J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, November 07, 2011

Processions of the Guys

Here are a bunch of pictures of Guy Fawkes’ Day published in Britain in the 1800s, or the early 1900s at the latest. They all show boys carrying an effigy of Guy Fawkes on a chair, as the pseudonymous Peter Parley described in 1845.

The Fawkes effigy always carries a lantern, and usually a bundle of straw. In most cases he’s smoking a pipe (or even two). Those details refer to how he was captured preparing to set fire to barrels of gunpowder under Parliament in 1605.
Sometimes the effigy wears a conical hat, in one case an elaborate one. Those recall the caricatured mitre placed on the Pope effigy in New England’s pre-Revolutionary celebrations of the fifth of November. But it seems to be an all-purpose emblem of ridicule rather than a specific style. According to some verbal descriptions, some effigies wore cocked hats to appear antique.
One of these pictures shows the boys carrying the effigy wearing masks of their own. We know from people’s recollections that dressing up like that was a standard part of the celebration.
What’s not standard, however, is the look of Guy Fawkes. Generally he looks like Mr. Punch (or perhaps a Punch mask provided a convenient face for him). Often he has a mustache; sometimes not. Sometimes he wears a dark cape; often not. The iconography of a Guy Fawkes effigy was still in flux.
TOMORROW: So where did today’s standardized “Guy Fawkes mask” come from?

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