The Gunpowder Plot

Guy Fawkes

Born: 13 April 1570, Stonegate, Yorkshire
Died: 31 January 1606, Old Palace Yard, Westminster

Guy Fawkes was the only son of Edward Fawkes of York and his wife Edith Blake. Prior to Fawkess birth, Edith had given birth to a daughter Anne on 3 October 1568, but the infant lived a mere seven weeks, being buried on 14 November of the same year[2]. Two sisters followed Guy, another Anne on 12 October 1572, and Elizabeth on 27 May 1575.

Fawkes became a pupil of the Free School of St. Peters located in "Le Horse Fayre", which was founded by Royal Charter of Philip and Mary in 1557. He counted there amongst his schoolfellows, John and Christopher Wright, Thomas Morton (afterwards Bishop of Durham), Sir Thomas Cheke and Oswald Tesimond.

It is possible that Fawkes married, for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints records a marriage between Guy Fawkes and Maria Pulleyn in 1590 in Scotton, and it also records the birth of a son Thomas to Guy Fawkes and Maria on 6 February 1591.

Fawkes is believed to have left England in 1593 or 1594 for Flanders. In Flanders he enlisted in the Spanish army under the Archduke Albert of Austria.

He was a tall, powerfully built man, Fawkess appearance by now was most impressive. He was a tall, powerfully built man, with thick reddish-brown hair, flowing moustache, and a bushy reddish-brown beard. He had also apparently adopted the name or affectation Guido in place of Guy.

In May of 1604, Guy Fawkes met with Robert Catesby, Thomas Percy, John Wright and Thomas Wintour at an inn called the Duck and Drake in the fashionable Strand district of London, and agreed under oath along with Percy to join the other three in the gunpowder conspiracy. This oath was then sanctified by the performing of mass and the administering of the sacraments by the Jesuit priest John Gerard in an adjoining room. Fawkes assumed the identity of John Johnson, a servant of Percy and was entrusted to the care of the tenement that Percy had rented. Around Michaelmas, Fawkes was asked to begin preparations for work on the mine. The work in the mine proved slow and difficult for men unused to such physical labours, and further accomplices were sworn into the plot.

About March 1605, the conspirators hired a cellar beneath Parliament, once again through Thomas Percy, and Fawkes assisted in filling the room with barrels of powder, hidden beneath iron bars and faggots. He was then despatched to Flanders to communicate the details of the plot to Stanley and Owen.

In August, he was back in London again, replacing the spoiled powder barrels, and residing at "one Mrs. Herberts house, a widow that dwells on the backside of St. Clements Church". He soon left this accommodation when his landlady suspected his involvement with Catholics. On 18 October he travelled to White Webbs for a meeting with Catesby, Thomas Wintour, and Francis Tresham to discuss how certain Catholic peers could be excluded from the explosion. On 26 October, the Monteagle Letter was delivered into the hands of William Parker, 4th Baron Monteagle. Concern quickly erupted amongst the conspirators, but the letters apparent vagueness prompted Catesby to continue with their plans.

On Wednesday 30 October, Fawkes, apparently ignorant of the letters existence inspected the cellar again and satisfied himself that the gunpowder was still in place and had not been disturbed. On Sunday 3 November, a few of the leading conspirators met in London and agreed that the authorities were still unaware of their actions. However, all except Fawkes made plans for a speedy exit from London. Fawkes had agreed to watch the cellar by himself, having already been given the task of firing the powder, undoubtedly because of his munitions experience in the Low Countries where he had been taught how to "fire a slow train". His orders were to embark for Flanders as soon as the powder was fired, and to spread the news of the explosion on the continent.

On the following Monday afternoon, the Lord Chamberlain, Thomas Howard, Earl of Suffolk, searched the parliament buildings accompanied by Monteagle and John Whynniard. In the cellar they came upon an unusually large pile of billets and faggots, and perceived Fawkes whom they described as "a very bad and desperate fellow". They asked who claimed the pile, and Fawkes replied that it was Thomas Percys in whose employment he worked. They reported these details to the King, and believing, by the look of Fawkes "he seemed to be a man shrewd enough, but up to no good". They again searched the cellar, a little before midnight the following night, this time led by Sir Thomas Knyvett, a Westminster magistrate and Gentleman of the Privy Chamber. Fawkes had gone forth to warn Percy that same day, but returned to his post before night. Once again, the pile of billets and faggots was searched and the powder discovered, and this time Fawkes was arrested. On his person they discovered a watch, slow matches and touchwood. Fawkes later declared that had he been in the cellar when Knyvett entered it he would have "blown him up, house, himself, and all".

Early in the morning of 5 November, the Privy Council met in the Kings bedchamber, and Fawkes was brought in under guard. He declined to give any information beyond that his name was Johnson and he was a servant of Thomas Percy. Further interrogations that day revealed little more than his apparent xenophobia. When questioned by the King how he could conspire such a hideous treason, Fawkes replied that a dangerous disease required a desperate remedy, and that his intentions were to blow the Scotsmen present back into Scotland.

et sic per gradus ad mia tenditur

King James indicated in a letter of 6 November that "The gentler tortours are to be first used unto him, et sic per gradus ad mia tenditur [and so by degrees proceeding to the worst], and so God speed your goode worke" as it [torture] was contrary to English common law, unless authorised by the King or Privy Council. Eventually on 7 November Guidos spirit broke and he confessed his real name and that the plot was confined to five men. "He told us that since he undertook this action he did every day pray to God he might perform that which might be for the advancement of the Catholic Faith and saving his own soul". The following day he recounted the events of the conspiracy, without naming names, then on the 9 November he named his fellow plotters, having heard that some of them had already been arrested at Holbeche. Guidos final signature, a barely legible scrawl, is testament to his suffering. There is no direct evidence as to what tortures were used on Guy Fawkes, although it is almost certain that they included the manacles, and probably also the rack.

On Monday 27 January 1606, the day of the capture of Edward Oldcorne and Henry Garnet the trial of the eight surviving conspirators began in Westminster Hall. It was a trial in name only, for a guilty verdict had certainly already been handed down. The conspirators pleaded not guilty, a plea which caused some consternation amongst those present. Fawkes later explained that his objection was to the implication that the "seducing Jesuits" were the principal offenders.

On Friday, 31 January 1606, Fawkes, Thomas Wintour, Ambrose Rookwood and Robert Keyes were taken to the Old Palace Yard at Westminster and hanged, drawn and quartered "in the very place which they had planned to demolish in order to hammer home the message of their wickedness". Thomas Wintour was followed by Rookwood and then by Keyes. Guido, the "romantic caped figure of such evil villainy" came last. A contemporary wrote:

"Last of all came the great devil of all, Guy Fawkes, alias Johnson, who should have put fire to the powder. His body being weak with the torture and sickness he was scarce able to go up the ladder, yet with much ado, by the help of the hangman, went high enough to break his neck by the fall. He made no speech, but with his crosses and idle ceremonies made his end upon the gallows and the block, to the great joy of all the beholders that the land was ended of so wicked a villainy"