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Guy Fawkes by Cruikshank
Guy Fawkes as imagined by the 19th century artist George Cruikshank. A picture from William Harrison Ainsworth's novel Guy Fawkes.
Gunpowder Plot conspirators
The plotters

Guy Fawkes (13 April 1570 – 31 January 1606) sometimes known as Guido Fawkes, was a member of a group of Roman Catholic revolutionaries from England who planned to carry out the Gunpowder Plot. Fawkes and the other plotters planned to kill the king, James I, and replace him with a Catholic monarch.

November 5 was the date when Parliament re-assembled after a long recess. The plot was uncovered quite late, in the night before the day of the 5th. Fawkes was arrested as he sat in a cellar, near the gunpowder, waiting for the right time to set it off. Eight men, including Fawkes, stood trial for high treason. They were found guilty and executed by hanging in Westminster, London, except for Fawkes, who killed himself by jumping from the scaffold before he was to be hanged.

The 5th of November 1605 is remembered each year in the UK, during Guy Fawkes Night. People build large bonfires, light fireworks, and burn figures of Fawkes (known as 'the guy').

Early life

St Michael le Belfrey (21st October 2010) 001
Fawkes was baptised at the church of St Michael le Belfrey, York, next to York Minster (seen at left).

Guy Fawkes was born in 1570 in Stonegate, York. He was the second of four children born to Edward Fawkes, a proctor and an advocate of the consistory court at York, and his wife, Edith. Guy's parents were regular communicants of the Church of England, as were his paternal grandparents; his grandmother, born Ellen Harrington, was the daughter of a prominent merchant, who served as Lord Mayor of York in 1536. Guy's mother's family were recusant Catholics, and his cousin, Richard Cowling, became a Jesuit priest. Guy was an uncommon name in England, but may have been popular in York on account of a local notable, Sir Guy Fairfax of Steeton.

The date of Fawkes's birth is unknown, but he was baptised in the church of St Michael le Belfrey, York on 16 April. As the customary gap between birth and baptism was three days, he was probably born about 13 April. In 1568, Edith had given birth to a daughter named Anne, but the child died aged about seven weeks, in November that year. She bore two more children after Guy: Anne (b. 1572), and Elizabeth (b. 1575). Both were married, in 1599 and 1594 respectively.

In 1579, when Guy was eight years old, his father died. His mother remarried several years later, to the Catholic Dionis Baynbrigge (or Denis Bainbridge) of Scotton, Harrogate. Fawkes may have become a Catholic through the Baynbrigge family's recusant tendencies, and also the Catholic branches of the Pulleyn and Percy families of Scotton, but also from his time at St. Peter's School in York. A governor of the school had spent about 20 years in prison for recusancy, and its headmaster, John Pulleyn, came from a family of noted Yorkshire recusants, the Pulleyns of Blubberhouses. In her 1915 work The Pulleynes of Yorkshire, author Catharine Pullein suggested that Fawkes's Catholic education came from his Harrington relatives, who were known for harbouring priests, one of whom later accompanied Fawkes to Flanders in 1592–1593. Fawkes's fellow students included John Wright and his brother Christopher (both later involved with Fawkes in the Gunpowder Plot) and Oswald Tesimond, Edward Oldcorne and Robert Middleton, who became priests (the latter executed in 1601).

After leaving school Fawkes entered the service of Anthony Browne, 1st Viscount Montagu. The Viscount took a dislike to Fawkes and after a short time dismissed him; he was subsequently employed by Anthony-Maria Browne, 2nd Viscount Montagu, who succeeded his grandfather at the age of 18. At least one source claims that Fawkes married and had a son, but no known contemporary accounts confirm this.

Military career

In October 1591 Fawkes sold the estate in Clifton in York that he had inherited from his father. He travelled to the continent to fight in the Eighty Years War for Catholic Spain against the new Dutch Republic and, from 1595 until the Peace of Vervins in 1598, France. Although England was not by then engaged in land operations against Spain, the two countries were still at war, and the Spanish Armada of 1588 was only five years in the past. He joined Sir William Stanley, an English Catholic and veteran commander in his mid-forties who had raised an army in Ireland to fight in Leicester's expedition to the Netherlands. Stanley had been held in high regard by Elizabeth I, but following his surrender of Deventer to the Spanish in 1587 he, and most of his troops, had switched sides to serve Spain. Fawkes became an alférez or junior officer, fought well at the siege of Calais in 1596, and by 1603 had been recommended for a captaincy. That year, he travelled to Spain to seek support for a Catholic rebellion in England. He used the occasion to adopt the Italian version of his name, Guido, and in his memorandum described James I (who became king of England that year) as "a heretic", who intended "to have all of the Papist sect driven out of England." He denounced Scotland, and the King's favourites among the Scottish nobles, writing "it will not be possible to reconcile these two nations, as they are, for very long". Although he was received politely, the court of Philip III was unwilling to offer him any support.

Gunpowder Plot

Gunpowder Plot conspirators
A contemporary engraving of eight of the thirteen conspirators, by Crispijn van de Passe. Fawkes is third from the right.

