Guy Fawkes. (The only man they couldn't hang.)

Local bonfire societies parade during the annual Lewes bonfire and procession in East Sussex
Daily Mail
Facsimile of the examination of Guy Fawkes with his signature on 9th
Robert Catesby, unknown artist, 1794
Thomas Percy
The lively Portraiture of Sir William Wadd, late Lieutenant of the Tower, unsigned engraving after a 17th century portrait, "Published June 1st 1798
Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository
Sir John Popham (1531-1607), Lord Chief Justice
A portrait of Guy Fawkes, shown showing him gaunt from torture after discovery of the gunpowder plot

Guy Fawkes

Young children only know Guy Fawkes as an excuse to have fireworks let off and enjoy the colour and explosions.

Guy Fawkes is known the world over as one of the conspirators who tried to blow up ‘The Houses of Parliament,’ in 1605.

What is known about Guy Fawkes’s background?

He was believed to have been born on or about 13th April 1571 to Edward and Edith Fawkes nee Blake or Jackson at Stonegate, York. His grandmother was born Ellen Harrington and was the daughter of a very prominent merchant, who served as the Mayor of York in 1536.

He was baptised on 16th April at St. Michael le belfry on 16th April. (You were usually baptised within 3 days of your birth in those days.) His parents bore two more children after Guy, Anne born 1572 and Elizabeth in 1575.

In 1579, when Guy was just 8 years old his father died. his mother married again several years later, to a Catholic, Dionis Baynbrigge (Denis Bainbridge) of Scotton, Harrogate, Yorkshire. It was about then that it is believed that Fawkes became a Catholic.

At that time Catholics were highly persecuted and had a very rough time all through Elizabeth’ 1st reign and now it looked like it would continue under King James.

Having completed his schooling Fawkes entered the service of Anthony Browne, 1st Viscount Montague. The Viscount took a dislike to Fawkes and after a short time he dismissed him and he was subsequently employed by Anthony-Maria Browne, the 2nd Viscount, who had succeeded his grandfather at the age of 18.

It is arguable whether or not he was married and had a son. Nothing has been found to back this up.

In October 1591 Fawkes sold off his estate in Clifton that he had inherited from his father. He travelled to the continent to fight in the eighty years war for Catholic Spain against the new Dutch Republic and, from 1595 until the peace of Vervins in 1598, France. Although at that time England was not engaged in land operations against Spain, the two countries were still at war, and the Spanish Armada of 1558 was only a few years in the past. While in Spain he used the occasion to try and summon support for a Catholic uprising in England but the court of King Phillip III was unwilling to offer him any support.

Back in England in 1604 Fawkes became involved with a small group of English Catholics, led by Robert Catesby, who planned to assonate the Protestant King James and replace him with his daughter, who was third in line to succession.

The Duck and Drake

The first meeting of the group took place on Sunday 20th May 1604, at an Inn called ‘The Duck and Drake, in the fashionable Strand district of London. Catesby had already proposed at an earlier meeting with Thomas Wintour and John Wright to kill the King and his government by blowing up Parliament House with gunpowder. Wintour had first objected to the plan but was convinced by Catesby to travel to the continent to seek help but was told they would receive no support from Spain.

One of the conspirators, Thomas Percy, was promoted in June 1604 which then gave him access to a house in London that belonged to John Whynniard, Keeper of the King’s Wardrobe. Fawkes was then installed as a caretaker and began using the pseudonym of John Johnson, servant to Percy.

After the conspirators were arrested and taken from Wintour’s confession claimed that the conspirators intended at first to dig a tunnel from the house to the Houses of Parliament, although this story could have been a fabrication. During the meantime Fawkes didn’t admit until his fifth interrogation that there had been such a scheme.

On the 30th October Fawkes checked the undercroft where the gunpowder had been placed and reported that nothing had been moved. However, suspicions by the government had been aroused about a lot of people visiting the cellars, more than usual. King James ordered the cellars to be searched and as a result the casks of gunpowder were found.

