Guy Fawkes

gigatos | January 5, 2022


Guy Fawkes (English pronunciation: ), also known as Guido Fawkes or John Johnson, probably born 13 April 1570 in York, died 31 January 1606 in London, was one of the Catholic conspirators who attempted to assassinate James I by blowing up the House of Lords in the Palace of Westminster in 1605, in what is known as the Gunpowder Conspiracy. Fawkes was one of the first conspirators to join in the assassination.

Fawkes was born and educated in York. When Fawkes was eight years old, his father, Edward Fawkes, died, and his mother Edith later remarried a Catholic. Fawkes later converted to Catholicism and then went to continental Europe, where he fought under the name Guido Fawkes in the Dutch War of Independence. Fawkes then travelled to Spain to seek support for a Catholic rebellion in England, but his efforts were unsuccessful. He met Thomas Wintour and the two returned to England where they were introduced to Robert Catesby, the mastermind behind the conspiracy. Fawkes became involved in the conspiracy after a meeting on 20 May 1604. The conspirators managed to secure a lease on a basement vault located just below the English House of Lords and they appointed Fawkes as the person responsible for the explosives stored there. However, the authorities were alerted to the planned bomb plot in an anonymous letter and when they searched the Palace of Westminster early on 5 November 1605, they found Fawkes guarding the explosives. Over the next few days Fawkes was interrogated and tortured and he finally gave himself up and admitted to the conspiracy, which led to him later being sentenced to death by hanging, drawing and quartering. When he was due to be hanged on 31 January 1606, Fawkes chose to jump from the gallows, breaking his neck and dying instantly.

Fawkes is strongly associated with the failed Gunpowder Conspiracy and his memory is celebrated in England on 5 November each year, during what is known as Guy Fawkes Night. During the celebrations, his image is burnt on a bonfire, accompanied by fireworks. In the 1980s serial novel V for Vendetta, and the film based on it, the main character wears a Guy Fawkes mask which later became a commercial product. This mask has been adopted as a symbol of protest by, for example, the hacker group Anonymous and the Occupy movement.

Life before 1604

Guy Fawkes was born in 1570 in Stonegate, York as the second of four children of Edward Fawkes, a procurator and lawyer. Fawkes” parents were members of the Church of England as were his grandparents; Fawkes” grandmother, born as Ellen Harrington, was the daughter of a prominent merchant who was Lord Mayor of York in 1536. However, the family on his mother”s side were Catholics and Fawke”s cousin Richard Cowling was a Jesuit priest. or ) was at the time an uncommon name in England, but may have been made popular in York because of the judge Guy Fairfax of Steeton. The exact date of Fawkes” birth is unknown, but he was baptised in the church of St Michael le Belfrey in York on 16 April 1570. As it was customary at this time for the newborn child to be baptised three days after its birth, Fawkes” date of birth is assumed to be 13 April 1570. In 1568 Edith had given birth to a daughter named Anne but she died in November of that year, when she was about seven weeks old. Edith gave birth to two more children after Guy Fawkes: Anne (born 1572) and Elizabeth (born 1575). Both of these married, in 1599 and 1594 respectively.

Edward died in 1579, when Fawkes was eight years old. Edith remarried several years later to the Catholic Dionis Baynbrigge of Scotton, Harrogate. Fawkes may have been influenced by the Catholic faith of the Baynbrigges, but also by the Pulleyn and Percy families of Scotton and by his time at St Peter”s School in York. Although the school”s headmaster, John Pulleyn, was essentially a conformist, he came from a Yorkshire family known to be antagonistic to the Church of England. Pulleyn”s predecessor at St Peter”s had been imprisoned for twenty years for his dissent. Author Catharine Pullein argues that Fawkes” Catholic faith began to grow because of the Harrington family, who were known to harbour Catholic priests, one of whom accompanied Fawkes to Flanders in 1592-1593. Fawkes went to school with John and Christopher Wright, both of whom were later involved in the Gunpowder Conspiracy, and the three Catholic priests, Oswald Tesimond, Edward Oldcorne and Robert Middleton.

After leaving school, Fawkes went to work for Anthony Browne, 1st Viscount Montague. However, the two did not get along and Fawkes was dismissed after a short stint. Fawkes was hired instead by Anthony-Maria Browne, 2nd Viscount Montague, who had succeeded his grandfather at the age of 18. At least one source claims that Fawkes married and had a son, but this information is uncertain.

