painting of Guy Fawkes with House of Parliament in the
Guy Fawkes (April 13, 1570 –
January 31, 1606), also known as Guido
Fawkes, born in York, was an English
soldier and member of a
group of Roman
Catholics who attempted to carry out
Plot on 5 November 1605.
The plot was an attempt to assassinate the
Protestant King James
I (James VI of Scotland) and the
members of both houses of the Parliament of England, by
blowing up Westminster
Palace during the formal opening
session of the 1605 Parliament, in which the king would
address a joint assembly of both the House of Lords
and the House of
Commons. Guy Fawkes was in large
part responsible for the later stages of the plan's
execution. His activities were detected, however, before
the plan's completion. Following a severe interrogation
involving the use of torture, and a trial in
Hall by Judge John Popham, Fawkes and
his conspirators were executed for treason and
murder. Guy Fawkes' failure is
remembered with Guy
Fawkes Night (also known as Bonfire
Night or Fireworks Night) on November 5.
The Gunpowder Conspirators are discovered and Guy
Fawkes is caught in the cellar of the Houses of
Parliament with the
Guy Fawkes' signature immediately after torture
(only 'Guido') and eight days
Guy Fawkes is famous for his involvement
in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, which he was placed in
charge of executing because of his military and
explosives experience. The plot, masterminded by Robert Catesby, was a failed
attempt by a group of English Roman Catholic
conspirators to kill King James I of England (VI of
Scotland), his family, and most of the aristocracy in
one swoop by blowing up the (now demolished) House of
Lords building in the Houses of
Parliament during its State
Opening. Guy Fawkes may have been introduced to
Robert Catesby by a man named Hugh
Owen, a Catholic who was in the pay of the
Spanish Netherlands. Sir William Stanley is also
believed to have recommended him and Guy Fawkes named
him in his torture, leading him to be arrested and
imprisoned for a year after the discovery of the plot.
It was Stanley who first presented Fawkes to Thomas Winter in 1603 when Winter
was in Europe. Stanley was the commander of the English
in Flanders at the time. Stanley had handed Deventer and
much of its garrison back to the Spanish in 1587, nearly
wiping out the gains that Leicester had made in the Low
Countries. Leicester’s expedition was widely regarded as
a disaster for this reason among others. Stanley was a
known Catholic sympathist.
The plot itself may have been occasioned
by the realization by English Protestant authorities and
Roman Catholic recusants that
Spain was in far too much debt and was fighting too many
wars to assist English Roman Catholics. Any possibility
of toleration by the State was removed at the Hampton
Court conference in 1604 when James I attacked both
extreme Puritans and Catholics. The plotters realized
that no outside help would be forthcoming unless they
took action. Fawkes and the other conspirators were able
to rent a cellar beneath the House of Lords. They were
much relieved to find a cellar for rent, as they had
first tried to dig a mine under the building. This would
have been difficult, because they had to store the dirt
and debris and carry it away in barrels. By March 1605,
they had hidden eighteen hundred pounds of gunpowder in
the cellar, with the intent of detonating it during the
State Opening of Parliament with the King and Lords in
attendance. The plotters then wished to abduct Princess
Elizabeth (later Elizabeth of Bohemia, the
"Winter Queen"). A few of the conspirators were
concerned, however, about fellow Catholics who would
have been present at parliament during the opening. One
of the conspirators wrote a letter of warning to
Monteagle, who received it on
October 26. The conspirators became aware of the letter the
following day, but they resolved to continue the plot
after Fawkes had confirmed that nothing had been touched
in the cellar.
Lord Monteagle had been suspicious,
however, and the letter was sent to the secretary of
state who initiated a search of the vaults beneath the
House of Lords. Fawkes was discovered and arrested during a raid on the cellar in the early
morning of 5
November. He was tortured over the
next few days, after special permission to do so had
been granted by the King. Eventually, he revealed the
names of his conspirators (who were either already dead
or whose names were known to the authorities). Some had
fled to Warwickshire where they were either killed or
captured. On 31
January, Fawkes, Al Roth, and a
number of others implicated in the conspiracy were
tried in Westminster
Hall, and after being found guilty,
were taken to Old
Palace Yard in Westminster and
St. Paul's Yard, where they were hanged, drawn, and
quartered. Fawkes cheated this fate
in a way: though weakened by torture, he jumped from the
gallows and snapped his neck rather than being hanged
until almost dead.
Effigy of Guy
Fawkes, being paraded as part of the by the Cliffe
Bonfire Society Bonfire Night rituals in
Many popular contemporary verses were
written in condemnation of Guy Fawkes aside from the
most famous and still well known verse asking us to
'remember remember'. John Rhodes produced a popular
narrative in verse describing the events of the plot and
- Fawkes at midnight, and by torchlight
there was found
- With long matches and devices,
The full verse was published as A
brief Summe of the Treason intended against King &
State, when they should have been assembled in
Parliament, November 5. 1605. Fit for to instruct the
simple and ignorant heerein: that they not be seduced
any longer by Papists. Other popular verses were
altogether more ‘godly’ and in celebration of the fact
that England had been saved from the Guy Fawkes
conspiracy. John Wilson published, in 1612, a short song
on the ‘powder plot’ with the words:
- O England praise the name of God
- That kept thee from this heavy rod!
- But though this demon e'er be gone,
- his evil now be ours upon!’
A popular nursery rhyme about the
- Remember, remember, the 5th of
- The Gunpowder Treason and plot;
- I know of no reason why Gunpowder
- Should ever be forgot.
