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Guy Fawkes and the Conspiracy of the Gunpowder Plot

Guy Fawkes and the Conspiracy of the Gunpowder Plot
“Remember, Remember, the Fifth of November. The

Gunpowder

Treason, and

Plot

. I know of know reason why the

Gunpowder

Treason should ever be forgot.” On November the 5th, 1604, thirteen men

plot

ted together to blow up the Palace of Westminster in London on the day when the most powerful men in England were set to meet at Parliament. The authorities learned about the plan through an anonymous letter, and the terrorists were stopped just in time. The first man they encountered at the scene was Guy

Fawkes

, who had been guarding barrels of

gunpowder

in the basement below the palace. If you’re an American, you probably know about Guy

Fawkes

from the movie V for Vendetta, and you most likely associate him with anarchy. This association has been pushed even more in recent years with the use of Guy

Fawkes

masks by the Anonymous organization. If you’re from the UK, you already know about Guy

Fawkes

Night, which is celebrated every November 5th with a bonfire and fireworks. Nearly everyone has heard of the famous

Gunpowder

Plot

, but few people know the details about Guy Fawke’s life, or the motivations behind why he and his friends wanted to blow up Parliament in the first place. Even though this is a biography of his life, Guy

Fawkes

is a very small part in this larger story. In order to fully understand the motivations behind the

Gunpowder

Plot

, we first need to explain the conflicts between English Catholics and Protestants at that time. So, What’s Up With The Catholics?...
guy fawkes and the conspiracy of the gunpowder plot
For a large part of human history, the most powerful religion in the world was the Roman Catholic Church. If a country was Catholic, its citizens looked up to the reigning Pope as their religious leader, and in the minds of some, this authority was more important than their loyalty to their actual King of Queen because whoever has access to God has access to your mortal soul. In a lot of ways, the Protestant Reformation was a way to remove all of the power being held by the Popes and Bishops. It was sort of like cutting out the middleman for the average person’s access to God. Because, you see, Catholics are taught that if you want your sins to be forgiven, you have to tell a priest every bad thing you have ever done in confession. A priest is sworn to secrecy, kind of like a therapist. But even so, everyone had the knowledge that these men held all of the deepest darkest secrets of their congregation. Confession wasn’t just encouraged. It’s mandatory. And even the smallest sin left unsaid could mean you’re going to Hell. On top of that, Catholic mass was said in Latin, so everyone needed to study the language. For the uneducated peasants, they needed to rely on a translation from their priest. Basically, the religion is set up in such a way where priests and the Pope were given a huge amount of power over their congregation. In 1558, Elizabeth declared that there should be a “settlement”, which declared that all English citizens must convert to Protestantism....
guy fawkes and the conspiracy of the gunpowder plot
Bishops that were formerly apart of the Catholic Church must renounce their loyalty to the Pope, if they wanted to live. It was now mandatory for every English person to go to Protestant church services every Sunday, and they were taking attendance. If anyone missed one too many services, they were fined, or sent to jail. After hearing this, Pope Pius V excommunicated Elizabeth from the Catholic Church. In 1570, he commanded a papal bull that encouraged all Catholics to depose her- Basically, do not be loyal to their Queen. He called her "Elizabeth, the pretended Queen of England, and the servant of crime". You can probably see why this was problematic. Catholics were now seen as enemy agents. People in the lower classes were quick to convert to Protestantism. They could not afford to pay the hefty fines, and many of the illiterate peasants couldn’t speak or read Latin, anyway. So it was an easy choice to make, and a symbol that they were loyal to their Queen. But for the educated people of the upper class, this was not such an easy conversion. For one thing, this was taking away the freedom to choose their religion, and there were plenty of people who still truly believe that the Catholic Church was the one true church. These people were called “recusants”, which comes from the Latin word recusare, which means “to refuse”. For these people who broke the law and continued to practice their Catholic faith, they believed they were fighting for their immortal...
guy fawkes and the conspiracy of the gunpowder plot
souls. Since so much of the religion relies on a priest to say mass and give confession, recusant Catholics began to hide priests in their home. This was completely illegal, and harboring a priest was punishable by death. If it was known at a family was Catholic, the royal guard would show up unannounced at all times of the day and night to ransack their homes, looking for hidden priests. Upper-class Catholic families who refused to attend Protestant mass continued to pay expensive fines, to the point where they were losing all of their family inheritance. Many English Catholics were forced to move to Flanders, which was a safe zone. After Elizabeth I’s death, the Scottish King James VI took over the throne, and became King James I of England. Catholic citizens had no idea how his reign would be any different than Elizabeth’s and they waited to see what would happen next. The Life of Guy

