November 5th celebrations are famous for fireworks and bonfires. But there is an interesting man associated with the Gunpowder Plot that started it all. Guy Fawkes, or Guido Fawkes, is a central character with a fascinating story.
In this two-part series, we’re taking a closer look on Guy Fawkes. In the first post, we examined his early years and his switch to Catholicism. At the end of the post, we mentioned how he eventually returned from his battles in Spain to England. So, what happened next?
Returning to England
Guy Fawkes had earlier sought Spanish help in launching a Catholic rebellion in England. He adopted his new name, Guido and declared James I as a heretic. He denounced Scotland and while Philip III and the others welcomed him politely, he didn’t get the support he wanted.
So, he returned to England. In 1604, he got involved with a group of English Catholics led by Robert Catesby. Catesby’s plan was to assassinate King James, a Protestant, and replace him with his daughter Princess Elizabeth. The group decided to blow up the Parliament in a massive act of rebellion.
Launching the plot
The first meeting between the five conspirators took place in the Duck and Drake in Sunday, May 20th, 1604. It was exiled Welsh spy Hugh Owen who introduced Fawkes to Thomas Wintour, a key figure in the plot. The two got along – both were contemporaries with a militant worldview. Both also knew first-hand the struggle of getting the Spanish involved.
Later that year, Fawkes was installed as a caretaker in a House in London that gave the conspirators an ample opportunity for building a tunnel. Fawkes used pseudonym John Johnson and together with his conspirators, the digging of a tunnel began. However, there is still no proof about the tunnel – it might be that the government came up with the idea to spark more rumours.
In 1605, Fawkes made another attempt to gain overseas support for their plot. During the trip, Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, heard about Fawkes and the plan. By late August 1605, Fawkes had returned to England without support. In October, the group sealed their plan and left Fawkes in charge of lighting the gunpowder fuse and escaping across the Thames.
The plan, however, didn’t succeed. Lord Monteagle had received a tip in a letter, which he later showed to King James. The King ordered the cellars underneath the Parliament to be searched and that’s where they found Fawkes, who was keeping guard.
Fawkes introduced himself as John Johnson during the interrogations. He admitted he was there to blow up the Parliament and in an act of defiance also noted he regretted the plan failed. Indeed, this resulted in the admiration of King James.
Guy Fawkes meets his death
This didn’t result to much as the King later ordered Fawkes to be tortured in order to learn the names of his co-conspirators. Fawkes remained silent at first but revealed his identity the next day. The next year, Fawkes and his co-conspirators were brought to justice. He was found guilty and hanged on January 31st, 1606.
Fawkes and his fellow conspirators launched a plot that foiled but which we still reminiscence by lighting bonfires and watching fireworks. Sometimes the legacy of Guy Fawkes is commemorated by toasting, and stating how he was “the last man to enter Parliament with honest intentions”.
The story of Guy Fawkes is a fascinating one. Knowing his journey definitely adds another element to November 5th celebrations.