Fawkes was described by Tesimond as pleasant, cheerful and loyal to his friends. Tesimond also wrote that although Fawkes was opposed to quarrels and discord, he was well trained in warfare. The author Antonia Fraser described Fawkes as a tall and powerful man with thick auburn hair and beard and a period moustache. Fraser also wrote that Fawkes was a man of action with great physical stamina and capable of intelligent debate, which often surprised his enemies.

In October 1591, Fawkes sold the property in Clifton, York that he had inherited from his father. He now chose to travel to continental Europe where he took part in the Dutch War of Independence for Catholic Spain against the Republic of the United Netherlands and also to some extent France. Although England did not fight Spain on land, the countries were still at war and the Spanish Armada of 1588 was fresh in the memories of many. Fawkes joined William Stanley, an English Catholic who had built up an army in Ireland to fight alongside Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester in the Netherlands. Stanley had been much loved by Elizabeth I of England, but after he submitted to the Spanish army at Deventer in 1587, he and most of his troops had chosen to fight for Spain instead. Fawkes was appointed alférez, a kind of non-commissioned officer, and after he had done well at the Battle of Calais in 1596 he was recommended for the rank of captain in 1603. That same year, Fawkes went to Spain to try to help carry out a Catholic rebellion in England. During this time Fawkes began to use the Italian version of his name, Guido Fawkes, and in a memorandum he wrote during this time he called James I of England “a heretic”. Furthermore, Fawkes condemned Scotland and the king”s Scottish favourites, writing that he saw no possibility of England and Scotland being able to reconcile as things stood. Although Fawkes was welcomed with open arms by the Spanish, Philip III of Spain refused to help him with any plans against England. King Philip then made peace with England in August 1604.

Participation in the gunpowder conspiracy

When King James succeeded Queen Elizabeth, he seemed to act in a more tolerant way towards different beliefs than Queen Elizabeth had done before, and the Catholic English hoped that they would not be persecuted because of their faith. However, Robert Catesby, a devout Catholic from Warwickshire, was unhappy with James”s exercise of royal power and so he planned to assassinate the king in an attempt to blow up the English House of Lords in the Palace of Westminster. In the ensuing riot, Catesby would incite the people to revolt and get them to crown Elizabeth Stuart Queen.

The first meeting of the gunpowder conspiracy was held at the Duck and Drake inn in London on 20 May 1604. Attending this meeting were Fawkes, Catesby, John Wright, Thomas Wintour and Thomas Percy. In an earlier conversation with Wintour and Wright, Catesby had said that he wanted to blow up the House of Lords in the Palace of Westminster and thus kill James. Wintour was initially opposed to this plan, but he was persuaded by Catesby to travel to continental Europe to seek help, mainly from Spain. Wintour met, among others, the Welsh spy Hugh Owen and William Stanley, but they both rejected Catesby”s idea of trying to get Spanish support for his plans. Owen, however, introduced Wintour to Fawkes, who had been away from England for many years and was therefore no longer a familiar face in the country. Wintour got Fawkes on board with the somewhat vague plans to “do something in England if peace with Spain doesn”t help us.” In late April 1604, the two men returned to Catesby”s home in Lambeth, where they told Catesby that although Spain was not opposed to their plans, they were not going to send them any support; a position that Catesby seemed to have already expected.

Percy, one of the conspirators, served on 9 June 1604 as a bodyguard to James, which gave him a reason to acquire a place to live in London. With the help of Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland”s agents, Dudley Carleton, 1st Viscount Dorchester and John Hippisley, Percy arranged a sublet from Henry Ferrers (a tenant of John Whynniard) for a house in Westminster. Percy made Fawkes his vassal and Fawkes then went by the name of John Johnson. The conspirators now rented several properties in London, including one in Lambeth which was used to temporarily store the powder kegs to be used in the blast. These were then transported across the Thames to their final destination: a basement vault located just below the House of Lords in the Palace of Westminster. Concerns about the plague at the time caused the opening of Parliament to be postponed from February to 3 October 1605. During this delay, the conspirators may have dug a tunnel under the Palace of Westminster, but no evidence of the tunnel”s existence has ever been found. On 25 March 1605, the conspirators succeeded in obtaining the lease of the basement vault under the English House of Lords in the Palace of Westminster, and in this room the thirty-six powder kegs were placed. The presence of the plague meant that the opening of Parliament was again postponed, this time from 3 October to 5 November.

