A Brief History of the Guy Fawkes Mask

Getty Images
Getty Images

Over the past decade, dissidents across the globe have appropriated the visage of Guy Fawkes, the infamous insurgent who tried to blow up the British Parliament in 1605, warping the once-reviled fringe rebel into a widespread symbol of resistance.

The iconic version of the Guy Fawkes mask owes its popularity to the graphic novel and film V for Vendetta, which centers on a vigilante's efforts to destroy an authoritarian government in a dystopian future United Kingdom. Although he didn't predict the mask's role in popular protest, David Lloyd, the artist who illustrated the comic, told The New York Times, "It's a great symbol of protest for anyone who sees tyranny."

Before V for Vendetta (which was published in serial form throughout the 1980s before being made into a 2005 film), Guy Fawkes costumes and effigies were only popular in the U.K. on Halloween and Guy Fawkes Day, a November 5 celebration that, by the 20th century, had been largely divorced from Fawkes' violent plot.

But as you've likely noticed, over the past few years the stylized mask has evolved into a global symbol of dissent, employed by everyone from shadowy computer hackers to Turkish airline workers. And although the masks are often used in anti-establishment demonstrations, one of the largest media corporations in the country gains the most from the masks' rising popularity. Time Warner owns the rights to the image, and at over 100,000 masks made each year, it is by far the company's best-selling facial costume.

Here, a brief history of the mask's unlikely rise:

ANONYMOUS

The hacktivist collective Anonymous popularized these masks in 2008 when it launched Project Chanology, a movement targeting the Church of Scientology after the church tried to censor an interview with Tom Cruise on the web. Members of the collective agreed to come out from behind their computer screens to protest the Church of Scientology, but needed a way to conceal their identities. The Guy Fawkes mask was their chosen disguise. Although the collective has never officially stated the reasoning behind this choice, it's likely an homage to an eerie scene in V for Vendetta in which a group of masked protesters marches on the British Parliament. When asked why the mask was selected, one protester told The Boston Globe, "I can't say, not having contact with the inner circle—wherever they are—but I can say the image of people marching towards Parliament in the spirit of protest, that wall of masks, had a certain resonance amongst those who held negative feelings about organizations such as Scientology but also towards the government." The project grew into a national movement with demonstrations in Florida, Michigan, Boston, and Los Angeles. Since then, the masks have become a go-to symbol of the collective and anti-establishment movements worldwide.

After Anonymous' first major political demonstration in 2008, the collective began cleverly aligning itself with a variety of anti-establishment movements from Occupy Wall Street to the Arab Spring. It is, in part, due to these loose affiliations that the adopted emblem of one movement evolved into a global symbol of resistance.

OCCUPY

The Occupy Movement, born out of the Zuccotti Park-based Occupy Wall Street, adopted the mask in 2011. On Guy Fawkes Day that year, a Facebook invitation urged "all OCCUPY protesters of the world to come together on November 5th to rally again for our efforts to end corruption and social injustice." From that point on, the symbolism of the mask evolved concurrently with the movement.

It's logical that OWS would appropriate the disguise of the faceless anti-establishment crusader from Lloyd's franchise. Still, the mask doesn't carry such weight for everyone who dons it. Sid Hiltunen, an unemployed stockbroker who joined the OWS movement, told The New York Times, "If you want to show your support but are afraid you'll lose your job, just wear a mask—any mask."

Protesters around the world were spotted wearing the anti-authoritarian vigilante's trademark disguise. Even Julian Assange, the man behind WikiLeaks, wore one to an Occupy rally in London.

PROTESTS IN THAILAND

This summer, another anti-government movement embraced the Guy Fawkes mask. In Thailand, protesters wore them in demonstrations against the so-called puppet administration controlled by an exiled ex-prime minister. This isn't the first time the mask has surfaced in Thailand. In 2011 a small band of protesters in Bangkok donned them the same day the "Anonymous Thailand" Facebook page launched. The masks and leaderless nature of the demonstrations are reminiscent of the global Occupy movement and the anti-establishment Anonymous message.

TURKISH AIRLINES WORKERS

In a contemporaneous movement, Turkish Airlines employees have adopted the masks to fight for their rights as workers.

