Who is Guy Fawkes?

Fireworks can be seen in the sky several times of the year. In fact, it is something every one of us anticipates every single year despite having experienced them the previous years.

For example, in France, during the Bastille Day celebration on July 14, fireworks are released. In the USA, forth July, the States immerse into fireworks as they celebrate their independence day. Every other country experiences the same, especially during New Year’s Eve.

But, in a country like Britain, fireworks night or bonfire night is about celebrating Guy Fawkes’s gunpowder, treason, and plot failure.

November 5 is so significant to the British such that they even have a nursery rhyme for children – “remember November 5, gunpowder, treason and plot “that they chant to when burning Fawkes effigy.

So Who Is Guy Fawkes?

Guy was one of the plotters of ending the reign of protestant ruling – King James I – in order for the catholic monarch to take over. Although it is not clear when he was born, Guy was born in a protestant family but baptized in a catholic church – St Michael le Belfrey Church in York – on April 16, 1570. 

His mother was later remarried to a catholic man following her first husband’s death. Living with his stepfather, Fawkes adopted his catholic practices and later converted to catholic in his teenage years.

He also attended St Peters school in York and later joined the household of Anthony Browne and acquired the position of 1st Viscount Montagu.

What Is The Story Of Guy Fawkes?

The pick of the story of Guy Fawkes begins when he moves overseas to join the catholic Spanish army. The group was a collection of people and resources who came together to fight Protestants. At the time of his joining, the army was fighting the Protestant Dutch force, who had taken control over the Netherlands. Several years down the line, Guy Fawkes had risen through ranks and was recommended as the captain of the catholic Spanish army.

During the same period, Fawkes adopted an Italian name – Guido. He also gains tremendous knowledge on gunpowder, something that was to help him and the team plotting to kill King James I and VI.

In 1603, Guy Fawkes visited a catholic king, King Phillip III, in Spain and asked him to wage war against Britain and specifically target King James I and VI. Unfortunately, the king refused. Several months later, in 1604, Fawkes met Thomas Wintour, who was also an English Catholic. Wintour encouraged Fawkes to join a team of conspirators who were plotting to assassinate King James.

But, Wintour did not just happen to be in Flanders fighting for Spanish when he met Guido. Instead, he was dispatched by his fellow members of the English catholic who had previously tried and failed in overthrowing protestant rule in England. So, after Fawkes enlisting, he returned to England even without enough information on the plot against the ruler of the time.

He met the instigator of the plot, Robert Catesby, jack wright, tom Wintour, and Thomas Percy at the Duck and Drake Inn, where he listened to the plan to blow house of parliament while the king was inside. The five swore on keeping the secret, and for the next 18 months, they planned on how to bring an end to King James I reign.

What Was the Plan?

The plan involved renting the cellar extending under the palace where the house of parliament was. Secondly, the plotters had to strategically place 36 gunpowder barrels in various spots inside the basement, such that it would blow the whole house of parliament. On November 5, 1604, the plotters were to light the gunpowder and blow everyone who was in the parliament, including all protestant leaders, the queen, and King James I.

So Percy moved nearby parliament building while Fawkes adopted a pseudonym and posed as the servant of Percy. They secretly acquired gunpowder, and every day, their plan came to shape thanks to new members who were joining and providing funds and resources. 

How Did Guy Fawkes Die?

The gunpowder plot didn’t come through – it failed terribly. On the eve of the day King James I was to open the parliament, November 4, Fawkes was found strolling in the basement of the cellar. He was detained, and the room searched where they found almost two tons of gunpowder.

He was taken to the Tower of London, where he was tortured until he revealed the names of the other plot conspirators. He also signed his confession with his identity Guido Fawkes and remarked that he had enough gunpowder to blow Scotch beggars (King James and people that were in his government) to their native mountains.

Guy was sentenced to death by hanging, drawn, and quartered. On January 31, 1606, Fawkes was taken to Westminster in London for hanging. But, after the noose was placed over his head, he purposefully jumped off the scaffold and broke his neck. By doing so, Guy avoided being cut into four pieces while hanging. Instead, his parts were cut while he was dead and sent to different parts of London for Londoners to see.

Was Guy Fawkes a Hero?

From the above story, was Fawkes, a hero? Robert Catesby was the original plotter against the British protestant government. But, he had failed in his previous attacks and needed a person who had the military experience to carry out his gunpowder plot. Fawkes was and is still famous for various reasons, including:

  • Approaching King Phillip III to ask him to fight Britain government
  • Fought for Spain for almost a decade against the protestant rebels that were gaining control over the Netherlands
  • Handling explosives
  • Soldier skills

For these reasons, among his bravery and other things, Fawkes was seen as a hero amongst his fellow plotters. His reputation even exceeded him because it is said that King James I recognized Guy’s dedication and Roman resolution.

Why Do We Celebrate Guy?

After the Gunpowder Plot was revealed, the British began celebrating bonfire night every year on November 5. In fact, the government came up with an act of parliament (Guy Fawkes Day) in January 1606 that designed November 5 as a thanksgiving day for King James I government survival.

The festivity spread to American colonies, where they referred to the day as Pope Day. During the celebration of the festive, the anti-Catholic sentiment and British subjects would burn effigies of the pope. In the 19th century, however, the tradition died in the USA.

But, this was not about to stop in Britain. Instead, family and friends continued to use the day as a family get-together, celebrate fireworks night, light bonfires, go for parades, and burn effigies of guy. Children were also involved, whereby they went from home to home asking for a ‘penny for the Guy,’ a similar custom as that of today’s trick and treat during Halloween.

Years later, some people no longer see Guy as a traitor but as a revolutionary hero. In fact, every new generation reinvents what they want Guy to represent. They thus use his image to express discontent with the status quo as it amplifies their need to pass the message. Today, Guy Fawkes day is celebrated by going outside and lighting a huge bonfire and burn effigy, light fireworks, eat a seasonal treat, and commemorate how the Gunpowder Plot failed. However, people no longer see Guy as a traitor, at least not everyone.

Four hundred years later, people still remember the deeds of Guy Fawkes.

Who is Guy Fawkes