Guy Fawkes, Gunpowder Plot

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A Portrait of Guy Fawkes
A Portrait of Guy Fawkes

Guy Fawkes (13 April 1570 - 31 January 1606) was a member of a group of radical English Catholics, and is prominently known for the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605. The only son of Edward Fawkes of York and Edith Blake, Fawkes was an intimidating man, described as a 'tall, powerfully built man with thick reddish-brown hair, flowing moustache, and a bushy reddish-brown beard.'


Early Life

Family and Lineage

Guy Fawkes was born to Edward Fawkes and Edith Blake. He was the older brother to two sisters, Anne, and Elizabeth. Edward Fawkes, a descendant of the Farnley family, was a notary of the ecclesiastical courts. Guy Fawkes' mother was a descendant of the Harrington family, who were merchants. When Fawkes was around eight years old, his father died. His mother later remarried after several years to Denis Bainbridge. The Bainbridge family's Catholic tendencies is sometimes attributed to influencing Guy to turn Catholic.

Student Life

Fawkes went to the Free School of St. Peters, located in "Le Horse Fayre," a school that was founded by the Royal Charter of Philip and Mary in 1557. A schoolmaster there under the name of John Pulleyn was another Catholic individual who is believed to have influenced the young Fawkes' mindset.

Adult Life

Guy Fawkes came of age in 1591, and proceeded to dispose of his inheritance. There are several documents that serve as evidence of this. There is a transaction recorded between a certain "Guye Faux of Scotton," and a tailor, "Christopher Lomley of Yorke", in which Fawkes appears to have leased Lomley some land in Clifton.

Another such document, recording a transaction between "Guye Fawkes of the citie of Yorke," and "Anna Skipsye of Clifton," implies that Fawkes had sold the Clifton estate that he inherited from his father, and that he was no longer located in Scotton. This period most likely marked the beginning of the politically active phase of his life.

Political Activity

After selling most of his inheritance, Fawkes turned to political activism. He traveled to take part in the Eighty Years War, fighting for Catholic Spain, against the combined forces recently formed Dutch Republic and, for a certain period of time, France. He was in a post of command when the Spanish to Calais in 1596. He had by now adopted the name "Guido" in place of his given name, "Guy." He then met Sir William Stanley, an English Catholic, and a military veteran. Stanley had roused an army earlier in Ireland, to take part in Robert Dudley's (Earl of Leicester) trip to the Netherlands.

He then traveled with Stanley to Spain, along with Hugh Owen, and Father William Baldwin. They were to try and "enlighten King Philip II concerning the true position of the Romanists in England." During this visit, Fawkes met an old school friend of his, Christopher Wright, and then worked with him to attempt to stir a Catholic rebellion in England by obtaining Spanish support for an invasion of England upon the death of Elizabeth, a mission which eventually turned out to be unsuccessful.

Gunpowder Plot

State of Affairs in England

King James I was disliked by many Catholics due to his intolerance of the Catholic faith. James I was initially moderate towards Catholics, but after Queen Anne, his wife, received a rosary from the Pope, James moved to condemn the Catholic Church and later ordered all Jesuit and other Catholic priests to leave the country. He then turned his focus to the creation of an Anglo-Scottish union, by the appointment of Scottish nobles to the English court. Both of these actions were unpopular with the Parliament of England, and the general public.

The Plot

Guy Fawkes, returning from Spain without any Spanish support, then met with Thomas Wintour, who possibly informed Fawkes of the Plot. Several individuals were disappointed by King James I's actions, more so by the failure of his peace treaty negotiations with Spain that would have improved the Catholic position in England. In May of 1604, Guy Fawkes met with Robert Catesby, Thomas Percy, John Wright, and Thomas Wintour at the Duck and Drake inn, and officially joined the conspirators in the Gunpowder Plot. He adopted the identity of John Johnson, and worked under Thomas Percy.

File:Gunpowder plot parliament cellar.jpg
The cellar underneath the House of Lords, as drawn by William Capon.

The men decided that the best course of action to re-establish Catholicism in England was to blow up the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament. Fawkes was to take charge of a small property near the Prince's Chamber, under the pretext of working for Percy. The men eventually recruited more individuals who were against the King's actions, including in their ranks the likes of Robert Wintour, John Grant, and Christopher Wright. The conspirators then bought the lease to an undercroft owned by John Whynniard, which happened to be directly below the House of Lords.

Gunpowder and Storage

Fawkes assisted in filling the room with around 36 barrels of gunpowder. The delaying of the opening of Parliament resulted in Fawkes leaving the country for Flanders, for a short period of time. When he got back, Wintour and Fawkes realized that the stored gunpowder had decayed, which resulted in them bringing more gunpowder, while also bringing firewood to conceal the gunpowder.

