Guy Fawkes, King James & A Whole Lot Of Gunpowder

*ghastly content lay within – read on at ye own peril*

King James I had no problem admitting to others that he greatly admired Guy Fawkes.  He was stubbornly steadfast, dedicated, passionate and brutally honest – even in the face of death.  These were values that demanded respect from all that met him, even from the King of England.  But this wasn’t going to stop Guy Fawkes from being made an example of.  After all, the King knew how the world worked concerning these things.  His own mother – Mary Queen of Scots – had lost her head over similar politics with her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I.  These two women had a mutual respect for each other and their roles in the world but this didn’t stop the brutal solution to the certain problem between them being carried out with a axe – ‘no bad feelings Mary, this is just business Cuz.’

Guy Fawkes was born in York, England around the 13th April 1570.  He was brought up in the Church of England, until at least the age of eight when his father died.  His new step-father was Catholic and proved to be a strong influence on the religious side of the young lad.  When Guy came of age, he left the Protestant ruled England, changed his first name to Guido and moved to Spain, which was the under the rule of Catholic King Phillip II.  After surviving the ‘Eighty Years War’ against the Dutch Protestants, Guy had earned to be described as ‘…a man highly skilled in matters of war…’

He was also ‘tall, powerfully built, with thick reddish-brown hair, a flowing moustache, and a bushy reddish-brown beard…’ and was ‘…pleasant of approach and cheerful of manner…’ and in the company of Thomas Wintour, he returned to England.  It is through Thomas Wintour that Guy met Robert Catesby who was planning to assassinate King James I.  Robert’s daughter, Princess Elizabeth was third in line to the English throne and a Catholic.  Returning the rule of England to the Catholics was an idea that Guy just couldn’t walk away from.  He was in – at all costs.

The first meeting of these plotters took place on the 20th May 1604 at the Duck & Drake Inn.  The idea was to blow Parliament House while King James I would have been present to open the session of parliament.  With no backing from Spain, these men were really on their own but at least they already had someone working on the inside.  From the home of John Whynniard – the servant of Chief of the King’s wardrobe – , they planned to dig a tunnel to and under Parliament House.  John had also gotten most of the plotters jobs around the King’s court but proof of such a tunnel was never found.  It was later revealed that the plotters had been looking at renting a house – from where a tunnel was to be dug – but news reached them of an opportunity to rent the “undercroft” under the Parliament House.  The deal was sealed and Guy spoke of them taking about 20 barrels of gunpowder down underground and later adding 16 more barrels.  These barrels were covered in coal and timber to keep them hidden.

The opening of Parliament was to happen on the 28th July 1805 but the threat of the Plague keep this from happening till the 5th November.  Guy, who had been placed in charge of the gunpowder, reported to the others that the gunpowder had decayed due the delay.  More gunpowder was sourced.

Concern for the Catholics who were members of Parliament began to play on some of the plotter’s mind.  A series of letters were sent out to these Catholics, warning them to stay away.  One of these letters was to Lord Monteagle who unlike the others that thought it a hoax, took the warning very seriously.  He took his letter straight to King James I.  As the hour of midnight clicked over to the 5th November, some of the King’s guards made their way to the undercroft of Parliament House; when who should they met on his way out? None other than Guy Fawkes.  He was promptly arrested with no fight at all.

Giving his name as John Johnston, he was placed under interrogation.  He remained silent except to express his regret that the plan had been foiled.  After a search of his being, he was found to have the scars of someone suffering from pleurisy and also had a letter addressed to a Guy Fawkes.  He was moved to the Tower of London and the King gave permission for the rack to be used during questioning.  It took 3 days to break him.  He gave the names of the others and also shared the plot of their plan to blow up the King and his government.

The trial of Guy Fawkes and the 7 other plotters began on the 27th January 1606.  They were all found guilty of high treason.  Their sentence was death by being drawn, hung and quartered.  Just 4 days later, their sentence was carried out.  Guy and 3 others were dragged along behind horses by their feet from the Tower of London to the Old Palace Yard at Westminster.  The point of them being killed in full view of Parliament House was not lost on some.  Being the last of the 3 to be alive, Guy bravely climbed upon the scaffold and asked the King for his forgiveness – who had been watching in secret.  As the rope was placed around his neck, Guy gathered all his energy and threw himself off the ladder.  He died instantly by breaking his own neck.  Better this than being hung to almost dead, having his genitals loped off and burned in front of him, his bowel removed and then being decapitated and dismembered.  He was still quartered in spite of his early exit and his legs and arms were taken to the four corners of the empire as a warning to others whom maybe plotting against the King.

The very day of Guy Fawkes’ arrest, the public were encouraged to celebrate the fact that the King had survived such a plot.  The streets of London were soon lit up by numerous bonfires.  It was soon passed by parliament that the 5th November would be a national day of thankfulness.  Referred to as Guy Fawkes Night, this remained as law until 1859.  After that, the tradition was carried on by the public.

It was in the 1650’s when fireworks were added to the celebrations along with the burning of an effigy of Guy Fawkes or the Catholic Pope after the 1670’s.

Maybe because he was the first to be arrested or the matter of his death, Guy Fawkes – who was nowhere near being the ringleader of the gunpowder plot – has survived in the minds of the public for over 400 years.  In many ways he has become the symbol of the common man’s struggle against those who make up the rules.
In recent times, when a political figure – such as Margaret Thatcher for example – had England calling for her blood, it was her effigy that found itself on the bonfires of Guy Fawkes Night.  Others speak of Guy Fawkes as a joke, saying that he was the last man to enter Parliament with honest intentions!

*image of Guy Fawkes arrest courtesy of http://www.bridgemanart.com*
*image of Guy Fawkes death courtesy of http://www.bbc.co.uk*
*image of Bonfire courtesy of http://www.dailymail.co.uk*

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