by Gavin Johnston on November 04, 2017

Did you think to kill me? There’s no flesh and blood within this cloak to kill.
There’s only an idea.
Ideas are bulletproof.

                                     V for Vendetta


In Alan Moore’s seminal comic series V for Vendetta, the terrorist known
only as "V" chooses the fifth of November to begin his campaign of terror
by destroying  the Palace of Westminster, the home of the British parliament.


Originally published in Warrior in 1982, V for Vendetta is set in England in 1997 in a nation which has become a fascist state.  Minority groups have been systematically murdered.  The crushed populace live restricted lives. V, an escaped prisoner of the state, launches a campaign bombing and murder which culminates in a popular uprising and the collapse of government.


In the past decade, the mask worn by V has entered popular culture as a recognised symbol of rebellion.  The hacker group known as Anonymous used the mask during their protests against the actions of the Church of Scientology, concealing their identities to reduce the risk of retaliation from the litigious religious group.  The worldwide Occupy protests of 2011-2012 saw widespread use of the mask, as people dissatisfied with the lack of action to regulate banks and punish individuals for the actions which resulted in the 2008 financial crash took to the streets to make their feelings known. The mask was also seen across the middle east in Arab Spring protests.

 It’s a symbol of discontent and unrest which is now recognised across the globe...but where did this strange, grinning theatre mask come from?



Remember, remember the fifth of November
Gunpower treason and plot.
I know of no reason
why gunpowder treason
should ever be forgot

                                     V for Vendetta / Popular  children's rhyme


Britain in 1605 was a nation divided. King James VI of Scotland had also ascended to the throne of England and Ireland after the death of his cousin, Queen Elizabeth. James was the head of the church and a member of the Protestant faith, but ruled nations which only a few decades before had been predominantly Catholic.


Whilst James himself was usually regarded as tolerant of the Catholic faith, many in positions of authority regarded its members as potential traitors, willing to place the authority of the Pope over that of the King. Catholics were widely persecuted. Refusing to acknowledge the King’s authority as a religious figurehead was a crime. Taking part in religious ceremonies was punishable by torture and execution.


It was in this climate of religious intolerance that a group of men decided upon a plan to kill the King, his Lords and the most senior figures in his church. They would replace the monarch and restore the authority of the Roman Catholic church in Britain.

Robert Catseby had been a wealthy man from a respected family, but had found his world gradually dismantled as he refused to abandon his faith. He brought together a group of men who would plan an attack at the heart of the British establishment which would transform the world forever.

Renting a large storage area underneath the Palace of Westminster, the men managed to secretly gather thirty six barrels of gunpowder below the building where the King would meet with his Lords and senior advisors on the fifth of November. More than 5,500 lbs of explosive which would devastate the centre of London and kill the most senior figures in the country. The fuse would be lit by Guy Fawkes, a war veteran and explosives expert.

The plot was uncovered when an anonymous letter was sent to one of the Lords who would be meeting with the king. The news was passed to the King, who instructed that the Palace was to be searched. Guy Fawkes was discovered, along with the gunpowder, in the Palace undercroft, mere hours away from lighting the fuse.


Fawkes was tortured and forced to reveal the names of his co-conspirators.  They were found guilty and put to death within a few weeks.


When news of the uncovered plot was made public, the people of London were encouraged to celebrate with the lighting on bonfires across the city. A law passed by parliament only a few weeks later called for annual celebrations on the fifth of November, in remembrance of the event.


You wear a mask for so long,
you forget who you were beneath it.

                                                           V for Vendetta


It's a celebration which continues to this day, although the motivation for the event has long since faded from importance.

Guy Fawkes Night, often just called Bonfire Night, is marked with bonfires and firework displays, with small family celebrations or large organised displays not only in Britain but across the world

The centrepiece of the event is the bonfire, on which an effigy of a man is traditionally burned – known as the “Guy”.

Whilst most of the people who take part in these celebrations will be able to tell you about the gunpowder plot, or at least the children’s rhyme which urges them to remember, very few are here in actual remembrance of what happened.



I’m the king of the twenty first century.
I’m the bogeyman.
The villain.
The black sheep of the family.

                                                    V for Vendetta


In Moore’s V for Vendetta, the character V is an anarchist who plots to take revenge and to bring down the state and destroy any form of government, replacing the system with a leaderless “the land of do-as-you-please”.

The character’s iconic look has its origin in Guy Fawkes the man. A former soldier who conspired to commit what we would now call a terror attack to kill and replace government.

Through time, Fawkes’ image was gradually commercialised as Guy Fawkes Night became less about celebrating the discovery of a plot and more about having a good time.


It was this idea of a popular culture terrorist which inspired David Lloyd in his original designs of the V mask, which was later co-opted as symbol of dissent and of anti-establishment feeling.


The Guy Fawkes mask has become a symbol of rebellion. Fawkes the man stood against the authority of a King, right or wrong he was willing to kill and die in defence of what he believed. As he gradually faded from the collective consciousness, reduced to a figure of fun, V for Vendetta took this idea that an individual can transform the world and brought it once more to life. As the modern world raged against inequality and inequity, Guy Fawkes once more became a symbol of the desperate desire for change.



...if the mask stands for anything, in the current context, that is what it stands for.
This is the people.
That mysterious entity that is evoked so often. This is the people.

                                                                                                                Alan Moore








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