their persecution was at and end. They were wrong. Shortly after James' coronation in 1603, it became clear he had no intention of granting leniency to the Catholics.

Guy himself was born in England in 1570 but by the turn of the century, Guy had spent several years fighting for Spain in the Netherlands, as well as participating in the Siege of Calais. His years of service earned him a reputation for his bravery and skill, especially with munitions. (Spain, a long-time rival of England, was staunchly Catholic and was often seen as an ally to English Catholics.) It was through his reputation and his pro-Catholic activities that he was brought to the attention of Thomas Wintour. It was Wintour who invited Fawkes into the circle of men that initially comprised The Gunpowder Plot.

The initial five members of The Gunpower Plot (of which Guy was one of; the Plot would eventually grow to thirteen members) first met in 1604 and began their plans. By March, 1605, the conspirators had rented a cellar under Parliament and began stockpiling 36 barrels of gunpowder. Guy was in charge of maintaining the stockpile, keeping the gunpowder fresh until Parliament's next session. In October, word of the conspiracy leaked, possibly by someone within the Conspiracy, although the warning did not mention the Plot specifically.

Believing they still had time, Fawkes and his conspirators went ahead with their plans. Parliament was due to meet on November 5th and it was that day that King James' men discovered the stockpile. They also discovered Fawkes, who was standing guard, and on his person they found all the tools necessary to light the gunpowder. Guy was captured, interrogated, and tortured; after two days he confessed the details of the Plot. Along with the surviving members of the conspiracy (several members died during attempts to capture them), Fawkes was tried on January 27th, 1606, and executed on Janury 30th.

After The Gunpowder Plot was foiled, King James decreed that on the anniversary of the plot's failure should always be remembered. 400 years later, that celebration is known as Bonfire Night where bonfires and fireworks are lit, and effigies of Fawkes (known, appropriately, as "guys") are burned, in celebration. (You'll have to ask the individual revelers whether or they are celebrating the Plot's failure or its attempt.)

It is in this context that we come to V for Vendetta. As Alan Moore wrote in his behind-the-scenes article "Behind the Painted Smile":

The big breakthrough [regarding what the character of V should look and act like] was all Dave's, much as it sickens me to admit it. More remarkable still, it was all contained in one single letter that he'd dashed off the top of his head . . . I transcribe the relevant portions beneath:

"Re. The script: While I was writing this, I had this idea about the hero, which is a bit redundant now we've got (can't read this next bit) but nonetheless . . . I was thinking, why don't we portray him as a resurrected Guy Fawkes, complete with one of those papier mache masks, in a cape and conical hat? He'd look really bizarre and it would give Guy Fawkes the image he's deserved all these years. We shouldn't burn the chap every Nov. 5th but celebrate his attempt to blow up Parliament!"

The moment I read these words, two things occurred to me. Firstly, Dave was obviously a lot less sane than I hitherto believed him to be, and secondly, this was the best idea I'd ever heard in my entire life. All of the various fragments in my head suddenly fell into place, united behind the single image of a Guy Fawkes mask.

With the idea of Guy Fawkes, Moore was able to crystallize his vision of who V was and helped give Moore further inspiration towards the themes of rebellion and revolution that exists in the novel. These days, the idea of basing the "hero" of a story on a terrorist is one that could give many people pause. If you are interested, you can read my own thoughts on this subject in the essay "V and Terrorism" found in the Analysis section.

Lengthy as this summary has been, there is far more to the story than what I've written here. If you are interested in reading further about Guy Fawkes, The Gunpowder Plot, or Bonfire Night, then I encourage you to click on the links below to learn more.