The Story Behind the Guy Fawkes Mask


Blog_V for VendettaDo you recognise this mask? It’s called the Guy Fawkes mask. It first appeared around the world in the film V for Vendetta.

Since then, it has become the symbol of anti-government and anti-establishment movements around the world.

But why is it called the Guy Fawkes mask? Who was Guy Fawkes? And why do the British celebrate Guy Fawkes Day or Bonfire Night on 5 November?

Bonfire Night is an important event for the English as it commemorates the day the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 was foiled (stopped).

Blog_The Gunpowder Plotters
407 years ago, thirteen young English Catholics, including Guy Fawkes, threatened to blow up the Houses of Parliament with 36 barrels of gunpowder. Why?


Throughout Queen Elizabeth 1’s reign the Catholics had been persecuted for their beliefs. When James 1 acceded to the throne, the Catholics hoped the situation would improve, but they were to be disappointed. In fact, James 1 introduced even more stringent laws against the Catholics making their lives intolerable.

This situation led the group of 13 young men headed by Robert Catesby to plot to kill the king and blow up the Houses of Parliament. The plot was simple. The next time that Parliament was opened by the King, they would blow it and him up with gunpowder. They bought the house next to  Parliament that had a cellar which went under the Parliament building. The idea was to place 36 barrels of gunpowder in the cellar and blow the building up.

The Real Guy Fawkes
The Real Guy Fawkes

Guy Fawkes was given the task of guarding the cellar and lighting the fuse when the time came. However, in the early hours of the morning of 5 November, the King’s soldiers seized him and the fuse was never lit.

Fawkes was taken to the Tower of London where he was tortured and executed after confessing.


In celebration of his survival, King James ordered that the people of England light a bonfire on the night of 5 November.

Fireowrks and Big Ben_GettyEver since then, 5 November has become known as Bonfire Night when huge bonfires are lit, elaborate firework displays are organised and effigies of Guy Fawkes are thrown onto the fire. Sometimes, children make effigies of the “Guy” and walk around the neighbourhood asking for “a Penny for the Guy”.

The Gunpowder Plot is so entrenched in British culture that it is immortalised in a children’s nursery rhyme:

Remember Remember the fifth of November“Remember, remember the fifth of November”

Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason, why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

Guy Fawkes, guy, t’was his intent
To blow up king and parliament.
Three score barrels were laid below
To prove old England’s overthrow.

By God’s mercy he was catch’d
With a darkened lantern and burning match.
So, holler boys, holler boys, Let the bells ring.
Holler boys, holler boys, God save the king.

And what shall we do with him?
Burn him!

The Gunpowder Plot was an attempt to fight the existing rulers at the time and Guy Fawkes , his mask to be precise, has a become a powerful symbol of the anti-establishment movement.

If you happen to be in the UK today, do check out the nearest venue that will be hosting a Bonfire Night event. Stay warm, though. It is always bitterly cold on Guy Fawkes Night!

Happy Guy Fawkes Day!

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Ciao for now


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27 thoughts on “The Story Behind the Guy Fawkes Mask”

  1. I tried this in the class today. If anyone would like to try it out, here’s what I did.

    I took some vocab and gave each small group of students a word from the text. Then they dictated the definition to other groups. Next, I took a couple of chunks of language, 7 all together, and dictated them in random order to the students.

    They read them back to me, then speculated what the text would be about.

    Next I showed them the picture of the mask and we discussed it a bit and wrote up some associations. I read your text to them, pausing where the chunks should be. They selected what they thought was the right chunk and a volunteer read it back to me.

    For their homework, they will write a short summary, using the vocabulary they learnt and the chunks I dictated.

    I’m going to have them write comprehension questions next, five from the text and one thing they’d like to know about the topic.

    1. This is fantastic,Lea! Wow, I really love the way you adapted the post to a lesson.
      That is so creative of you. Thank you so much for sharing your lesson here.
      And thank you for reading my post.
      Take care

  2. this is very intersting post ,it got my intention because in such day is my birthday and it happen tob my son’s n and daughter’s birthday as well.

  3. Instructive, concise and neat. Well done! I liked it. A friend of mine sent me a link to this post and I found it really cool. I will probably come back here to read more of your articles. Thanks.

  4. What a horrifying, creepy nursery rhyme! Although, I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised as many of the nursery rhymes out there are pretty horrifying if you really listen to the words!

  5. Thank you for sharing both the article and the idea for a lesson. Unfortunately I did not remember this date so this morning I did not talk of it…but I can do it tomorrow with my 9th year students.
    I was given the link by a colleague of mine and soon I visited it and I’m sure I’ll come back here again.
    Can I share it on my educational website?

  6. Hi, I’ve just come across your blog via a facebook post from the British Council. I can see it’ll be very useful for my lessons and I love the lesson idea in the comments. Thanks for posting that. It will be very useful to many, I’m sure.
    I do dispute the terms anti-establishment and anti-government. While I agree that there are some who wear the
    mask and promote anarchy, I
    think that the majority of people who have been protesting over the last few years are protesting
    about various events and
    situations that current
    governments and large, powerful
    corporations have created. That
    does not mean that they are anti-
    government or anti-
    establishment, rather that they
    demand governments which provide real solutions to real
    world problems. The priority greed takes over everything else
    is destroying our planet. Everything is a mess and people from all political backgrounds, walks of life and of all ages have been coming together to say enough is enough. Ordinary people have once again discovered their voice. That has to be a good thing. If the media puppets describe them as anti-establishment and anti-government we shouldn’t be surprised. The majority of those protesting describe the current situation as anti-establishment and anti-government. When you think about why governments were created, the present governments are not doing the job they are supposed to do. It is every citizens right to protest legally and peacefully and should be able to do so without being coralled, beaten, tear-gassed, water-cannoned and arrested. This is why they protest. The lunatics are running the asylum!

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