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Guy Fawkes

Guy Fawkes (April 13, 1570- January 31, 1606), was a member of a group of Catholic conspirators who endeavoured to blow up the Houses of Parliament in England in 1605. The plot was uncovered and the barrels of gunpowder defused before any damage was done.

Fawkes was born at Stonegate in Yorkshire. The Gunpowder Plot was concocted in May of 1604 with Robert Catesby, Thomas Percy[?], John Wright[?] and Robert Wintour[?]. In March 1605, the conspirators rented a cellar beneath Parliament through Thomas Percy; Fawkes assisted in filling the room with gunpowder which was concealed beneath bric-a-brac. On November 5th, Fawkes was arrested in the cellar; on his person were a watch, slow matches and touchpaper.

Fawkes was interrogated under torture. Since torture was forbidden except by the express instruction of the monarch or the Privy Council, King James I in a letter of 6 November stated: "The gentler tortours are to be first used unto him, et sic per gradus ad mia tenditur [and thus by increase to the worst], and so God speed your goode worke". On 7th November, Fawkes confessed all and revealed the names of his co-conspirators. His signature after torture is strikingly shaky.

A nominal trial then ensued, at which the sentences had already been predetermined. On 31st January 1606, Fawkes, Wintour, and a number of others implicated in the conspiracy were taken to Old Palace Yard[?] in Westminster. There they were hanged, drawn and quartered.

According to historian Antonia Fraser, the gunpowder was taken to the Tower of London and would have been reissued if in good condition, or otherwise sold for recycling. However a sample of the gunpowder may have survived -- in March 2002 workers at the British Library, investigating archives of John Evelyn, found a box containing various samples of gunpowder and several notes: "Gunpowder 1605 in a paper inscribed by John Evelyn. Powder with which that villain Faux would have blown up the parliament." and "Gunpowder. Large package is supposed to be Guy Fawkes' gunpowder." and "But there was none left! WEH 1952".

Guy Fawkes Night (often referred to as bonfire night) is (usually) celebrated on November 5th with bonfires and fireworks, or the closest Friday or Saturday night. Sometimes, an effigy of Guy Fawkes (known as the Guy, which might be the origin of the use of the word "guy" as a synonym for "man") is burnt on the fire. In previous centuries, an effigy of the Pope might also be burnt. Children sometimes set up a guy in the streets in the days beforehand and ask for a "penny for the guy".

Remember, remember, the fifth of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.
-- traditional verse

Guy Fawkes appears in the 2002 List of "100 Great Britons" (sponsored by the BBC and voted for by the public), alongside such other greats as David Beckham, Aleister Crowley, Winston Churchill and Johnny Rotten.

See also



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