Burn, Guy, burn

kerryMostly I was looking at an excuse to share this marvelous cartoon from two years’ back. Some things never change, eh?

Before we believe V, let’s decide whether Mr. Fawkes (pronounced “forks”) was a hero or not.

On November 5, 1605, Guy (also, Guido) Fawkes attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament during the State Opening. The aim was to kill the members of both Houses and the king, James I, who would have been in attendance.

Why? Fawkes and his pals were Catholic and wanted to undo the Protestant reformation in England and install a Catholic monarch.

It’s fun to play a little bit of historical make-believe with the Gunpowder Plot. Had Fawkes been successful, one can only imagine what would have happened to English history. A return to Catholic rule? A radical shift in Ireland’s course? Not just Catholic emancipation but Catholic supremacy? Unlikely. The backlash against Catholics would have been extreme (or one could say, extrem-er). A wave of patriotism would have strengthened the English throne, perhaps producing an absolute monarch, or at least one that could have avoided the Civil War.

As it is, Fawkes failed. He was tortured and executed and every year his effigy is burnt on top of bonfires across the Commonwealth.

Hero? No. Catholics certainly had many grievances in Jacobean England, but Britain’s Protestant character — all other things being equal — was preferable to a return to papacy. Is it outrageous to say that the modern world has largely benefited from Britain’s benign Anglicanism and Constitutional Monarchy, things under serious threat in Fawkes’ vision of England? I have a great deal of holy envy for the Catholic religion, but as a political power, it’s rubbish. I have to agree with John Derbyshire on this one:

[Catholicism was the] religion of Franco’s Spain, Salazar’s Portugal, chaotic and communist-trending Italy, recently-keenly-pro-Nazi Austria (don’t let The Sound of Music fool you — the Anschluss was more a wedding than a rape), Latin America as then personified by the buffoonish Juan Perón and his sinister wife, and, yes, Éamon de Valera’s nasty, corrupt, willfully under-developed, people-exporting Ireland. That’s not even to mention France. As I looked out on it from the England of the 1950s and 1960s, Catholicism was the religion of poverty, fascism, obscurantism, and bad government; and I don’t think you can say that this was a wildly distorted picture.

And now for something really controversial. How much better developed would Latin America be had the British beat the Spanish to colonisation?

Hee hee. Burn, Guy, burn.


  1. Incidentally, the UK doesn’t really have a national holiday. There are the patron Saints’ days and the Queen’s “official” birthday, but no English Bastille Day or July 4. Mostly it’s because the British nation has no “birthday” (you could count the Act of Union, but the Scots wouldn’t like that, even though James I was a Scot). It’s also four nations in one.

    So, I reckon that November 5 is as close as we come. I suspect that is very telling, but I’m not quite sure of what.

  2. Oh, and before anyone says it, I know, I know there are huge question marks over Britain as a “benign” power, but really, we could have been a lot more evil.

    Having said that, what the British fear more than evil is incompetence. Since 1605, Catholic Europe has been pretty incompetent until relatively recently. Shudder. God save the Protestant king.

  3. Ronan, you never quite responded to your own rhetorical question, “Is it outrageous to say that the modern world has largely benefited from Britain’s benign Anglicanism and Constitutional Monarchy?” I think the answer is that England certainly benefitted from it; that the colonies of British North America likewise benefitted (mostly from the salutory neglect implied by “benign”); and that therefore the whole world, in a general sense, benefitted.

    I’m not sure I’d make the leap to conclude that this line of thought necessarily implies a negative effect or impact of Roman Catholicism. That is an entirely different argument, and one which must be carefully disentwined from the sort of sophomoric secular thinking that sees everything bad over the last 500 years as the fault of Western religion, and everything good over the last 500 years as the achievement of science and secularism.

    Besides, I’m not convinced that Derbyshire was really being sincere in paragraph you quoted. He admits to being embarrassed by his (supposed) antipathy for Catholicism, then attributes it in a general way to being an Englishman. That seems like a clever, highbrow way of accusing and criticizing average English blokes for being anti-Catholic while, at the same time, distancing oneself (via the embarrassment, indicating you know it is wrong) from that belief. But, of course, not making a direct or serious argument against Catholicism, just kind of throwing it out there as a mild slap at Catholicism, the same way so many writers are comfortable taking mild slaps at Mormonism.