In 1604 Fawkes became involved with a small group of English Catholics, led by Robert Catesby, who planned to assassinate the Protestant King James and replace him with his daughter, third in the line of succession, Princess Elizabeth.

One of the conspirators, Thomas Percy, was appointed a Gentleman Pensioner in June 1604, gaining access to a house in London that belonged to John Whynniard, Keeper of the King's Wardrobe. Fawkes was installed as a caretaker and began using the pseudonym John Johnson, servant to Percy. The plotters purchased the lease to the room, which also belonged to John Whynniard. Unused and filthy, it was considered an ideal hiding place for the gunpowder the plotters planned to store. According to Fawkes, 20 barrels of gunpowder were brought in at first, followed by 16 more on 20 July. On 28 July however, the ever-present threat of the plague delayed the opening of Parliament until Tuesday, 5 November.


Guy fawkes henry perronet briggs
Discovery of the Gunpowder Plot (c. 1823), Henry Perronet Briggs

A few of the conspirators were concerned about fellow Catholics who would be present at Parliament during the opening. On the evening of 26 October, Lord Monteagle received an anonymous letter warning him to stay away, and to "retyre youre self into yowre contee whence yow maye expect the event in safti for ... they shall receyve a terrible blowe this parleament". Despite quickly becoming aware of the letter – informed by one of Monteagle's servants – the conspirators resolved to continue with their plans, as it appeared that it "was clearly thought to be a hoax". Fawkes checked the undercroft on 30 October, and reported that nothing had been disturbed. Monteagle's suspicions had been aroused, however, and the letter was shown to King James. The King ordered Sir Thomas Knyvet to conduct a search of the cellars underneath Parliament, which he did in the early hours of 5 November. Fawkes had taken up his station late on the previous night, armed with a slow match and a watch given to him by Percy "becaus he should knowe howe the time went away". He was found leaving the cellar, shortly after midnight, and arrested. Inside, the barrels of gunpowder were discovered hidden under piles of firewood and coal.

Trial and execution

The trial of eight of the plotters began on Monday 27 January 1606. The jury found all the defendants guilty, and the Lord Chief Justice Sir John Popham pronounced them guilty of high treason.

On 31 January 1606, Fawkes and three others – Thomas Wintour, Ambrose Rookwood, and Robert Keyes – were dragged from the Tower on wattled hurdles to the Old Palace Yard at Westminster, opposite the building they had attempted to destroy. After the execution, their bodies were then distributed to "the four corners of the kingdom", to be displayed as a warning to other would-be traitors.


There are many places to find Fawkes in popular literature. Here are some important examples, listed in chronological order.

  • 1842: William Harrison Ainsworth - Guy Fawkes: A Historical Romance, is a historical novel which portrays Fawkes, and Catholic refusal to co-operate in general, favorably and begins to challenge the official version of the plot, one of the first to do so.
  • 1847: Charlotte Brontë - Jane Eyre, Jane is compared to Guy Fawkes, by Abbot, with the line "a sort of infantine Guy Fawkes" because she looked like she was constantly inventing wicked plots. Brontë, like Fawkes, was from Yorkshire.
  • 1850: Charles Dickens - David Copperfield, for Peggotty to find money for Saturday's expenses, she "had to prepare a long and elaborate scheme, a very Gunpowder Plot...", a direct reference to the Plot of Fawkes.
  • 1886: Herman Melville - Billy Budd, the novella mentions Fawkes in the passage "The Pharisee is the Guy Fawkes prowling in the hid chambers underlying the Claggarts".
  • 1925: T. S. Eliot - The Hollow Men, the epigraph of the Nobel Prize winning poem directly refers to Fawkes, "A penny for the Old Guy".
  • 1953: Ray Bradbury - Fahrenheit 451, the protagonist of the novel is named Guy Montag, after Guy Fawkes and the Montag Paper Company. In the story, the character plans to start burning firemen's houses in order to challenge the government.
  • 1982: Alan Moore - V for Vendetta, the dystopian graphic novel of a fascist Britain is influenced by the story of Fawkes. The main character, V, wears a Guy Fawkes mask.
  • 1998: J. K. Rowling - Chamber of Secrets, the Harry Potter series school headmaster Dumbledore's phoenix is named Fawkes after Guy Fawkes.
  • 2005: V for Vendetta – film portraying some of the events of the Guy Fawkes Gunpowder Plot and replicating Alan Moore's graphic novel.

Guy Fawkes Poem

Procession of a guy
Procession of a Guy (1864)
(Guy Fawkes night at Chirk) (6302836170)
Children preparing for Guy Fawkes night celebrations (1954)

The Fifth of November

Remember, remember!
The fifth of November,
The Gunpowder treason and plot;
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!
Guy Fawkes and his companions
Did the scheme contrive,
To blow the King and Parliament
All up alive.
Threescore barrels, laid below,
To prove old England's overthrow.
But, by God's providence, him they catch,
With a dark lantern, lighting a match!
A stick and a stake
For King James's sake!
If you won't give me one,
I'll take two,
The better for me,
And the worse for you.
Holloa, boys! holloa, boys! make the bells ring!
Holloa, boys! holloa boys! God save the King!
Hip, hip, hooor-r-r-ray!

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Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Guy Fawkes para niños

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