On 5 November 1605 Londoners were encouraged to celebrate the King’s escape from assassination by lighting bonfires, “always provided that ‘this testemonye of joy be carefull done without any danger or disorder'”. An Act of Parliament designated each 5 November as a day of thanksgiving for “the joyful day of deliverance”, and remained in force until 1859. Although he was only one of 13 conspirators, Fawkes is today the individual most associated with the failed Plot.
In Britain, 5 November has variously been called Guy Fawkes Night, Guy Fawkes Day, Plot Night and Bonfire Night; the latter can be traced directly back to the original celebration of 5 November 1605. Bonfires were accompanied by fireworks from the 1650s onwards, and it became the custom to burn an effigy (usually the pope) after 1673, when the heir presumptive, James, Duke of York, made his conversion to Catholicism public. Effigies of other notable figures who have become targets for the public’s ire, such as Paul Kruger and Margaret Thatcher, have also found their way onto the bonfires, although most modern effigies are of Fawkes. The “guy” is normally created by children, from old clothes, newspapers, and a mask. During the 19th century, “guy” came to mean an oddly dressed person, but in American English it lost any pejorative connotation, and was used to refer to any male person.
William Harrison Ainsworth’s 1841 historical romance Guy Fawkes; or, The Gunpowder Treason portrays Fawkes in a generally sympathetic light, and transformed him in the public perception into an “acceptable fictional character”. Fawkes subsequently appeared as “essentially an action hero” in children’s books and penny dreadfuls such as The Boyhood Days of Guy Fawkes; or, The Conspirators of Old London, published in about 1905. Historian Lewis Call has observed that Fawkes is now “a major icon in modern political culture”. He went on to write that the image of Fawkes’s face became “a potentially powerful instrument for the articulation of postmodern anarchism”[h] during the late 20th century, exemplified by the mask worn by V in the comic book series V for Vendetta, who fights against a fictional fascist English state.
Guy Fawkes is sometimes toasted as “the last man to enter Parliament with honest intentions.”