Fawkes

There is not very much known about Guy

Fawkes

’ childhood, either, except that he was born in 1570 in York, England to Edward and Edith

Fawkes

. His family had been Protestant, and his father even worked for The Church of England. They were law-abiding Protestants who went to church every Sunday. His mother came from along line of Catholics, but she chose to give up her faith in favor of conforming. Guy Fawke’s father died when he was 8 years old, and his mother was a widow for years before she decided to marry a Catholic man. They began practicing the faith in secret, and they...
baptized Guy and his siblings in a secret ceremony in the St. Michael le Belfrey church. He attended St. Peter’s School in York, which had a lot of recusant Catholic teachers and students. He was able to attend mass in the homes of people who were hiding priests. As an adult, he chose to continue practicing that Catholic faith, and he became passionate about trying to help protect it. At some point, Guy

Fawkes

is said to have gotten married and had a son. There are records from 1590 that a man named Guy

Fawkes

married a woman named Maria Pulleyn, and a birth certificate of their son, Thomas

Fawkes

. When he was 21 years old, he would have been old enough to take out his inheritance. That same year, there are documents of a lease of a 3-and-a-half-acre piece of land and home signed by Guy

Fawkes

, including a stamp with the image of a falcon, which was on his family crest. He once had a very normal life. He entered the service of Anthony Brown, 1st Viscount of Montagu as a footman. At that time, working in the service of a Lord was considered to be a very respectable job among the lower class, especially compared to being a farmer. But for whatever reason, Brown did not like Guy

Fawkes

, so he fired him. Back then, your reputation was everything, and it must have been difficult for him to get another job without a good letter of recommendation. He managed to work for Brown’s grandson after Anthony Brown’s death. From the records, it would seem that he struggled to maintain...
steady employment. So at 21 years old, he left England and move to Flanders. He fought together with the Spanish army, to do his part in the Eighty Year War. At that time, Spain was considered to be the protectors of the Catholic faith, and during the war, they were fending off Dutch Protestantism in the Netherlands. While fighting with the Spanish, he decided to go by the name “Guido”. He was described by one of his compatriots to be "of excellent good natural parts, very resolute and universally learned", and was "sought by all the most distinguished in the Archduke's camp for nobility and virtue". People say that he was very tall and muscular. He had reddish-brown hair and beard, and was basically described as being the perfect soldier. Despite having these descriptions, No one knows what Guy

Fawkes

truly looks like, because there was never a portrait painted of his likeness. We only have the caricatures that depicted him after his death, and these were mostly drawn in such a way that made him look like a villain. In most images, he has black hair and a beard with an upturned mustache. The

Gunpowder

Plot

After King James I came into power, Catholics waited with bated breath to see what would happen next. A recusant Catholic man named Thomas Percy was a cousin of Henry Percy, the 9th Earl of Northumberland. Even though he was not a Lord himself, Percy was able to take it upon himself to request an audience with the King. He asked for mercy on...
behalf of the English Catholics. Wanting to gain popularity with his new English subjects, James was vague, and made sure not to make any promises. It was still very early in his reign, and he was not sure yet what he should do about the tensions between Protestants and Catholics. He essentially told Percy not to worry, because he personally had no ill will towards Catholics. Percy believed that King James was going to offer some kind of relief, and that he might be getting ready to repeal Queen Elizabeth I’s laws. Percy was very happy about this, and returned to tell his friends and family that they no longer had to worry about being persecuted for their faith any longer. Some even hoped that maybe James would convert to Catholicism, and the entire country would revert back to practicing the one true church. For about a year, English Catholics were able to live a normal life. James temporarily stopped collecting fees that recusant Catholics were required to pay for skipping Protestant service. He also did not push for his guard to search Catholic homes for harboring priests. However, the laws made by Elizabeth I were still in place. He had not repealed them, because he was waiting to see what the reaction would be from his Protestant Parliament. In the summer of 1604, the members of Parliament finally noticed that Catholics were not being persecuted anymore, and they began to push King James to come down hard on them. The way they felt about Catholics was very similar to...
Communists in the Cold War. Many of them believed that if they were not stamped out, they would cause an uprising. So, James brought back the same laws the Elizabeth I had put in place. Suddenly, Catholic homes were being searched once again, and they were being treated like criminals. The Catholic people in England had lived so long being oppressed, but the thing that triggered their anger was the sense of false hope. They felt betrayed by King James, and it was enough to make some want to kill him. Even though Guy