In May 1605, Fawkes travelled to Owen to inform him of the conspirators” plans and also to seek help abroad. At some point during this journey, Fawkes came to the attention of Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, who at the time had several spies across Europe. One of these spies was the commander William Turner, who may have been the one who observed Fawkes during his journey. Although the information he used to share with Salisbury was often vague, and although he knew nothing about the conspiracy, Turner reported on 21 April that Fawkes was to be taken to England by Tesimond. Fawkes was a well-known Flemish mercenary, and Turner”s report showed how he was to meet a Mr. Catesby and his friends, who had access to both arms and horses. However, Turner”s report made no mention of Fawkes” pseudonym John Johnson and the report did not reach Salisbury until late November of that year, after the conspiracy had already been exposed.

It is uncertain exactly when Fawkes returned to England, but he was back in London by the end of August 1605. He and Thomas Wintour examined the gunpowder barrels and found that the gunpowder had become unusable. Because of this, more powder kegs were brought in and they hid these kegs behind wood, which they also brought with them. The final details of the conspiracy were worked out in October 1605. Fawkes was to light the stub wires for the explosive charges and then escape across the Thames. At the same time, a rebellion would be launched in the Midlands, with the aim of capturing Stuart. Fawkes would then make his way to continental Europe and explain to the Catholic countries what had happened in England.

In late October 1605, several of the conspirators expressed concern about the safety of the Catholics who would be present on the day they planned to blow up the Palace of Westminster. Catesby”s response to the whole discussion was that “the innocent must perish with the guilty, rather than destroy the chances of success.” On 26 October, William Parker, 4th Baron Monteagle received an anonymous letter at his house in Hoxton, warning him not to attend the opening of Parliament. Monteagle was unsure of the contents of the anonymous letter so he sent it to Salisbury, who was Secretary of State at the time. In the meantime, Catesby decided that the letter was not a sufficient threat to their plans and he ordered the conspiracy to proceed as planned. Fawkes made a final examination of the powder on 30 October and reported that all looked well. On the night before the intended bombing, Fawkes visited Robert Keyes and Ambrose Rookwood at Elizabeth More”s house near Temple Bar in London. Fawkes came to collect a pocket watch that Percy had left there, which he would use to light the fuse at the right time.

The letter to Monteagle was shown to King James on 1 November 1605 and he felt it hinted at something involving fire and gunpowder; possibly along the lines of the explosions that preceded the murder of his father, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, on 10 February 1567. On Saturday 2 November, the Privy Council decided that Parliament should be searched. On Monday 4 November, the first search, led by Thomas Howard, 1st Earl of Suffolk, found a large pile of twigs lying in a corner of the basement vault beneath the House of Lords. James ordered another search to be made, which took place around midnight on the night of 5 November. This search was led by Thomas Knyvet, 1st Baron Knyvet, and they found Fawkes in the cellar vault under the English House of Lords, guarding the powder kegs. Fawkes was arrested on the spot.

Fawkes stated that his name was John Johnson at the first interviews held with him, during which he was defiant. When asked what he was going to use all that gunpowder for, he replied that it was for “blowing you Scottish wretches back to your hollow.” He identified himself as a 36-year-old Catholic from Netherdale in Yorkshire and he stated that his parents” names were Thomas and Edith Jackson. When questioned about the wounds on his body, Fawkes said they were caused by pleurisy. Fawkes later admitted that he had planned to blow up the House of Lords in the Palace of Westminster and he lamented that he had failed in his mission. His steadfast manner impressed James.

Although James admired Fawkes, this did not prevent him from ordering the torture of John Johnson on 6 November, in order to obtain the names of his associates. James ordered that the torture would initially be of the simpler kind, by which he meant the use of handcuffs, and then escalate to the possible use of a rack. Fawkes was now taken to the Tower. James prepared a list of questions to be asked of Fawkes during the torture interrogation, some of which were: “who are you really?”, “when and where did you learn French?” and “if you are a Papist, who made you one?”. The interrogation of Fawkes took place in Queen”s House at the Tower and the room in which Fawkes was tortured was later named after him and is now known as the Guy Fawkes Room.

