Guy Fawkes: Symbol of a Treasonous Plot

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Guy Fawkes was an Englishman most well known for his part in an attempt to blow up England's Parliament.

Fawkes was born in 1570 in York. His father died when Guy was 8, and the boy's mother married another man, an enthusiastic and outspoken Catholic who refused to attend religious services in the Church of England. The country at that time was still in the throes of a tense struggle for religious supremacy. The monarch for most of Guy's life was Queen Elizabeth I, who had continued the Protestant legacy of her father, King Henry VIII. It was a requirement to swear allegiance to the Church of England.

Young Guy attended St. Peter's School, a York institution run by Catholics. Among Guy's fellow students were Christopher and John Wright, both of whom would join Guy in the Gunpowder Plot in 1605.

Guy followed in his stepfather's footsteps and professed himself a practicer of the Catholic faith. He was so fervent in his beliefs that he fought against England in the war with Spain, in the Spanish Netherlands. Guy went further than that, traveling to Spain in an attempt to convince that country's king, Philip III, to invade England and put it back on the Catholic path. On that trip with Guy Fawkes was a man named Thomas Wintour, with whom Guy would have further dealings back in England.

During his time fighting for Spain, Fawkes took on the name Guido. He is sometimes referred to as Guido Fawkes.

Back in England in 1604, Fawkes met Robert Catesby, the mastermind of the Gunpowder Plot. Fawkes joined the group and eventually became the person charged with lighting the fire that would blow up the 36 barrels of gunpowder that had been smuggled underneath the House of Lords. The aim of the Gunpowder Plot was to kill the king and replace him with a monarch more friendly to Catholics.

The gunpowder did not explode because Fawkes was caught in the cellar underneath Parliament where the gunpowder was hidden. When confronted, Fawkes was holding a lantern, some matches, and some firestarter.

Fawkes was arrested and tortured. His confession implicated several other men. The Gunpowder Plot involved 13 men in all; a few escaped after Fawkes was captured.

Eight men in all, including Fawkes, were killed for their crimes against the king and the realm.

King James I, in celebration for foiling the Gunpowder Plot, declared that bonfires be lit and fireworks be set off. A state holiday followed, on November 5. This has come to be called Bonfire Night.

And because Fawkes was the one found with the gunpowder, the holiday has also come to be known as Guy Fawkes Night.

Interest in Fawkes has continued in the centuries since his death. In recent years, people have embraced the wearing of a Guy Fawkes mask, which purports to show a caricature of Fawkes's face. The mask has become a symbol for anti-establishment causes.

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David White