The Gunpowder Plot of 1605, in which Guy Fawkes and other Catholic conspirators attempted to blow up Parliament and assassinate James I of England, is commemorated on the 5th of November in Britain and is known as Guy Fawkes Day.
Most are aware of the fact that Guy Fawkes was apprehended, detained, and tortured at the Tower of London and how he and the majority of his fellow conspirators died as traitors in Westminster. But who was Guy Fawkes, the person hiding beneath the infamous mask, really? And why on earth would a traitor be celebrated? Well, as it would turn out, the story is highly complicated.
Early Life of Guy Fawkes: A Legend in The Making
In Stonegate, York, Guy Fawkes was born in the year 1570. He was the second of Edward Fawkes’ four children with his wife Edith. Edward Fawkes was a proctor and advocate of the York consistory court. Guy’s grandmother, Ellen Harrington, was the child of a well-known trader who served as Lord Mayor of York in 1536.
Both Guy’s parents and his paternal grandparents were frequent communicants of the Church of England. Guy’s mother’s family were Catholic nonconformists, and Richard Cowling, his cousin, later became a Jesuit priest. Guy was not a common name in England, but Sir Guy Fairfax of Steeton, a well-known local, may have contributed to its popularity in York.
Guy’s father passed away when he was eight years old, in 1579. A few years later, his mother remarried, this time to Scotton, Harrogate’s Catholic Dionis Baynbrigge (or Denis Bainbridge). Fawkes may have converted to Catholicism due to the recusant tendencies of the Baynbrigge family, as well as the Catholic branches of the Scotton houses of Pulleyn and Percy, but he may also have done so because of his stay at York’s St. Peter’s School.
What Did Guy Fawkes Do and Why?
With his powerful build, stunning mustache, and thick reddish-brown hair and beard, Fawkes had developed into a handsome man. His European countrymen gave him the following glowing reviews:
“A man of profound piety, of exemplary temperance, of calm and cheery demeanor, an adversary of broils and disagreements, a trustworthy friend, and noteworthy for his constant attendance upon religious observance,” according to the citation. These are titles all people should strive for.
When Guy Fawkes met Thomas Wintour in Spain, however, his future took a tragic turn. In order to join a network of Catholic assassins operating out of England and directed by his cousin Robert Catesby, Wintour was looking for partners. Devout Fawkes was the ideal partner—brave and clever. In 1604, after James I’s accession to the throne, the two men returned to England.
Catholics all around the nation had thought that the long-lasting religious persecution would come to an end with the new reign.
After all, Mary, Queen of Scots, the King’s mother, had been an ardent Catholic. However, they were quickly let down because James I, a Protestant, wasn’t a tolerant ruler. Guy Fawkes was now a member of the conspiracy, and they made a radical decision.
Catesby intended to kill James I, the Queen, and his heir while they were all there at the State Opening of Parliament on November 5 by blowing it up. The plan then was to crown Princess Elizabeth, the King’s young daughter.
The conspirators included Fawkes, his cousins Catesby and Wintour, Wintour’s brother Robert, their brother-in-law John Grant, Francis Tresham, Catesby’s second cousin, Thomas Bates, Fawkes’ former classmates John Wright and Christopher, their brother-in-law Thomas Percy, Everard Digby, Ambrose Rookwood, and Robert Keyes.
With the exception of Fawkes, an explosives specialist from his military days, no one in the gang had much knowledge of gunpowder. It goes without saying that Fawkes was selected to light the fuse in the cellars beneath the Houses of Parliament.
Why Did The Guy Fawkes Plot Fail?
The strategy came extremely close to working. The fact that the King, his family, and his Protestant clergy were not all assassinated is only possible as a result of an anonymous letter to the authorities that was received in late October.
“Retyre youre self into yowre contee whence yow maye expect the event in safti for … they shall receyve a terrible blowe this parliament,” it said.
In the early hours of November 5, when royal guards searched The House of Lords, Fawkes was found in the cellars with a fuse, a little lantern, a box of matches, and 36 poorly concealed barrels of gunpowder.
On the evening of November 4–5, 1605, Guy Fawkes is alleged to have been carrying this iron lantern when he was apprehended in the cellars beneath the Houses of Parliament.
Sir Thomas Knyvett, Keeper of Whitehall Palace, had taken his brother, Peter Heywood, along on the disastrous expedition into the cellars. Peter Heywood is credited with stealing the lantern from Guy Fawkes during the initial scuffle and stopping him from setting off the explosives.