Fawkes

is the one who is most remembered for the

Gunpowder

Plot

, the ring leader was actually a man named Robert Catesby. He began making plans in 1603, and first recruited a man named Thomas Winter. Catesby and Winter rode to Spain, because they had associates who were Catholic. Spain was also designated as the protectors of the Catholic faith. Since Catholics in England were being persecuted once again, they begged for help from the Spanish to stop King James from killing their people. However, the Spanish were not interested in getting involved. Catesby and Winter returned to England, and decided if they were going to find anyone to help them, it would have to be at home. They found John Wright, and Thomas Percy. Winter had gone to school with Guy

Fawkes

, and he seemed like the perfect candidate to help them with the

plot

. After all,

Fawkes

had plenty of experience fighting in Spain, and he knew a lot about

gunpowder

. He was smart, and knew how to stay cool...
under pressure. In May of 1604, the five men were spotted together at London’s Duck and Drake Inn. They whispered about their

plot

, and swore an oath of loyalty and secrecy. The group was biding their time, trying to figure out the finer details of the plan as time went on. Thomas Percy had the resources to purchased a property in London that was very close to The Palace of Westminster. Guy

Fawkes

began to live with him, posing as a footman named “John Johnson”. This way, they would never seem out of the ordinary to anyone who witnessed them around town. At that time, it was not uncommon for men to buy

gunpowder

, especially if they planned to sail overseas. They needed the powder to use their guns and cannons to defend themselves from pirates. The only trouble was buying small quantities over a long period of time, as not to raise suspicions. Guy

Fawkes

would use his connections to slowly gather a cache of

gunpowder

barrels that were leftover from ships entering the harbor, and bringing them back to Thomas Percy. At the time, the Palace of Westminster had a collection of smaller buildings. Lords and other members of the upper class would come and go from those buildings on a regular basis without being stopped by security. The rules were very relaxed, and it was actually easy for Thomas Percy to rent a storage space in the basement below the Palace, claiming that it was for his cousin, The Earl of Northumberland, to store his firewood for winter. The day of Parliament...
kept getting delayed, and the group of conspirators grew from 5 to 13 men. Unfortuantely for them, though, the extended time combined with the greater number of people who were being told about the

plot

meant that it was far more likely that the secret was going to get out. A Catholic man named Lord Monteagle was preparing to be present at Parliament. A masked man handed a letter to one of Monteagle servants, and it was presented to him immediately. It said; “My lord, out of the love I bear to some of your friends, I have a care of your preservation, therefore I would advise you as you tender your life to devise some excuse to shift of your attendance at this parliament . . . for though there be no appearance of any stir, yet I say they shall receive a terrible blow.” Even though it was late at night, Lord Monteagle quickly told his servants to ready the horses, so that he could deliver the letter to Robert Cecil, the Spy Master and Secretary of State to King James. Historians have debated over the theories of who actually wrote that anonymous letter. It could have been one of the 13 conspirators. It may have even been Lord Monteagle himself, writing a fake letter after hearing letters through the Catholic recusant grapevine. He was awarded 500 pounds per year for his loyalty to the crown. Back then, that was a small fortune. Even more historian believe it was Robert Cecil. He was the spy master, after all, and some believe that he knew about the

Gunpowder

Plot

for a long...
time, and orchestrated the entire scene to make himself seem like the hero. On the 4th of November, there was an extensive search of the Palace of Westminster. At first, they did not find anything that concerned them, and they were beginning to believe that the letter was a hoax. But later that day, it was brought to the royal guard’s attention that there were cellars underneath the palace that had not been searched yet. A royal official named Sir Thomas Knyvett was told that one of them was being used for storing firewood, so he lead a group of royal guards to search the area. When they arrived, they found Guy

Fawkes

guarding the firewood. Instead of wearing the clothes of a watchman,

Fawkes

was dressed in his riding boots, spurs, hat, and cloak, as if he was getting ready to jump on a horse at any moment. They moved the wood piles aside to reveal 36 barrels of

gunpowder

. The royal guards searched him and found a box of long matches.

