Or, That Effigy Looks Nothing Like Me
In one of the more peculiar of English habits, Guy Fawkes is celebrated with his own day of national remembrance for his role in a failed scheme to dispose of King James I and the House of Lords. You'd think they'd celebrate the foiler of the attempt rather than one of its enactors, but then "1st Earl of Salisbury Day" or "Lord Monteagle Day" just don't have the same ring.
Fawkes and friends meant to take them out by means of multiple barrels of gunpowder buried under Parliament walls, hence the Gunpowder Plot. This was an actual attempt on their lives, unlike the later Popish Plot, also intended on behalf of English Catholics to get back some of their own from an increasingly (one might say irrevocably) Protestant nation.
So every November 5, light your fires and look to the pyres. The gentleman burning in them? That's Guy Fawkes.
The Little Guy
He came from a good family--religious types, people with traceable names. Bet his mum never saw it coming.
This is post-Henry VIII's informing the Pope his services would no longer be required, mind you, but only by about thirty years. So which side of the religious coin you were on could still mean your life.
Everything I Need to Know about Blowing Up Parliament I learned in Kindergarten
Not quite so young as that perhaps, but as the research goes, perhaps not quite too old. Guy was sent to the Free School of St. Peter's, where he became the pupil of John Pulleyn. Pulleyn, as the story goes, may well have been a devout Catholic in his spare time, subtly influencing his students in that direction.
The death of Edward Fawkes in 1578 left Guy without an Anglican father figure at the tender age of eight--so if one may presume to do a bit of hackneyed pop-psychology, the impressions of another adult male, a teacher, might have gone a bit deeper than one might ordinarily suspect.
He was also school-mates with Christopher Wright and his brother John, children of somewhat bravely outspoken Catholics proper and future co-conspirators.
The Uncertain Years
Between academia and the first in the series of events leading to the one that made him famous, not much is recorded, or confirmable, in the life of Guy Fawkes. But it is stongly believed he did the following:
- 1590: Guy enters adulthood in the marital sense by signing on with Maria Pulleyn--that surname might be familiar--in Scotton.
- 1591: Guy enters adulthood in the financial sense by coming into his inheritance, the bulk of which had already been spent by his mother and her new less-than-useful husband, Dionysius Bainbridge. His friends, such as they were, called him Dennis.
Guy leased off a good portion of his lands for a period of twenty years, indicating he either needed the money very badly, or didn't plan to be in England too much longer.
- 1592: Guy enters adulthood in the employment sense as a footman to the 2nd Lord Montague--current head of a prominent and powerful Catholic family.
So you see the trend developing, here.
For King and Country. (Not His. Someone Else's).
It is at this point in his life that Guy decides to forge out on his own, right onto the provebial warpath. Religious and Imperial troubles--hand in hand, those go--were brewing on the Continent, and Guy wanted in on the fun.
- 1593: He splits for Flanders with a cousin to enlist in the Spanish army, serving under the Archduke of Austria, future governor of the Netherlands. If that's confusing to you now, imagine how 16th Century Europeans must have felt.
- 1596: Having served admirably against the Catholic nations' Protestant foes, he earned a command position when Spanish forces took Calais.
- 1600: Fawkes is wounded during the battle of Nieuport. His stature, strength, and piety get him notices by higher-ups in the English regiment in Flanders--and they go to work on him to bring him back.
- 1603: It works. Guy gives up the nickname Guido given him by the Spanish troops and sets his thoughts back on Blighty. No coincidence that Elizabeth I died the same year, and Catholics had their fingers crossed on the subject of Scotland's James VI.
The first thing he does when he gets off the field: seeks an audience with Philip II, trying to talk him into another attempt at invading England, at which point the Catholics would rise up to support him. This fails, but guess who he bumps into--his old chum Christopher Wright.
His involvement in the conspiracy grew on apace thereafter, taking him into the backrooms, alleyways, and smoking dens of western Europe. There is a separate node for the Gunpowder Plot, with which what follows here may overlap a bit.
As Kessenich wrote, Fawkes was not the keystone to the plot. It was most likely underway when he was brought into it by Thomas Wintour in Brussels, sometime around Easter. Wintour took him onto Bergen, into the company of the real mastermind, Robert Catesby.
Crazy Like a Fawkes
In 1604, the execution of the plot--and, if all went according to plan, the King--was a year away. Fawkes, Catesby, Wintour, and two other conspirators met up in London and took an oath to enact the agreed upon (and subtle) strategy of mining under Parliament and stuffing the hole with enough powder to blow the whole thing back to the Vatican.
The oath was sanctified by a Jesuit priest, and Guy assumed the clever pseudonym of John Johnson. Over the next few months, he received orders to begin construction on the mine, a laborious and ultimately unsuccessful venture that resulted in more money, time, and people in on the deal.
- March: The ne'er do wells abandon the mine plan in favor of a rented cellar beneath the target, into which Fawkes and minions start rolling barrels of powder. That done, Fawkes scarpers to Flanders again to keep the out-of-town help informed of the company's progess.
- August: Fawkes shows up in London again, taking up residence with an old lady near St. Clement's Church. She gets a whiff of communion wafer and sends him packing shortly thereafter. In the meantime, he's checking the integrity of the barrels, replacing them as needed.
- October 18: Less than a month to go. But Parliament isn't all Anglicans, so Fawkes attends a get-together with his fellow plotters to see how the Catholic members might be conveniently absent from the festivities.
- October 26: The seeds of destruction are sown, doubly. The plot to reduce the leadership of England to a smoking pile of stone and wigs is full forward--but someone drops a notorious note about it to the 4th Baron Monteagle. Allegedly anonymous, it tipped him off, and he tipped off some others. Not for nothing--the baron was the brother-in-law of Francis Tresham, one of the key conspirators.
- October 30: No one tells Fawkes that the game might well be up. He proceeds with the plan, and checks the gunpowder for the last time.
- November 3: He receives final instructions, and takes up the dubious honor of point man. While everyone else is making plans for a fast getaway, Fawkes is left holding the business end of the fuse. His wartime experience with explosives made him the ideal candidate--and the most likely to be caught while his mates were toasting their own health safely out of England.
- November 4: Now this one has to hurt. Monteagle and crew search the Parliament buildings, and come across Fawkes in his cellar--the powder barrels buried beneath a hoarde of iron bars and ingots. He drops his so-called employer's name--Thomas Percy--and the lot scuttle off remarking how they don't like the looks of this. Fawkes takes the opportunity to warn Percy that they may have been discovered, but returns to his post.
A subsequent night-time search turns up the goods, and Fawkes is placed under arrest. He has all the wrong paraphenalia on him to make up a decent excuse--matches, a watch, the works.
The Day of Reckoning
November 5th, as it were, the ultimately celebrated day when Fawkes was marched into the King's Bechamber to face the music as well as the Privy Council. He was entirely unapologetic at the time--so James did what good 17th Century Kings did. Sent him to the rack.
"The gentler tortours are to be first used unto him, et sic per gradus ad mia tenditur," was the order given. It is unknown specficially what gradus they got to before Fawkes broke, but he did--two days later. Two days after that, he named names. The last document he signed, a confession, bears witness to the severity of the torture. It's a scrawl, barely legible.
On November 9, 1605, he and seven other men went to the scaffold. They were all drawn and quartered, him the last. History records he had nothing to say on the subject of his death in the moments that immediately preceded it. He did cross himself a number of times, but to the casual observer, this seemed to produce no effect.