Guy Fawkes and the language of plots

Teerapat Seedafong/EyeEm/Getty

by Liz Walter

In November 1605, a man called Guy Fawkes was discovered in the cellar of the House of Lords in London, along with 36 barrels of gunpowder (a powder used to cause explosions). His intention was to blow up King James I and the whole of parliament because of their hostility to Catholics.

The plan became known as the Gunpowder Plot, and it is remembered in the UK on November 5th every year with bonfires and firework displays. Originally, this festival was known as ‘Gunpowder Treason Day’ (treason means doing something to harm your country or your king or queen), but we now call it ‘Bonfire Night’, ‘Fireworks Night’ or ‘Guy Fawkes Night’.

In honour of this anniversary, this post will be about plots and rebellions. Let’s start with a few nice phrases and collocations. Firstly, we say that people hatch a plot (think of it). They may want to overthrow a government/regime or – slightly more informally – to topple it. A group of people who have been exploited may rise up against their oppressors (the people who have controlled them), and when groups of people go outside to protest together, we say that they take to the streets.

Another word for a secret plot is a conspiracy, and the people who take part in it are conspirators. When a large group of people try to challenge a government or someone who controls them, we call it an uprising, while the word rebellion is used both for violent actions aimed at trying to change a political system, or for less dramatic protests against authority, for example by members of a political party against its leader.

A coup involves taking control from a government suddenly and often forcefully. It is usually carried out by a small or fairly small group of people (often military figures), while a revolution usually involves more widespread action from civilians. The people involved are known as revolutionaries. A mutiny is an uprising of soldiers or sailors, who become mutineers.

Someone who publicly criticizes their government (especially in a regime that does not allow free speech) is a dissident. Someone who encourages other people to take part in protests or rebellions is an agitator and people who actually fight against their government are insurgents. The most dominant person in a group of plotters is known as the ringleader.

So, as we see, there are plenty of words and phrases connected with plotting. But what happened to Guy Fawkes? Well, he certainly paid the price for his actions. After being tortured to make him give the names of the other plotters, he was executed by the extremely gruesome punishment for treason at that time: by being hung, drawn and quartered.


11 thoughts on “Guy Fawkes and the language of plots

    1. Kasia

      Did they kill him three times to make sure he was dead for good? 😊
      Sorry, I’ve just checked what this phrase means😉 He wasn’t killed 3 times, just 2😊

  1. Jenny

    Great to read this article as it just so happens that I recently discussed The Hollow Men by T.S. Eliot with my tutor!

  2. Excellent article!! Pretty illustrated!! By the way, I would like to know if there is another way to say “was discovered”? I mean, when Guy Fawkes was just about to blow up parliament!! Thank you

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