Guy Fawkes

Guy Fawkes

Guy Fawkes, the son of a Edward Fawkes, was born in York in 1570. Edward Fawkes was a proctor of the ecclesiastical courts and advocate of the consistory court of the Archbishop of York.

As a child Fawkes attended St. Peters School in York with John Wright and Christopher Wright.

Fawkes was brought up as a Protestant but was converted to Roman Catholic after reading about the way Henry VIII had persecuted religious dissents.

In 1592 married Maria Pulleyn. The following year Fawkes went to the Netherlands where he enlisted in the Spanish army under Archduke Albert of Austria. He also helped the Spanish capture Calais in 1596. Later he travelled to Spain in an attempt to persuade the king to send Catholic troops to invade England.

When Elizabeth I died in 1603 without children, Mary's son, was next in line to the throne. As James was a Protestant, Parliament was also in favour of him becoming king. The Roman Catholics in England were upset that there was going to be another Protestant monarch. They also became very angry when James passed a law that imposed heavy fines on people who did not attend Protestant church services.

In May 1604, Robert Catesby devised the Gunpowder Plot, a scheme to kill James and as many Members of Parliament as possible. At a meeting at the Duck and Drake Inn Catesby explained his plan to Guy Fawkes, Thomas Percy, John Wright and Thomas Wintour. All the men agreed under oath to join the conspiracy. Over the next few months Francis Tresham, Everard Digby, Robert Wintour, Thomas Bates and Christopher Wright also agreed to take part in the overthrow of the king.

After the death of James in the explosion, Robert Catesby planned to make the king's young daughter, Elizabeth, queen. In time, Catesby hoped to arrange Elizabeth's marriage to a Catholic nobleman. It was Everard Digby's task to kidnap Princess Elizabeth from Coombe Abbey.

Crispen van de Passe, The Gunpowder Plot Conspirators (c.1606)
Crispen van de Passe, The Gunpowder Plot Conspirators (c.1606)

Catesby's plan involved blowing up the Houses of Parliament on 5th November. This date was chosen because the king was due to open Parliament on that day. At first the group tried to tunnel under Parliament. This plan changed when Thomas Percy was able to hire a cellar under the House of Lords. The plotters then filled the cellar with barrels of gunpowder. Fawkes, because of his munitions experience in the Netherlands, was given the task of creating the explosion.

One of the people involved in the plot was Francis Tresham. He was worried that the explosion would kill his friend and brother-in-law, Lord Monteagle. On 26th October, Tresham sent Lord Monteagle a letter warning him not to attend Parliament on 5th November.

Lord Monteagle became suspicious and passed the letter to Robert Cecil, the king's chief minister. Cecil quickly organised a thorough search of the Houses of Parliament. While searching the cellars below the House of Lords they found Guy Fawkes and the gunpowder. Fawkes claimed he was John Johnson, the servant of Thomas Percy.

Fawkes was tortured and admitted that he was part of a plot to "blow the Soctsman (James) back to Scotland". On the 7th November, after enduring further totures, Fawkes gave the names of his fellow conspirators.

Guy Fawkes was found guilty of treason and executed along with Thomas Wintour, on 31st January, 1606. The two men were both hanged, drawn and quartered.

Primary Sources

(1) Guy Fawkes was arrested on the 4 November, 1605. After being tortured in the Tower of London, Guy Fawkes confessed to planning to blow up Parliament. (17 November 1605)

Catesby suggested... making a mine under the upper house of Parliament... because religion had been unjustly suppressed there... twenty barrels of gunpowder were moved to the cellar... It was agreed to seize Lady Elizabeth, the king's eldest daughter... and to proclaim her Queen.

(2) Philip Sidney, A History of the Gunpowder Plot (1905)

Guy Fawkes refused to name his friends... he was speedily put to torture... he was compelled to confess... The conspirators met their fate with courage, considering the terrible nature of their punishment. Tied to separate hurdles, they were dragged, lying bound on their backs, through the muddy streets to the place of execution, there to be first hanged, cut down alive, drawn, and then quartered.

(3) R. Crampton, The Gunpowder Plot (1990)

If Guy Fawkes case came up before the Court of Appeal today, the... judges would surely... acquit him... First, no one has ever seen the attempted tunnel. Builders excavating the area in 1823 found neither a tunnel nor any rubble. Second, the gunpowder. In 1605, the Government had a monopoly on its manufacture... The Government did not display the gunpowder and nobody saw it in the cellars. Third, these cellars were rented by the government to a known Catholic agitator... Fourth, the Tresham letter. Graphologists (handwriting experts) agree that it was not written by Francis Tresham.