York tries to restore reputation of its local hero, Guy Fawkes

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The Independent Online

Public lectures, street entertainments, performances of 17th-century music and re-enactments of Fawkes' Gunpowder Plot are among the many public events to which the visitors to the city will be treated today with the opportunity to walk city's new "Guy Fawkes" trail for those who arrive early enough.

The message from the city is clear: Fawkes, a man recently included on Sir Bernard Ingham's list of the 50 greatest Yorkshire folk, has been misunderstood. "He was notorious - some people have said he was a 17th-century terrorist - but some of the historical facts get diluted and people remember having a good time with bonfire celebrations," Gillian Cruddas, chief executive of the York Tourism Bureau, said. "He was a man with strong convictions and that's quite fascinating in its historical context."

A Fawkes display in the York Dungeon reflects her view, centring on the gruesome torture Fawkes went through after being caught.

The city has always been a little indignant about the way history has portrayed Fawkes, whose father, Edward, worked as a notary of the ecclesiastical courts and an advocate of the court of the Archbishop of York and whose mother, Edith, was from the eminent Harrington family, merchants and aldermen of York. Burning Fawkes effigies is banned at his old school, St Peter's, an inevitable stop-off on the heritage trail where an orchestra and 200-strong chorus celebrated him at a Gunpowder Plot Festival concert last night.

The historical evidence behind the emotional fervour is provided by James Sharpe, York University's professor of history.

In a book on the Gunpowder Plot and its place in the national memory, Professor Sharpe has portrayed Fawkes as an experienced soldier and committed Catholic who acted out of sincere belief and who withstood three days of torture before naming his co-conspirators, not realising they were all either already dead or known to the authorities.

"He was massively courageous when he was first caught," Professor Sharpe said. "The signature on his final confession, compared to that on the first, tells the story of a man who had been physically and mentally broken."

But there is not universal appreciation of Fawkes and his attempts to blow up King James I at the state opening of Parliament. The Sussex town of Battle has a spectacular season of bonfire events to celebrate the fact the plot did not succeed.

"It's something that should be celebrated, because had it worked the result would have been absolutely catastrophic," said Andrew Knowles-Baker, of the Battel Bonfire Boyes, Britain's oldest bonfire society.

"It was an act of terrorism - they were blowing up their own people as well as the ones they wanted to remove. Several hundred people would have been killed and it would have changed the face of the monarchy."