  4. Dave,
    I think Catholicism deserves a “mild slap” for producing such useless states. As for Anglicanism…it’s achievement is not in being secular, but in promoting a religion at ease with science and The World. Of course, the communion is in trouble today, but I’m talking about 1605-1945 here.

  5. Wow, I have sustained lots of posts on BCC but this is one I want to oppose by the same sign. Strikes me as divisive, jingoistic, and promoting of untrue stereotypes. I’ve heard jingoists of other persuasions opine that everywhere in the world that Britain put her hand, she left behind strife and trouble. I think that’s equally untrue. I hope we move past this sort of thing as a species, for it seems to me that it will be our downfall.

  6. Tatiana,

    Are you a papist terrorist who shall be hung, drawn, and quartered forthwith so that the ears of England’s daughters not have to hear your seditionist bleating?

    Actually, don’t answer that. Get a lawyer, or better still, get a sword, because Cromwell’s Sons and their Roundhead army will be knocking on your door tonight.

  7. As anyone noticed that God always sides with Protestants over Catholics?

    Adolf Hitler vs. Winston Churchill?
    General Galtieri vs. Maggie Thatcher?
    Napolean vs. Wellington?
    John Kerry vs. George W. Bush?

    Evidence for the jury #465.

  8. (BCC’s resident Canadian shakes his head in wonder)

  9. Steve,

    Tell me, why the heck else is BCC Orange, if not to advertise Protestant supremacy? You already talked about a blog field trip to Belfast next marching season. Now grow some backbone, you spineless Canadian.

  10. Only in England. Even the Germans, who had a *real* break with the Catholic church, don’t burn papists in effigy.

  11. Oh, the Germans. That’s all you got?

    And we shall wait to hear from Kris W before we judge all Canadians as cowards. Kris is from the real Canada, Alberta Mormon boy.

  12. I don’t know, Ronan. You are talking about a power that subjugated one civilization to get another one drug addicted. And we haven’t even begun to talk about Ireland yet.

  13. Hellmut,
    There would be no Irish problem if Ireland were Protestant.

  14. I don’t get it.

    In what language would “Fawkes” be pronounced “forks”?

  15. Ronan, I don’t have a sword. Will a modest flammenwerfer do? It makes a lovely light. =)

  16. Defensor,

    It’s all I can do to not continue with the Make Benefit Glorious Protestant Nation of England shtick, but I’ll drop it.

    I love Catholics. BCC loves Catholics. BCC really loves Catholics.

    The point, in essence, was:

    1. Guy Fawkes was a potential mass murderer.
    2. Guy Fawkes was not a hero.
    3. England was arguably the most stable European power (ignoring, just a little, the Civil War!) in the latter part of the second millennium AD. Some of that, I believe, is due to her rejection of the Fawkesian vision. The rest is probably luck. And the fact that she is an island.

    4. Had Fawkes succeeded, the persecution of English Catholics would have been about 1000x worse.

    Yesterday, effigies of a Catholic were burned across Britain. It’s the most un-PC thing imaginable. The post was a wink at the absurdity of something that we Brits are quite fond of. Even the Catholics burn Guy.

    dimitte nobis debita nostra, sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris.

  17. When I was a kid, one of our parents’ good friends was a woman we called “Aunt Moo”–because “Muriel” was more than our tongues could handle.

    She was a Brit–Welsh, actually, from Cardiff–and she’d come over every year on November 5, to celebrate my mom’s birthday, and to have some fun at the expense of the Guy.

    So we’d run around our Provo back yard with sparklers, chanting the old nursery rhyme. We certainly could “see no reason that gunpowder treason should ever be forgot.”

    Lost on us were the details of the Protestant-Catholic struggles of 16th and 17th century Britain (I had no clue July 12 was Orangemen’s Day until my first daughter was born on July 13, and my dad commented that she came directly between two holidays–he got his introduction to the first of those in Toronto as a missionary in the late 40’s), but we had a great time playing with fireworks in the November twilight.