William Waad, who was Lieutenant of the Tower of London at the time, supervised the torture hearings and eventually obtained Fawkes” confession. He searched through Fawkes” belongings and found a letter addressed to Guy Fawkes. To Waad”s surprise, John Johnson kept quiet about the letter and he did not reveal anything about the conspiracy. On the evening of 6 November, Fawkes spoke to Waad, who later reported the following to Salisbury: “He told us that since he took on this responsibility he has prayed to God every day that what he is doing is for the benefit of the Catholic faith and the salvation of his own soul.” According to Waad, Fawkes managed to rest on the night of 7 November, although he had previously been warned that the torture interrogations would continue until he had revealed all his secrets and named all his associates. Fawkes” cold-bloodedness gave way at some point during 7 November.

Edward Hoby, a contemporary diplomat and Member of Parliament, noted that “since John Johnson came to the Tower he has begun to speak English.” Fawkes revealed his real identity on 7 November and also said that there were five people involved in the conspiracy. On 8 November he began to name his accomplices and he also revealed their motives for trying to make Stuart Queen. In his third confession, on 9 November, Fawkes also named Francis Tresham. As a result of the Ridolfi Conspiracy of the early 1570s, prisoners were required to dictate their confessions before signing them, if they were still able to do so. Although it is uncertain whether Fawkes was subjected to the rack or not, his shaky signature indicates that he had suffered during the torture interrogations.

The trial of the eight surviving conspirators began on 27 January 1606. The conspirators were taken to Whitehall from the Tower and then held for a while in the Star Chamber before being led into Westminster Hall. Thomas Bates did not arrive at Westminster Hall with the other conspirators; as the prisons separated prisoners according to their social class, Bates, who was of lower status, was imprisoned in the Gatehouse instead of the Tower. Fawkes was identified as Guido Fawkes, also known as Guido Johnson. The conspirators were charged with high treason but all the accused, except Everard Digby, claimed innocence. The conspirators had no defence lawyer to represent them and therefore the outcome of the trial was more or less predetermined. The prosecutor, Edward Coke, mentioned the “Spanish treason” (trips Thomas Wintour made to Spain) in his plea, but at the same time he spoke reverently of the King of Spain. Furthermore, the Jesuits were condemned for their actions. After this, the confessions of the conspirators were read out to them. When they had been imprisoned in the Tower, Fawkes and Robert Wintour had been in the cells next to each other and it had been possible for them to converse. However, their private conversations were secretly intercepted and the transcripts of these conversations were also read out in court. The accused were then given the opportunity to address the court on why they should not be sentenced to death. Fawkes argued that he was innocent only because he was unaware of certain points in the indictment against the conspirators. At the end of the trial, all the accused were convicted of high treason.

The first executions of the conspirators took place on 30 January 1606 in the cemetery at the western end of St Paul”s Cathedral. There, Digby, Robert Wintour, John Grant and Bates were hanged, drawn and quartered. On the morning of the following day, Fawkes, Rookwood, Thomas Wintour and Keyes were each tied to a wooden frame and on these they were pulled by horse through the streets of London to Old Palace Yard in Westminster. Fawkes was the last to be taken to the gallows. He apologised for his actions and then climbed the ladder onto the scaffold. With the noose around his neck, Fawkes threw himself out and managed to break his neck, dying instantly. However, Fawkes” lifeless body had to endure the rest of the punishment.

On 5 November 1605, the people of London were encouraged to celebrate the fact that King James had escaped assassination by the conspirators. The celebration was to take the form of lighting bonfires in a responsible manner. 5 November was legislated as a day of thanksgiving to rejoice in the liberation, and this law remained in force until 1859. At the opening of Parliament each year in England, the Yeomen of the Guard conduct a search of the basement vault of the Palace of Westminster (where Fawkes was discovered and arrested), a direct consequence of the gunpowder conspiracy. Although Fawkes was only one of the thirteen conspirators, he is the person most associated with the Gunpowder Conspiracy and is sometimes referred to as “the last man to enter Parliament with honest intentions.”

In the 19th century, the word “guy” became synonymous with a person who wore odd clothes, but in American English the word lost all pejorative meaning and began to be used instead for people of the male gender. In some cases, the word has become genderless, with “you guys” referring to two or more people.