THE MIDDLE EAST

The mask also played a role in the Arab Spring movements of 2011, and photos of masked protesters in Egypt also emerged this fall. The Guy Fawkes mask has become so incendiary that several Middle Eastern countries are prohibiting its import and sale. The Saudi Ministry of Interior did just that on May 30, claiming the mask "instills a culture of violence and extremism." The measure was expanded several days later to include the destruction of all masks currently in Saudi stores. In February the government in Bahrain also banned the masks.

THE NSA LEAKER'S GIRLFRIEND

The voyeuristic media coverage surrounding NSA leaker Edward Snowden's alleged girlfriend, Lindsay Mills, includes some undeniably frivolous content, but one aspect of the story is pertinent. At one point, Snowden uploaded a photo of a woman (presumably Mills) wearing a Guy Fawkes mask. As a symbol of anti-government resistance and the unofficial emblem of a pro-transparency hacktivist collective, this mask may be the most relevant piece of information surrounding her.

**

The unlikely proliferation of the Guy Fawkes mask in popular protest came as a welcome surprise to its creator. Alan Moore, author of V for Vendetta, told The Guardian, "I suppose when I was writing V for Vendetta, I would in my secret heart of hearts have thought: Wouldn't it be great if these ideas actually made an impact? So when you start to see that idle fantasy intrude on the regular world … It's peculiar. It feels like a character I created 30 years ago has somehow escaped the realm of fiction."

All photos courtesy of Getty Images.

More from The Week

The Healing Powers of Sand
*
The Beauty and Tragedy of Charlie Brown's Love For the Little Red-Haired Girl
*
The Joy of Traveling Alone

9 Facial Reconstructions of Famous Historical Figures

A facial reconstruction of King Richard III unveiled by the Richard III Society in 2013
A facial reconstruction of King Richard III unveiled by the Richard III Society in 2013
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Why look at a painting of a historical figure when you can come face to face with one? Forensic facial reconstruction using scans of skeletal remains allows researchers to create 3D models of the face through a combination of science, history, and artistic interpretation. The results may be somewhat subjective, but they’re fascinating anyway. Here are nine facial reconstructions of famous people.

1. Richard III

In 2012, King Richard III’s skeleton was found below a parking lot in Leicester, England, where in 1485 he was hurriedly buried after dying in battle. A reconstruction (above) shows a young man, only 32 years old, with a gentle, approachable face. It’s a far cry from the child-murdering villain portrayed by Shakespeare and other writers. One thing they said does seem accurate, however: The skeleton had a curved spine from scoliosis, suggesting that Richard’s humpback may have been real.

2. Bach

J.S. Bach’s bust has sat on innumerable pianos for centuries, but he only posed for one portrait in his lifetime. So this reconstruction of his face—which was taken from a bronze cast of his skull—offers an interesting glimpse into the man beneath the 18th century wig. You get the same thick neck, underbite, and stern brow you see in the painting, but the reconstruction’s friendly, confused stare lacks the soul of the real man … and his music, for that matter.

3. Shakespeare

Apparently, no one knows anything about Shakespeare for sure—his hair color, his sexual orientation, how he spelled his name, whether he liked his wife, etc. Some people aren’t even sure whether he wrote his plays or not. So this rendering, taken from a death mask found in Germany, is bound to be controversial. But if it is Shakespeare, it’s pretty intriguing. It shows a man who suffered from cancer and had a sad, soulful face.

4. Dante

Maybe it’s because The Divine Comedy dealt with the ugliness of sin that Dante Alighieri is usually depicted as unattractive, with a pointy chin, buggy eyes, and enormous hooked nose. But a reconstruction done from measurements of the skull taken in 1921—the only time the remains have been out of the crypt—reveals a much more attractive Dante. The face has a rounder chin, pleasant eyes, and smaller nose than previously thought. It’s a face with character.

5. King Henri IV

The mummified head of France’s King Henri IV was lost after the French Revolution until a few years ago, when it showed up in a tax collector’s attic. In his day, Henri was beloved by everyone except the Catholic fundamentalists who murdered him in 1610. The hard-living king looks a bit old for his 56 years, but there’s a twinkle in his eyes. What the model cannot show, however, was how much the king stank—apparently he smelled of ”garlic, feet and armpits.”

6. Cleopatra’s Sister

Cleopatra hated her half-sister Arsinoe IV so much she had her dragged out of the temple of Artemis and murdered. In 2013, researchers said they had discovered what may be Arisone’s body, based on the shape of the tomb, carbon dating, and other factors. The resulting facial reconstruction shows a petite teenager of European and African blood. And yeah, maybe this is closer to what Arsinoe would look like if she were trapped in The Sims, but since Cleopatra’s remains are long gone, this may be the closest we get to knowing what she looked like.

