Bonfire Night: A Celebration of Guy Fawkes and the Failed Gunpowder Plot
Who was Guy Fawkes?
Guy Fawkes was born in 1570 in York. Born as the second of four children to Edward Fawkes and Edith Fawkes. Both his parents were regular communicants of the Church of England as were his paternal grandparents. Guy’s mother’s family were recusant Catholics and his cousin, Richard Cowling, became a Jesuit Priest.
Although Guy Fawkes is by far and away the most famous of the group, he was not the instigator or leader of the Gunpowder Plot and that place belonged to Robert Catesby. Catesby was a charismatic Catholic figure who had reputation for speaking out against the crown. After the protestant James I was crowned king in 1603, Catesby planned to kill him by blowing up the House of Lords with gunpowder during the State Opening of Parliament. Since James I was much less tolerant that his predecessors of Catholicism the act of blowing up parliament would cause a popular revolt during which a Catholic monarch would be restored to the English throne. In total there were 13 conspirators, following the development of his plan Catesby recruited fellow Catholics and sympathisers to his cause. These plotters were: John Wright, Christopher Wright, Thomas Wintour, Robert Wintour, Thomas Percy, Guy Fawkes, Robert Keyes, Thomas Bates, John Grant, Ambrose Rookwood, Sir Everard Digby and Francis Tresham. Fawkes was given charge of the explosives because he had 10 years military experience fighting in the Spanish Netherlands in suppression of the Dutch Revolt.
The Gunpowder Plot
Generally the plot was very simple, to sneak gunpowder through the ducts and cellar underneath Parliament and light the explosives during the State Opening of Parliament and therefore killing James I. Of course the plot was famously foiled, but how would anyone know or even suspect the plot in the first place? The answer is an anonymous letter that was received by William Parker, 4th Baron of Monteagle (Tresham’s brother-in-law).
The letter is as follows:
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 your attendance at this parliament; for God and man hath concurred to punish the wickedness of this time. And think not slightly of this advertisement, but retire yourself into your country where you may expect the event in safety. For though there be no appearance of any stir, yet I say they shall receive a terrible blow this Parliament; and yet they shall not see who hurts them. This counsel is not to be condemned because it may do you good and can do you no harm; for the danger is passed as soon as you have burnt the letter. And I hope God will give you the grace to make good use of it, to whose holy protection I commend you.
Antonia, Fraser. (2005) The Gunpowder Plot, Phoenix.