However, during the early hours of November 5th Fawkes had taken up his station armed with a slow burning match and a watch given to him by Percy. Fawkes was quickly arrested and the gunpowder hidden under piles of firewood and coal. Fawkes gave his name as John Johnson. He readily admitted his intention of blowing up Parliament and was sad that he hadn’t achieved his task.

The Guy Fawkes Room

He was placed in a room; subsequently it came to be known as ‘The Guy Fawkes Room’ and the torture began supervised by Sir William Waad; Lieutenant of the Tower of London, where Fawkes had been taken. He was tortured at length until nightfall when he was allowed to rest but told there would be more torture for him the following day.

Fawkes refused to name his fellow conspirators and took a lot of punishment, even King James, when told said he admired Fawkes for holding out with the names.

However, on the 7th November Fawkes admitted his true identity and told his interrogators the names of just 5 people who were involved. By this time Fawkes was in great agony from his torture. By the 8th November he told how they were going to blow up Parliament and the following day implicated Francis Tresham. No one could survive the rack without admitting the information that was required. Slowly the other conspirators were arrested.

The Trial:

The trial of the 8 plotters began on Monday 27th January 1606. They were transported from The Tower of London to Westminster Hall where they were displayed on a purpose built scaffold. The King and his close family were watching in secret as the full list of charges was read out. Strangely Fawkes pleaded not guilty despite his admittance to the contrary since his capture. The outcome of the trial was never in doubt and as expected the Jury found all the defendants guilty as charged.

The Lord Chief Justice, Sir John Popham proclaimed them all guilty. Then the Attorney General, Sir Edward Coke told the court that each one of the defendants would be drawn backwards to his death, by a horse, his head near the ground. They were to be put to death halfway between ‘heaven and earth’ as unworthy of both. Their genitals would be cut off and burned before their eyes and their bowels and heart removed. They would then be de-capitated and the dismembered parts of their bodies displayed so that they might become ‘Prey for the fowls of the air.’

On the 31st January 1606, Fawkes and three others, namely Thomas Wintour, Ambrose Rockwood and Robert Keyes were dragged from the Tower of London on wattled hurdles to the Old Palace Yard at Westminster, opposite the building they had planned to destroy Fawkes fellow plotters were then hanged and quartered. Fawkes was the last on the scaffold, he first asked for the forgiveness of the King and State. Weakened by torture and aided by the hangman, Fawkes began to climb the ladder up to where the noose was waiting, but either through jumping to his death or climbing to high so the rope was incorrectly set, he managed to avoid the agony of the latter part of his execution by breaking his neck, his lifeless body was never quartered, and as was the custom, his body parts were then distributed to the ‘four corners of the Kingdom’, so that that were displayed to other would-be traitors.’

An Act of Parliament was passed so that the 5th November as a ‘thanksgiving’ for ‘the joyful day of the King’s deliverance. This act remained in force until it was revoked in 1859. Although Guy Fawkes was only one of 13 failed conspirators it is his name that is always associated with this event.


In some places Guy Fawkes is often toasted as ‘The only man to enter Parliament with honest intentions.

“Remember, remember the fifth of November”

Gunpowder, treason and plot. I see no reason, why gunpowder treason Should ever be forgot.

Guy Fawkes, guy, t’was his intent To blow up king and parliament. Three score barrels were laid below To prove old England’s overthrow.

By God’s mercy he was catch’d With a darkened lantern and burning match. So, holler boys, holler boys, Let the bells ring. Holler boys, holler boys, God save the king.

And what shall we do with him? Burn him!

Welcome to the Finsbury Publishing

David Rowland has just launched his 15th and final book, “The Spirit of Winsome Winn II”, all about the B-17 Flying Fortress which crashed at Patcham after being hit by anti-aircraft fire over Germany.


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