Sites, water bodies and organisations

The Red Lion Inn in Dunchurch, where some of the conspirators were staying the day before the alleged bombing, has changed its name to Guy Fawkes House. Fawkes” name has also inspired three rivers in Australia: Guy Fawkes Creek, Guy Fawkes River and Guy Fawkes Rivulet. Guy Fawkes National Park, the island of Isla Guy Fawkes and the Guy Fawkes Heritage Horse Association are also named after him.

Guy Fawkes Night

In Britain, November 5 has been called Guy Fawkes Night, Guy Fawkes Day and Bonfire Night, the latter name being traced back to 1605. A popular English rhyme is often read on Guy Fawkes Night, in memory of the Gunpowder Conspiracy: “Remember, remember, the fifth of November, the Gunpowder Treason and Plot. I know of no reason why the Gunpowder Treason should ever be forgotten.” Fireworks began to be used with bonfires in the 1650s and after 1673 it became customary to burn an effigy (usually of the Pope) during the celebrations, as James II of England had made it public that year that he had converted to Catholicism. Other effigies, including Paul Kruger, Margaret Thatcher, Nicholas I of Russia, William II of Germany and Tony Blair, have also been burned, but most modern effigies are of Fawkes. The effigy is called a “guy” and is usually created by children and made from old clothes, newspaper and a mask. The children would also ask for a penny for their likeness (one reason for this may be that the children used to buy fireworks with the money they raised, but with the introduction of a stricter law in the UK for fireworks in 1997, this sale was restricted to people over 18 years old.

In culture

Fawkes and the Gunpowder Conspiracy was the basis for Alan Moore”s dystopian serial novel V for Vendetta, published in the 1980s. The idea of dressing up the main character as Fawkes came from the comic”s cartoonist David Lloyd. The main character in V for Vendetta, called V, wears a Guy Fawkes mask and he too devises a plan to blow up the Palace of Westminster. The serial novel was produced as a stage play, entitled The Land of Do as You Like, in 2000-2001 and was made into a film in 2005 by James McTeigue. The activists in Anonymous have popularised the Guy Fawkes mask, used by V in the film, by wearing it when protesting in public. The mask has also been used by participants in the Occupy movement. Both Moore and Lloyd have said that they are pleased that the mask is being used to protest against tyranny and oppression.

William Harrison Ainsworth”s 1840s novel Guy Fawkes or the Gunpowder Conspiracy is largely about Fawkes. First published as a serial in Bentley”s Miscellany between January and November 1840, and then published in its entirety in July 1841, the novel was very popular, but also received negative criticism from Edgar Allan Poe and others. Fawkes was portrayed more or less as an action hero in children”s books and other printed works of the early 20th century, of which The Boyhood Days of Guy Fawkes; or, The Conspirators of Old London is a prime example.The poet T.S. Eliot mentions Fawkes in his poem The Hollow Men with the words “A penny for the Old Guy”. “This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper” from the same book refers to how the planned blast instead led to the whimper of prolonged torture. Fawkes is also mentioned in Bernard Ingham”s book Yorkshire Greats, which lists the fifty most prominent people from Yorkshire. Fawkes, the phoenix bird featured in the Harry Potter books, is named after Guy Fawkes.

In the 2002 BBC TV programme 100 Greatest Britons, which highlighted the 100 most outstanding Britons of all time, Fawkes was voted number 30 by the British public.

Both the gunpowder conspiracy and Fawkes” life story have been performed as pantomime and theatre. An early example of a pantomime is Harlequin and Guy Fawkes: or, the 5th of November, which was staged at the Theatre Royal in London on 16 November 1835. Another example is Guy Fawkes, or a Match for a King, written by Albert Smith and William Hale, which was first staged in 1855. The play Guido Fawkes: or, the Prophetess of Ordsall Cave, performed at the Queen”s Theatre in Manchester in June 1840, was based on Ainsworth”s novel Guy Fawkes or the Match for a King. The novel was made into a film in 1923 by Maurice Elvey under the name Guy Fawkes.

On the vinyl version of The Smiths” 1986 album The Queen Is Dead, the words “Guy Fawkes was a genius” are carved near the centre of the LP. The Krewmen recorded a song called “Guy Fawkes” about the failure of the conspiracy and Fawkes” arrest. Fawkes is mentioned in the song “Un-United Kingdom” by Pitchshifter.

Fawkes appears in the computer games Travel at Your Own Risk, and Doctor Who: The Adventure Games – The Gunpowder Plot (along with Catesby and Percy), and the super mutant Fawkes in Fallout 3 is named after him.


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