Shakespeare's Tragedy of Macbeth was finished in 1606,
shortly after the dismantling of the plot. It is widely
believed that Shakespeare wrote it as an effort to
appease King James, who could trace his family back
through the Scottish Kings to Banquo's line. Shakespeare’s
name may have possibly been drawn as one of the
conspirators, similar to the way Cicero was
depicted in the Bard's own play Julius Caesar. In 1606, his
daughter, Susannah, was listed as one of the residents
of Stratford refusing to take Holy Communion, suggesting
that the family certainly had some Catholic sympathies.
However, it is likely that Shakespeare wrote this play
as an overture of loyalty in the suspicious climate
following the plot.
The conspiracy was commemorated by the
Lord Mayor and aldermen of the City of London on
November the 5th for years after by a sermon at
Cathedral. The popular accounts of
the plot supplemented these sermons some of which were
published and survive to this day. Many in the city left
money in their wills so they might pay for a minister to
preach a sermon annually in their own parish.
In 1842, William Harrison Ainsworth
wrote an historical novel called "Guy Fawkes", which
portrayed Fawkes, and Catholic recusancy in general, in
a sympathetic light.
In Enid Blyton's Secret Seven
series, "Guy Fawkes" is the 'password' the seven
children use to authenticate their entry to any of their
several meetings. The reason for their choice arises
from the bonfires that they arrange
Fawkes was later celebrated in poetry.
The Latin verse In Quintum Novembris was written
c.1626. Also John
Milton’s Satan in book six of
Paradise Lost is very
Fawkesian in inspiration. The Devil invents gunpowder to
try to match God's thunderbolts. Post reformation and
anti-Roman Catholic literature often personified Guy
Fawkes as the Devil in this way. Puritan polemics to
popular literature all sought to associate Guy Fawkes
with the demoniacal.
The story of Guy Fawkes inspired
Alan Moore's 1982 dystopian graphic novel
of a fascist Britain, V for
Vendetta (which was adapted into a 2006
version). The story revolves around
the main character, V, who wears a stylized Guy
Fawkes mask. In the story, V plans to blow up the
abandoned Parliament buildings on a future 5th of
November as his first move to bring down the nation's
fascist, tyrannical dictator, whose
physical appearance is loosely based on James I's.
Dickens also referred to Fawkes
quite often, particularly in his history of England,
but also with references in his novels.
- The poet T. S. Eliot mentions Guy
Fawkes in the epigraph for his poem The Hollow Men, "A penny for
the old guy".
- Fawkes, the phoenix that appears in the
Harry Potter books,
is named after Guy Fawkes. A parallel has been drawn
between Fawkes' owner Albus Dumbledore's
Order of the
Phoenix and the conspirators of
Plot. It has also been said that
the naming of Fawkes arises from the phoenix's
tendency to burst into flame.
- In the story "Witch Week" of the
Chrestomanci series, an
alternate universe is created when Fawkes succeeds in
- In Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, Jane believes Ms.
Abbot thinks of her as an "infantile Guy
Fawkes"--always watching everyone and scheming.
- In the Lucasarts video game
Dangerous there is a weapon known
as the Guy Fawkes Traitor Bomb, which causes all
victims caught in the blast to turn upon their allies.
- In the island chain of the
Galapagos, one of the
islands is named Isla Guy Fawkes
- In Thomas Hardy's "Return of the
Native," the plot is centered around the celebrations
of Guy Fawkes Days
- In Len Deighton's Funeral in Berlin, the climax
takes place on Guy Fawkes Day, with the sound of
gunfire mistaken for the sound of exploding fireworks.
A common phrase is that Fawkes was "the
only man to ever enter parliament with honourable
intentions." (This phrase may have
originated in a nineteenth-century pantomime, and
was commonly seen on anarchist posters during the
early twentieth century. The Scottish Socialist Party
became embroiled in controversy when they resurrected
the poster with humorous intent in
Guy Fawkes appears in the 2002 list of
Britons", sponsored by the BBC and
voted for by the public. The list ranks him alongside
others such as John
Lennon, David Beckham, Aleister Crowley, Winston
Churchill and Johnny Rotten.
He was also included in a list of the 50 greatest people
Guy Fawkes is documented in many film
newsreels (see the archives of British Pathé and Movie
Tone). The discovery of the plot, the celebration, and
Guy Fawkes are also mentioned in many popular songs and
ballads. Notably, on the vinyl version of The Smiths'
album Strangeways, Here We Come, the words "Guy
Fawkes was a genius" are carved near the centre of the
A popular British rhyme is often quoted
on Guy Fawkes Night, in memory of the Gunpowder
- Remember, remember, the 5th of
- The Gunpowder Treason and plot ;
- I know of no reason why the Gunpowder
- Should ever be forgot.
- Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes,
- 'Twas his intent.
- To blow up the King and the
- Three score barrels of powder below.
- Poor old England to overthrow.
- By God's providence he was catch'd,
- With a dark lantern and burning match
- Holloa boys, Holloa boys, let the
- Holloa boys, Holloa boys, God save
- Hip hip Hoorah !
- Hip hip Hoorah !
- A penny loaf to feed ol'Pope,
- A farthing cheese to choke him.
- A pint of beer to rinse it down,
- A faggot of sticks to burn him.
- Burn him in a tub of tar,'
- Burn him like a blazing star.
- Burn his body from his head,
- Then we'll say: ol'Pope is