people across the United Kingdom will become pyromaniacs for the evening,
lighting bonfires and setting off fireworks. This annual tradition is a way
of remembering the events of November 5th 1605 when a plot to blow up the
Houses of Parliament, killing all inside it including the King, was foiled.
One of the most famous conspirators of what became known as the Gunpowder
Plot was Guy Fawkes. Here are ten facts about him.
Guy Fawkes, or Guido Fawkes as he also liked to be known, was born on April
13th 1570 in Stonegate in York. He was educated at St. Peter's School in
Guy Fawkes converted to Catholicism when he was about 16. At the time,
religious teaching was dictated by the Church of England which would not
tolerate Roman Catholicism. Therefore it was difficult for followers of the
Catholic faith to worship freely in England. Guy Fawkes and the other
members of the Gunpowder Plot were all Catholics and the plot was a response
to the repression they experienced. Another reason for wanting to kill the
King was that King James I was Scottish. Up to 1603, England and Scotland
were ruled as two separate nations with two different monarchs. After the
death of Queen Elizabeth I, King James (who was then King James VI of
Scotland) was next in line to the throne of England. Therefore he became the
first monarch to rule both nations, a situation which would later go on to
create what is now the United Kingdom. Many English people opposed being
under the rule of a Scot so the Gunpowder Plot would have put an end to
Guy Fawkes was an experienced soldier. Although he didn't fight for his
country, he fought for the Spanish against the Dutch in the Netherlands.
This is where he gained experience with explosives, and also where he
decided to call himself Guido, probably because it sounded Spanish.
Although Guy Fawkes wasn't the main conspirator in the Gunpowder Plot, he
probably had one of the most important roles. A cellar below the Houses of
Parliament was rented by the members of the plot which was filled with 36
barrels of gunpowder. There was enough gunpowder that it would have
completely destroyed the building and caused damage to buildings within a
one mile radius of it. Guy Fawkes was in charge of guarding the gunpowder,
and, if he hadn't have been caught, would have been the person that lit it.
It is claimed that, although there was enough gunpowder to cause quite
considerable damage, the gunpowder had actually "decayed" and, if
it had been lit, would not have exploded!
During his involvement in the Gunpowder Plot, Fawkes called himself John
Johnson and when he was arrested and asked to give his name, this is the
name he gave.
Despite being involved in what is basically a terrorist plot, Guy Fawkes was
named the 30th Greatest Briton in a poll conducted by the BBC in 2002. This
link takes you to the complete list,
although it is sorted alphabetically and not in order of popularity.
Shortly after being discovered, Fawkes was taken to the King's bedchamber to
explain why he wanted to kill him and blow up Parliament. Fawkes calmly
answered that he regarded the King as a disease since he had been
excommunicated by the Pope. He also explained that he needed such a huge
quantity of gunpowder "To blow you Scotch beggars back to your own
Under torture, it took up four days for Guy Fawkes to admit to his part
in the Gunpowder Plot and give names of other people involved in it. His
signature on the written confession after torture, which is still held by
the National Archives, was very faint and weak (shown in the top half of the
image on the left). A signature on a confession written eight days later
shows his name, which he wrote as "Guido" (must have still thought
he was Spanish) much more clearly (the bottom signature in the image on the
left). Fawkes and other people involved in the Gunpowder Plot were tried on
January 31st 1606 and then hung, drawn and quartered in the Old Palace Yard
in Westminster. Contrary to popular belief, Fawkes wasn't thrown onto a
bonfire. That only happens to straw dummies made of him since.
An uninhabited island to the north of Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos
Islands is named Isla Guy Fawkes, or Guy Fawkes Island. Who knows why? Maybe
he planned to escape there?
Nowadays many people tend to refer to a man as a "guy".
Originally, guy was a term for an "ugly, repulsive person" in
reference to Guy Fawkes. Straw effigies made of Guy Fawkes and thrown onto
bonfires to remember the Gunpowder Plot were also known as "guys".
Over time "guy" began to be used as a term for a man (possibly as
a half-meant insult), and is a word in common use today.