After Peter was fatally injured in an assassination attempt in 1640, the lantern appears to have been given to Robert at some point. In 1641, Robert passed the lantern on to the University of Oxford.
After being detained, Fawkes was transported to the King. Fawkes confidently said when questioned as to what he was doing in the cellars, “I desire to blow the Scottish King and all of his Scottish Lords back to Scotland.” He also admitted feeling sorry for failing. James I was offended, yet he couldn’t help but applaud the traitor’s “Roman will.”
Fawkes was taken to the Tower of London where he was detained and questioned. The majority of the interrogation was conducted in the Great Hall of the King’s House, a 16th-century timber-framed structure that overlooks Tower Green, under the direction of Sir William Waad, Lieutenant of the Tower.
At the time, any type of torture required permission from the monarch or Privy Council. The royal warrant was written by James I himself, who said that if the subject refused to confess by other means, “the gentler tortures are first to be used against him, and then step by step you may employ the harsher, and thus speede youre goode task.”
How Was Guy Fawkes Put To Death?
Torture was employed in interrogations to extract information throughout the turbulent 1500s and 1600s, a time of intense political and religious change. Sometimes the mere threat of torture was enough to weaken a prisoner’s will.
In the White Tower prison cellars, many inmates of the Tower of London were imprisoned and some were tortured. They must have been substantially different from how they appear in this image from approximately 1898; it must have been a gloomy and terrifying area.
Fawkes was certainly racked using the rack, when the “gentler tortures” failed, most likely in the dungeons beneath the White Tower. The rack was a hideous contraption used to cause a prisoner severe pain as their limbs were pushed in opposite directions until the joints were torn or dislocated.
The other conspirators fled to the Midlands while Fawkes was at the Tower. On November 8 in the early hours, they were apprehended by the Worcestershire High Sheriff.
The Wright brothers, Thomas Percy, and Robert Catesby were shot to death, while the others were brought to the Tower of London. Thomas Wintour, Ambrose Rookwood, and Robert Keyes—Fawkes’ surviving accomplices—were charged with treason, tried, and given a treasonous sentence.
Their demise was gruesome: on January 31, 1606, they were led by a horse through the streets of London to Westminster Yard, where they were executed by hanging, drawing, and quartering one by one.
Fawkes, who was already the most well-known of the conspirators, was the last to be hanged. According to a contemporaneous narrative, Guy Fawkes, alias Johnson, the greatest devil of them all, arrived last and should have set the powder on fire.
“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,” the hangman wrote. “His body being weak with the torture and sickness he was scarcely 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.”
In the Council Chamber, a higher chamber of the King’s House, Sir William Waad commissioned the construction of a sizable marble monument in 1608.
Even though it may appear strange, this memorial honors his achievement in preventing a national catastrophe and serves as a warning to other convicts about the awful fate that awaited traitors — it must have helped to loose some tongues!
Why Is Guy Fawkes Day Celebrated
James I enacted a thanksgiving act in January 1606 to commemorate the Gunpowder Plot’s failure and the safety of his family. It was known as the Observance of 5 November Act 1605 and included pyrotechnics, a special church service, and bonfires.
Even today, there are still celebrations, though the compulsory celebration was in effect until 1859. Guy Fawkes day is celebrated both as a traditional celebration and for commemorating Fawkes, a man brave enough to face death with dignity.
The ceremonial search by the Yeomen of the Guard for concealed bombs in the cellars of the Palace of Westminster before the State Opening of Parliament is another ritual that is still practiced today.
Even though Guy Fawkes did not invent the Gunpowder Plot, he undoubtedly became its leader. Unfortunately for him, he was the first of the conspirators to be apprehended, transported to the Tower of London, and last to be executed after being discovered red-handed.
Guy Fawkes’ image continues to be used as a symbol of revolt more than 400 years later, with demonstrators all around the world donning masks featuring his stylized visage.
You may go to the Tower Torture exhibition today to learn more about the techniques employed to torment prisoners like Guy Fawkes at the Tower of London and to witness reproductions of the torture devices that were formerly used there.
That was a pretty gruesome article, wasn’t it? Well, the dark history of the world is concealed these days. Anyway, let me introduce you how the 41st President of the United States of America, George HW Bush, was Almost Cannibalized, and also about the House That Bleeds In Atlanta! Happy reading!
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