    Only pity is Dad wouldn’t let us go around the neighborhood begging a penny for the Guy. We coulda been rich!

  18. =) It didn’t at all seem like a joke to me until I read your reply. Flamethrowers are such cool weapons, though! I was designing one to build for fun until I found out they’re illegal. Can you believe that? I was so hurt! I was going to be a responsible flamethrower owner! I wasn’t going to start *big* fires. Have you read Nevil Shute’s _Most Secret_? Someone recently cited that as a description of terrorism, which I suppose it was, only this time the terrorists were good guys. That’s gotten me thinking about the morality of terrorism in a new way. They did target soldiers and guns rather than civilians, but there’s always collateral damage in these things, and their purpose was definitely mainly to strike terror in the hearts of Germans.

    Just as the only place we actually fight evil is in our own hearts, the only place we can really affect the reign of terror is in our own countries, it seems. The stuff that goes on outside is just to teach us how to recognize it and how bad it is.

  19. I understand the book from which the movie was made did not depict V or Guy as a hero, so much, but left the reader feeling more that neither side was good.

  20. Um, I burned Guy on Saturday night, but that has much more to do with my wife’s anglophilia than my burgeoning hatred of Catholics. At least, I hope it does.

  21. Love England = hate Catholics, John. You can’t have both.

    (Let me add one of these :) )

  22. I’m with Tatiana; I couldn’t tell if it was a joke or what. Thanks for clarifying.

  23. a random John says:

    Spain and Portugal did indeed produce a mess in South America. But I wonder what amazing country drew the borders resulting in the current conflicts in Israel, Iraq, and Kashmir? hmmmm…

  24. Besides Ronan, of course, my favorite Britons are all Catholic: Agatha Christie, Alfred Hitchcock, and Lord Acton.

  25. And don’t forget Tolkien!

  26. aRJ,
    Had we stayed, the mess wouldn’t exist. Things only went to pot when they kicked us out.

  27. i like the movie, “V For Vendetta.” i think it was R rated though.

  28. did the protestants agree what je was doin?

  29. Robert Hughes in his book “American Visions” implies that the Puritans saw the Native people as a hindrance to estabtishing New Jerusalem in New Egland. He claims they made only halfhearted attempts to convert them. They praised the smallpox epidemic as a “miraculous plague” creating a “void of inhabitants” on the land they wanted to settle.

    Would Latin America be better developed with fewer livng Native Americans?

  30. Larry,
    You make a sobering point. This was a silly post.


  1. […] But there is blog activity in the form of multiple (good!) posts at Mormons and Catholics, and a post that mentions Catholicism at By Common Consent.  The mention is not favorable in the slightest.  Let’s just say… that’s one view of history, and I respect everyone’s right to have their own view of history, but this particular view is full of ignorance and stereotypes.  Only a couple of the comments advocate sanity, God bless, and the rest go right along with the post, God bless them more.  Maybe it’s a joke and I can’t tell.  That would explain blowing off the violent English persecution of Catholics ever since the king established himself as the head of the church and let his subjects pillage and destroy churches and monasteries, and the unblinking embrace of the old stereotype that the Catholic Church hindered Western civilization for centuries (rather than building it).  It would explain the subsequent comments, where the Church is accused of producing useless states, and God always sides with Protestants over Catholics.  Yeah, what did, say, Karol Wojtyla and Poland ever do in world history? The closest parallel I can think of to this is to talk about how the Mormons in Missouri had it coming or something.  If it’s a joke, I for one don’t see the humor.  If it’s not, it’s disappointing. […]

  2. […] I have memories of going with this sister to the empty fields near our house with a string of (illegal) firecrackers and various things to blow up (Katsup packages, hardboiled eggs, etc.). Once she took an entire box of kitchen matches, spent an hour or so carefully tying them all together in a bundle and then lit it just to enjoy the five seconds of flash. It would figure that we would live in Arizona, where fireworks and firecrackers are illegal, campfires are heavily restricted, and wildfires run rampant every summer leading to strict regulations on when and where fires may be burned. I wonder how my sister would have been different if she’d grown up somewhere else, like in England, where Bonfire Night was a regular occurrence. […]