Fawkes

was immediately arrested. On November the 6th, King James wanted to meet Guy

Fawkes

face-to-face. He interviewed him, asking if he had any regret. He genuinely wanted to know how anyone could be so ruthless to be willing to kill so many people- even the young children who would have been present at Parliament.

Fawkes

said that his only regret was that the plan failed. Fawks still called himself “John Johnson”, and he refused to give up the names of his co-conspirators. King James ordered that

Fawkes

be tortured and interrogated. He...
was suspended by manacles, and then put on the rack so that his arms and legs were stretched and popped out of their sockets. He eventually caved and gave his confession. In the before-and-after of his signature, we can see that he could hardly write his own name, after enduring so much pain. While Guy

Fawkes

was being tortured, the rest of the conspirators were on the run. Robert Catesby began to announce to the villages that King James was dead, and he called for Catholics to rise up to reclaim their rightful place in the kingdom. They rode from town to town, but instead of the huge army he expected, there were only about 40 men who decided to follow him. Ironically, Catesby and his men accidently blew themselves up with their own

gunpowder

they had brought with them. Without Guy

Fawkes

there to help them with his expertise, they thought that in order to dry out the damp, they should sprinkle their

gunpowder

in front of an open fireplace. It exploded, of course, and one of the men had gone blind. The rest were now burned and injured. One of the men asked Robert Catesby what they were going to do next. He replied, “We mean here to die.” On November the 8th, the sheriff of Warwickshire showed up with a small army of 200 men. There was a shootout between the two groups. The weakened Catholic men did their best to go out fighting, but it was clear that the king’s guard would overpowered them. Robert Catesby was shot, but crawled to the nearby chapel. He was later found on...
the floor of the church, hugging a statue of the Virgin Mary. The men who were left alive were taken prisoner, and sentenced to hang in the gallows along with Guy

Fawkes

. Death and Legacy On the 31st of January, 1606, Guy

Fawkes

and his fellow conspirators were found guilty of treason, and their punishment would have been to “hanged, drawn, and quartered”. This meant that a man was dragged through the streets before he was hanged in the gallows. But just before he was about to choke to death, they would let him go. As he gasped for breath, they would dig a knife into his stomach, and pull out his entrails. Then, they chopped off his arms and legs while he was still alive. Then, the four quarters of their body were taken to the four corners of England. As Guy

Fawkes

stood in front of the crowd, King James declared that these Catholic traitors were trying to blow up the entire island of England. This would have been physically impossible, of course, but it was enough to make people extremely angry. They were screaming and booing, calling him a traitor. Before they could torture him again, Guy

Fawkes

jumped, breaking his own neck. Even though he was no alive to feel the pain, they still went through with cutting his body apart into pieces. The

Gunpowder

Plot

had very nearly succeeded. And if it were not for the anonymous letter, Guy

Fawkes

may have actually succeeded at lighting the fuse. If the barrels of

gunpowder

had exploded, it would have been powerful enough to bring...
down the palace, and nearby buildings. It would have killed the King and the princes, as well as some of the most powerful noblemen in the country. This would have left the throne to James’ daughter, Princess Elizabeth. They had hoped that since she was so young, she would be easy to manipulate as a sort of puppet. Many believe that Robert Catesby would have eventually gotten more Catholics to follow him, and this would have erupted into an English civil war. After this incident, Parliament passed the Thanksgiving Act of 1606, which was a law that English citizens must pray and give thanks to God that the terrorists did not kill the King. That day became known as “Guy

Fawkes

Night”, or “Bonfire Night”, and it is celebrated every year on November the 5th. People usually celebrate by building a large bonfire and burning a life-sized dummy of Guy

Fawkes

. There is also a fireworks show, to symbolize the explosions that never happened. Since then, everyone has always remembered the Fifth of November.