A soldier and fanatic
When Guy Fawkes was a boy he lived near York with his father Edward and his mother Edith. His father was a committed Protestant and worked as a solicitor for the religious court of the church. However in 1579 Guy’s father died and 3 years later his mother remarried a man called Denis Bainbridge. Denis’s family were Catholic and so the young Guy converted. In practice this meant that he and his family refused to go to church because all the churches in England were protestant. Catholics were already suffering oppression but things got worse for the family in 1593 when Queen Elizabeth First made it illegal to refuse to go to church.
But Guy had already left England. In 1592 he enlisted in the Catholic Spanish army that was battling to keep power in western Europe. Guy gained a lot of experience of fighting but was also a brave and loyal soldier.
Despite fighting on mainland Europe, Guy didn’t forget the persecution his fellow Catholics were suffering back in England and in 1603 he went the Spanish King to ask for help. The Spanish said no. But in 1604 at Ostend, Guy met another Englishman called Thomas Winter, who had also been in Spain trying to drum up support for English Catholics and the two travelled back to London together. During the trip Thomas told Guy that he and his friends were going to take action, whether or not they had help from Spain.
Back in London, Guy was introduced to Robert Catesby the mastermind of a group of rebels. Robert asked Guy to join his group as the explosives expert. Over the next few months Robert pulled together the rest of the team while he devised his plot to blow up Parliament and kill King James and many politicians and bishops.
The plan took many nerve-wracking months to carry out. They had to secretly transfer barrels of gunpowder into a vault under parliament. The conspirators feared discovery all the time. One day while they were tunnelling, they heard a noise and sent Guy up to investigate – while the rest waited quietly in the tunnels under the vaults. When Guy came back he told then it was a false alarm, the vault overhead was just being vacated. Then again a few days before the opening of parliament, they heard that some MPs had been warned about the plot; Guy volunteered to check that the gunpowder hadn’t been discovered. And it was Guy who went down by himself into the vault on the 4th November, armed with a fuse. While he waited, some suspicious politicians turned up to search the vaults but the gunpowder was hidden under a pile of wood. Guy pretended to be a servant and said the wood belonged to his master Percy. When this was reported to the King, and the fact that Percy was a Catholic, the King ordered a second search, the gunpowder was found and Guy arrested.
Guy Fawkes at the Tower
Guy was taken to the Queen’s House at the Tower of London and interrogated for days, most persistently by William Waad, Lieutenant of the Tower. The King was desperate, he knew that the conspirators were planning a rebellion and needed the names of the people involved. So Guy was probably taken to the basement of the White Tower and tortured. Guy refused to answer any questions in order to give his companions time to organise the uprising. It took 2 days for the interrogators to even get Guy to admit his real name.
The following day, and only after he’d heard his friends had failed, Guy eventually confessed to the plot and named his conspirators. The signature on his confession was faint and shaky, probably because his arms had been damaged by the rack.
Guy and his co-conspirators were brought to trial and 2 months later on the 31 of January 1606 Guy and three others were dragged from the Tower on wooden stretchers to the palace at Westminster. Guy was the last to climb up on the scaffold and was so weakened by torture that the hangman had to help him up. Despite this, when the noose was put around his head he jumped from the scaffold and snapped his own neck. This was a blessing for him as otherwise he would have been still alive when his body was taken down and cut up into four pieces.