Capture and Death

Monteagle letter

On Saturday, 26th October, Lord Monteagle received an anonymous letter at his house which read:

My Lord, out of the love I bear to some of your friends, I have a care of your preservation. Therefore I would advise you, as you tender your life, to devise some excuse to shift your attendance at this parliament; for God and man hath concurred to punish the wickedness of this time. And think not slightly of this advertisement, but retire yourself into your country where you may expect the event in safety. For though there be no appearance of any stir, yet I say they shall receive a terrible blow this Parliament; and yet they shall not see who hurts them. This counsel is not to be condemned because it may do you good and can do you no harm; for the danger is passed as soon as you have burnt the letter. And I hope God will give you the grace to make good use of it, to whose holy protection I commend you.

The letter revealing the conspirators' plans disturbed them; however the apparent vagueness and ambiguity of the letter persuaded Catesby to proceed with their plans.


The arrest of Guy Fawkes
The arrest of Guy Fawkes

On Wednesday, the 30th of October, Fawkes, seemingly blind to the existence of the infamous Monteagle letter, inspected the gunpowder barrels in the undercroft. On Sunday, the 3rd of November, some of the conspirators met and concluded that the leading authorities were not aware of the plot; however, all of them with the exception of Fawkes had made plans for a quick escape from London. Fawkes had been given the task of firing the powder, and was told to leave for Flanders as soon as he had done so. That Monday, Thomas Howard, Earl of Suffolk, Monteagle, and Whynniard searched the parliament buildings, including the undercroft. They were suspicious when they came across the pile of firewood. They reported these details to the King, and then returned to search the firewood pile. Fawkes had gone to inform Percy of the authorities' suspicion, but had returned to his post. Upon finding the gunpowder concealed in the firewood, the men arrested Fawkes. When Fawkes was searched, they found a watch, slow matches and touchwood, thus establishing their fears.

Torture and Trial

Fawkes was interrogated and ordered to reveal the names of his fellow conspirators. He refused to give out his real name, and those of his co-conspirators. Finally, the King ordered that Fawkes be tortured into submission. Under the pain of torture, Guy Fawkes revealed his name and the details of the plot, including its members. Fawkes and his co-conspirators then underwent a trial in which the outcome was never in doubt. They all faced the death penalty, after being found guilty of high treason.When Fawkes managed to get up on the scaffold, he quickly jumped as soon as the noose was around his neck so that he could die as soon as possible by his own hand.

Legacy and Legend

Fawkes and Shakespeare

Guy Fawkes is now perceived as a sort of a boyish action hero; a fearless rebel. He is now sometimes referred to as "the only man ever to enter Parliament with honest intentions." Even though Guy Fawkes was not directly related to Shakespeare's time, he might have influenced some of Shakespeare's play's themes. Characters such as Richard III and Macbeth depict rebellion against the higher authorities. Furthermore, both of these characters endorse the use of violence in revolt, an ideal that was espoused by Fawkes in the Gunpowder Plot.

Fawkes in Contemporary times

Guy Fawkes Mask
Guy Fawkes Mask

Alan Moore's V for Vendetta was released in 1982. This graphic novel portrays a dystopian England, with V, the main character, sporting a Guy Fawkes mask, trying to upstage the government and establish anarchy. After V for Vendetta surged into popularity as a graphic novel, and later a movie, the Guy Fawkes mask has now come to stand as a symbol for rebellion and protest, most prominently against politicians and financial institutions. The mask has achieved a comeback in the form of the Occupy Wall Street, and Anonymous groups. Both of these groups stand for the common man, or the underdog, fighting the large corporations, and the higher authorities, ideal that are characterstically associated with Guy Fawkes.


Behreandt, Dennis. "The Real Guy Fawkes." The New American Dec 24 2007: 33-8. ProQuest Research Library. 12 Mar. 2012.

Fraser, Antonia (2005). The Gunpowder Plot. Phoenix

Gunpowder Plot: the arrest of Guy Fawkes. Photograph. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Web. 12 Mar. 2012. <>.

Guy Fawkes. Photograph. Inquisitr Ltd. Web. 14 Mar. 2012. <>

Guy Fawkes Portrait. Photograph. The Harper's Magazine Foundation. Web. 14 Mar. 2012. <> Parliament, 15 Mar. 2012. Web. 15 Mar. 2012. <>.

"The Gunpowder Plot Society." The Gunpowder Plot Society. 14 Mar. 2012. Web. 14 Mar. 2012. <>.

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