Guido Fawkes: Gunpowder, Treason and Plot
I’m just off to a bonfire and here’s the very reason why…
Guy Fawkes was a member of a group of English Catholics who planned the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605.
Born in York, Fawkes converted to Catholicism as an adult, before travelling to the continent to fight on the side of the Catholic Spanish in the Eight Years War. After failing to find support for a Catholic rebellion in England, Fawkes returned to England where he was introduced to Robert Catesby, who planned to assassinate James I, by blowing up the Houses of Lords, and restore a Catholic monarch to the throne. The plotters secured the lease to a cellar beneath the House of Lords, and Fawkes was placed in charge of the gunpowder they stockpiled there.
On 26 October a member of Lords received an anonymous letter warning him of the gunpowder plot, and telling him to stay away “for … they shall receyve a terrible blowe this parleament”. Despite becoming aware of the letter the conspirators resolved to continue their plan, believing it “was clearly thought to be a hoax”. Fawkes checked the cellar on the 30th, and reported that nothing had been disturbed.
However, the King had also been informed of the letter and he ordered a search of the cellars, which took place on the morning of the 5th of November. Fawkes had taken up his station late on the previous night, armed with a slow match. He was found shortly after midnight and arrested.
Fawkes was interrogated but remained defiant. He gave a false identity but admitted his intention to blow up the House of Lords, expressing his regret at having failed. His steadfast manner earned him the admiration of the King, however, it did not prevent him ordering that Fawkes be tortured to reveal his co-conspirators. The King directed that: “the gentler Tortures are to be first used unto him [and so by degrees proceeding to the worst]”.
Fawkes was transferred to the Tower of London where he revealed his true identity, telling his interrogators that there were four others involved in the plot. He eventually revealed their names. Although it is uncertain if he was subjected to the horrors of the rack, Fawkes’s signature, little more than a scrawl, bears testament to the suffering he endured at the hands of his interrogators, as can be seen in this ‘before and after’ here.
At trial Fawkes and a number of his fellow conspirators were found guilty of high treason and sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered. However, before he could be hanged, Fawkes jumped from the scaffold and broke his neck. His lifeless body was nevertheless quartered and, as was the custom, his body parts were distributed to “the four corners of the kingdom”, to be displayed as a warning to other would-be traitors.
Fawkes became synonymous with the Gunpowder Plot, the failure of which has been commemorated in England since 5 November 1605. His effigy is traditionally burned on a bonfire, commonly accompanied by a firework display.