If your only exposure to Guy Fawkes Day is the movie V for Vendetta, you might think that this evening’s bonfires and fireworks in Great Britain are in celebration of a hero. Actually, it’s a celebration of a traitor to the Crown being caught and the plot to blow up the House of Lords and King James foiled. Fawkes was actually a disgruntled Catholic (a bit redundant) who, along with his 12 fellow plotters, was hoping to replace the Protestant James with James’ daughter Elizabeth, who was apparently a good Catholic girl. Or something. I don’t know – I really don’t get all the religious bullshit, never mind the post-Magna Carta British monarchy. Anyhow, on November 5, 1605, Fawkes was discovered underneath Parliament, hanging around with a match and a few dozen barrels of gunpowder. At which point, I’m sure he said something to the effect of “Gunpowder? Nope, that’s not my gunpowder. Just watching it for a friend.”

So, anyway, King James ordered everybody to light bonfires in celebration of his not being blown up, and after three or so days of torture (the Brits were rather good at that sort of thing – though I expect they referred to it as “enhanced interrogation”) Fawkes gave up his co-conspirators and he and the ones they captured were all convicted and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered – which is a rather unpleasant way to die. Fawkes went last, and either managed to jump off the scaffold or he just fell, or maybe the rope was too long. At any rate, he managed to snap his neck and therefore escaped the really nasty bits (well, he escaped being alive for it – they did it anyway).

Rather a sick mind to come up with that punishment (apparently devised in the 13th Century – by a committee, no doubt) and not actually taken off the books until 1867, and I can’t imagine how twisted you’d have to be to actually be the person to carry it out. If you weren’t nuts when you started, you’d have to be by the time it was over.

Still, they may want to bring it back here in the US, for things like lying to Congress. But maybe only if you’re the Attorney General or something.

Just a thought.