In history

Everyone knows the old rhyme and you probably know what it refers to and why – but what about the names behind the Gun Powder Plot? The most famous of the plotters was Guy Fawkes who was the first to be arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London, but who was he and why did he get involved in a plot to blow up parliament?

Guy Fawkes was born on 13th April 1570 in the city of York to parents Edward and Edith Fawkes. You can actually see his childhood home, which is now a retail outlet by visiting the Shambles – there is a plaque to signify where it once was.

You might also know him as Guido Fawkes, which was his name while he was fighting for the Spanish. Here’s a selection of things you might not know about him however, to wow your friends this Bon Fire Night.

  1. Though the Gun Powder Plot was a result of anti catholic sentiment from the crown and parliament, something that had been brewing for years, especially after King James I/ VIII publicly condemned the religion and had all catholic priests order to leave England. There were actually several failed conspiracies founded by catholics seeking to bring about change, including an early one involving Fawkes when he petitioned the king of Spain to start a rebellion against King James. Despite this, Guy Fawkes was actually born a protestant and remained as such until his teens when he converted to Catholicism, likely because his mother remarried after the death of his father, his step father was a catholic.
  2. Like we said, you may have also heard Fawkes referred to as Guido, the name he adopted while in Europe. After converting to Catholicism, Fawkes headed to Spain to fight in the Eighty Years War against Dutch Protestants. It is likely that he thought Guido sounded more continental and therefore, more Catholic. However, this wasn’t the only name he went by, when he was arrested he claimed his name was John Johnson, however he signed his confession as Guido Fawkes.
  3. Though he is the most well known conspirator in the Gun Powder Plot, Guy Fawkes wasn’t the ringleader – that was Robert Catesby. The others that were involved were: Thomas Bates, Robert Wintour, Thomas Wintour, Thomas Percy, Christopher Wright, John Wright, Francis Tresham, Everard Digby, Ambrose Rookwood, Robert Keyes, Hugh Owen and John Grant. The reason we only really know of Fawkes is because he was the one tasked with lighting the explosives and was caught red handed. He was also the first of the bunch to be arrested and imprisoned. The others remained at large for two days.
  4. Despite being punished for treason, historians say that King James actually respected Fawkes, especially after he confessed. The king commented that he had a “Roman resolution” after hearing that Fawkes not only admitted to wanting to blow up the Houses of Parliament, but also told his jailers that his intention was to “blow you Scotch beggars back to your native mountains.”
  5. We all know that Fawkes was condemned to death for treason and that the penalty of such a charge is to be hung, drawn and quartered. However, that’s not how Fawkes met his end. It is true that he was sentenced to death, however while waiting by the gallows, he jumped, breaking his neck, so he didn’t have to endure being cut open. After his death, he was quartered and his remains are said to have been sent to the four corners of the kingdom as a deterrent to other catholics. 
  6. If you ask Catesby or any of the conspirators, they would be adamant that they had planned something foolproof, however historians have said that it is unlikely that had their plan worked, it would have been the tragedy they were hoping for. There were 36 barrels of gunpowder hidden in the cellar below the Houses of Parliament which would have caused significant damage to the building, but it is thought that the gunpowder would have been too decayed to ignite properly.
  7. Even though nothing as drastic as the Gun Powder Plot has happened since then, the Yeomen of the Guard still search the Houses of Parliament every year before the official State Opening of Parliament. These days this is more of a tradition than anything else.
  8. Did you know that the original cellar that Fawkes and the gun powder were found in no longer exists? It was destroyed in a fire during the 1800s which destroyed the original Houses of Parliament.
  9. Communities all over the UK commemorate the Gun Powder Plot with Bon Fire Night celebrations on or near the 5th November each year. Traditionally, these celebrations include the burning of a doll known as the Guy – to remember Fawkes’ treason. In York though, his former school refuse to burn a guy, wanting to remember him as a respected Yorkshireman instead.
  10.  Also, just as an aside, the plot wasn’t just to blow up parliament and kill the king and his heir – the conspirators also planned to start an uprising in the midlands and kidnap King James’ daughter. They wanted to install her as a queen that they could control and marry her off to a catholic to restore a catholic monarchy.

Since the plot, Fawkes has become a bit of an icon and is the face of rebellions the world over, something made popular by groups such as Anonymous and the film V for Vendetta. This bonfire night, wow your friends with your Guy Fawkes knowledge and spare a thought for Robert Catesby – the forgotten ringleader.

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