7. King Tut

King Tutankhamun, whose famous sarcophagus has traveled far more than the “boy king” did in his 19-year lifetime, had buckteeth, a receding chin, and a slim nose, according to 3D renderings of his mummy. His weird skull shape is just within range of normal and was probably genetic—his father, Akhenaten, had a similarly shaped head. Tut’s body also had a broken leg, indicating he may have died from falling off a horse or chariot.

8. Copernicus

Nicolaus Copernicus, who challenged the belief that the sun revolved around the earth, died in 1543 at age 70. When his body was found in 2006 in a Polish church and confirmed by matching DNA to strands of his hair left in a book, the Polish police used their forensic laboratory to make this portrait. They made sure to include Copernicus’s broken nose and the scar above his left eye. Who knew that the Father of Astronomy looked so much like the actor James Cromwell?

9. Santa Claus

The remains of St. Nicholas, i.e. Santa Claus, have been in a church in Bari, Italy, since they were stolen from Turkey in 1087. This reproduction, taken from measurements of his skull, reveal that St. Nicholas had a small body—he was only 5’6”—and a huge, masculine head, with a square jaw and strong muscles in the neck. He also had a broken nose, like someone had beaten him up. This is consistent with accounts of St. Nicholas from the time: It turns out that Santa Claus had quite a temper.

A version of this list was first published in 2013.

Fabric Allegedly From Queen Elizabeth I’s Only Surviving Piece of Clothing Is Going on Display

© Historic Royal Palaces Courtesy of St. Faith's Church, Bacton
© Historic Royal Palaces Courtesy of St. Faith's Church, Bacton

When Eleri Lynn, curator of historic dress at Historic Royal Palaces, first laid eyes on the Bacton altar cloth, she had a feeling that it wasn’t your typical 16th-century altar cloth. She had come across it online while researching Welsh connections to the Tudor court, and decided to pay a visit to St. Faith’s Church in Bacton, Herefordshire, England, to see it in person.

“I knew immediately that it was something special,” she told The Telegraph. “As I examined it, I felt as though I had found the Holy Grail, the Mona Lisa of fashion.” After a year’s worth of careful analysis, experts believe it was originally part of a dress that Queen Elizabeth I wore in the Rainbow Portrait of 1602. That makes it the only known surviving piece of clothing worn by the Virgin Queen.

Elizabeth I Rainbow Portrait
Isaac Oliver, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The cloth and Elizabeth I’s dress are both embroidered with roses, daffodils, and other flowers. The altar cloth shows animals like butterflies, frogs, squirrels, and bears, which Lynn thinks were added after the Rainbow Portrait was painted. Lynn also noticed that the altar cloth contains strands of gold and silver, which only the royal family could wear during Elizabeth I’s reign due to strict sumptuary laws.

Bacton altar cloth from Elizabeth I's dress
© Historic Royal Palaces Courtesy of St. Faith's Church, Bacton

Close-up on Bacton altar cloth from Elizabeth I's dress
© Historic Royal Palaces Courtesy of St. Faith's Church, Bacton

Since royal attire was so extravagant, it was often handed down to the next generation or reincarnated as upholstery. And, according to a statement from Hampton Royal Palaces, Elizabeth I sometimes gave her hand-me-downs to Blanche Parry, her Chief Gentlewoman of the Bedchamber and the woman who had nursed her from infancy. Parry, as it so happens, belonged to St. Faith’s Church. Lynn and her fellow historians posit that Elizabeth I may have even sent this particular fabric to St. Faith’s in memory of her companion.

While recycling or reusing clothing was sustainable, it has made it difficult for Lynn and her contemporaries to track down fashion relics from the Tudor dynasty. In addition to that, Lynn told The Telegraph, “Oliver Cromwell sold off every item of clothing in the royal stores, so the only things we have, including a hat which might have been worn by Henry VIII, have come back to Hampton Court after they have survived elsewhere.”

St. Faith’s has loaned the cloth to Historic Royal Palaces, the charity that oversees Hampton Court Palace, where you can see it on display along with the Rainbow Portrait and other Tudor artifacts from October 12, 2019, to February 23, 2020.

[h/t The Telegraph]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER