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Most of us have at least a passing familiarity with the name Guy Fawkes, and at some point you've probably heard someone say, “Remember, remember, the 5th of November!” Fewer people (outside of the UK, anyway) know much more than that about the history of Guy Fawkes – or his ghost, said to haunt the city of York even today.
Who is Guy Fawkes?
For those who don't know much about Fawkes, he was born in 1570 in York and hanged at the age of 35 in London after being convicted of high treason. Depending on who you talk to, he's generally referred to as either a hero or a traitor – but rarely anything in between. Fawkes is known today because he was caught in the middle of a Catholic-led plot to blow up the House of Parliament, kill off the Protestant King James I, and replace him with his 9-year-old daughter, Princess Elizabeth.
Unfortunately for Fawkes, an anonymous letter revealed his plans to the King, and he was soon caught in the cellars of the House with 36 barrels of gunpowder. He was captured on November 5th, 1605, then tortured and later hanged for treason. Not long after, the tradition of lighting bonfires and burning Guy Fawkes effigies sprung up, along with the eerie chant, “Remember, remember, the 5th of November…”
Why is Guy Fawkes So Famous?
By any normal modern standards, Guy Fawkes would be a religious terrorist. After all, he tried to kill off a Protestant government on behalf of Catholic interests. Then again, we live in modern times where you're generally free to worship as you please with relatively few negative consequences. That wasn't the case throughout much of history. If you weren't on the right side of the religious majority, you could count on a hefty dose of persecution. Still, many consider it admirable to have fought against that, even if it did involve trying to blow up a ton of people. Who knows if overall religious freedom would have improved if the Gunpowder Plot hadn't been foiled, or if the Catholics would have simply persecuted the Protestants in a reversal of power…
Guy Fawkes became famous almost immediately, as the King wanted to make an example of him and his co-conspirators. Londoners were encouraged to light bonfires to celebrate the King's successful escape from the plot. Though Fawkes was not the leader of the group (just one of 13), he was the one who got caught, and it's his name that has resurfaced over and over throughout the centuries.
In 1841, William Harrison Ainsworth portrayed him quite sympathetically in his historical romance, Guy Fawkes. He did take quite a few liberties with the truth, though, inventing a wife and an alchemist who could raise spirits from the dead. Though the book was not terribly accurate, it was popular and financially successful, and it's considered to have opened the door for the use of Guy Fawkes as a popular character in the many stories and books that would follow.
Then came V for Vendetta. In the 1980s, Alan Moore (also the creator of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) wrote a series of comics about a disguised anarchist who wears a Guy Fawkes mask while going up against an overgrown, authoritarian state. By Moore's hand, Fawkes became a powerful anti-hero – an effect that was greatly increased when the movie came out in 2006 and commemorative masks were sold. Around the world, those who sought to resist modern day fascism, capitalism, and other unsavory -isms adopted the masks for both the anonymity and symbolism they provided.
Knowing the full history, it's kind of incredible to think that this one man who was involved in a failed government attack should remain so famous, even 400 years later.
Okay, Let's Get to the Ghost…
Many who specialize in ghost hunting believe that ghosts choose to haunt places that were special to them, or places where great tragedies occurred. It's interesting that of all the places Guy “Guido” Fawkes (yes, he actually preferred to be called Guido after his time in mainland Europe) frequented, it's his birthplace that's known for his hauntings.
If you're keen to experience this firsthand, you can book a night or two at the Guy Fawkes Inn in York, England. Although haunted hotels have always left me wanting in the ghost-spotting department, I'm not sure I'd want this one to live up to its reputation. After all, this isn't some wandering lovesick ghost we're talking about. It's a religious zealot who was willing to blow up tons of people (many of them innocents) for his cause. Then, he was tortured and ultimately died a gruesome death by hanging. That's a spirit with some issues.
Some say the Belfry Suite is also haunted by the spirits of two small children who died of cholera. Regardless of what's haunting people, there does seem to be a consensus that this lovely little inn is undeniably creepy. And if that's still not enough for you, you'll be pleased to know The Ghost Trail of York departs from roughly 160 feet away from the front door of the inn.
The inn itself is actually quite nice. It's centrally located within York, so you'll have no trouble walking to attractions if you make it through the night. Breakfast and wifi are also free, which are pretty major perks when traveling in an expensive country like England. Then again, I found a number of sites mentioning that guests have been known to check out in the middle of the night, so that free breakfast could be a hollow offering.
If you're not up for the full-night experience, you could also check out the on-site restaurant. It's lovely and atmospheric, with a blend of modern and traditional British pub food. According to their website, they use fresh, local produce and their menu includes some offerings that would satisfy vegetarians, vegans, and the gluten-free. The vegan options seem to be limited to finger foods and sides, though, so it would be worth calling ahead to see if their chef can offer any other options.
Even if you're only interested in a drink and a peek, be sure to check out the back patio. There, you'll find a courtyard bar with a cozy atmosphere (especially if the gas heaters are going). Proceed to the back of the courtyard and you'll find Guy Fawkes Cottage. For better or worse, that's where it all started.
Have you been to York or the Guy Fawkes Inn? Feel free to leave comments with your tips and suggestions for other visitors.