Guy Fawkes also known as Guido Fawkes was born (1570) and educated in York, England. He was just eight years old when his father died and soon after Fawkes mother married a recusant Catholic. Catholics who refused to attend Protestant church services were called recusants. In England in the early 1600’s, Catholics were seen as a potential threat to the royal power, they had to practise their religion in secret and were often fined for not attending the Protestant church on a Sunday.
Guy Fawkes was a Catholic and he didn’t agree with the Protestant faith of King James 1. Catholics in Protestant England were angry about the way they were treated and wanted a King who wasn’t going to punish them for their religious beliefs.
Guy Fawkes joined in the Gunpowder Plot in retaliation to James’s increased persecution of Roman Catholics. A wealthy English man and devout Catholic called Robert Catesby led the plot which involved thirteen other people. Guy Fawkes job was to guard thirty six barrels of explosives that had been stored in a basement under the House of Lords and light it at the right time. If the attack had been successful, the bombing would have killed King James 1 and other members of Parliament in the building.
Unfortunately, for Guy Fawkes and his fellow plotters, the London authorities were tipped off by an anonymous letter and they searched Westminster Palace in the early hours of 5th November, 1605. Guy Fawkes was found guarding the gunpowder in the basement on the day he was going to light the explosives. He was arrested and taken to the Tower of London. In January 1606, after a brief trial, Guy Fawkes was tortured on a rack before being tried for high treason, he was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging, drawing and quartering, a typical traitor’s death at the time. He evaded the full punishment by jumping from the ladder of the hanging platform and broke his neck causing instant death.
The King had been saved and people lit bonfires in his honour. Over four hundred years after the Gunpowder Plot, a failed attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament and kill James 1, we still celebrate annually to this day 5th November – Bonfire Night. Festivities include bonfires, firework displays and sparklers lit all over the country in parks and gardens. Sometimes a dummy called ‘Guy’ is burnt on the fire to represent Guy Fawkes and effigies of contemporary political figures are also thrown on.
Today, whenever the Queen visits Parliament, tradition has it that the royal body guards, called the Yeoman of the Guard search beneath the Houses of Parliament for any potential plotters hiding explosives.