10 Facts about Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot

Remember, remember! The 5th of November, the Gunpowder treason and plot; I know of no reason why the Gunpowder treason should ever be forgot!…

As of 1605 the 5th of November has become synonymous with Guy Fawkes and Bonfire night. This night is now celebrated with fireworks and bonfires but originally it was encouraged by King James 1st of England as means of celebrating the failed assassination attempt aimed at him and various members of Parliament by means of the Gunpowder Plot. In fact celebrating the lucky escape was made mandatory by 1606 with the passing of the Observance of 5th of November Act, which remained in place in Britain until 1859 and made church attendance on November 5 compulsory. While today is November 5 church attendance is no longer mandatory, so it seems like the perfect time to share some other lesser known facts about Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder plot.

1-Guy Fawkes inadvertently created the use of the name Guy to describe a person. After he was caught in the cellar the name Guy became synonymous with the effigies burnt on Bonfire night. Later “Guy” would be used negatively to describe a person in disapproval or contempt, “He’s a lazy guy”, or it could describe an oddly dressed person.

2-At the age of 21 Guy Fawkes sold the property his father left him and took off for foreign lands. At age 23 in the Netherlands he enlisted in the Spanish army and fought in the 80 years war against the Dutch republic, assisting in the 1595 Spanish capture of Calais in France.

3- In 1603 Fawkes petitioned King Phillip III of Spain for support in rebelling against King James I of England, although the English were Spain’s enemy at the time the King refused to approve the idea.

4- He wasn’t part of the original plot. Fawkes was fighting for the Spanish in Flanders, France, when he was approached by Thomas Wintour about joining the group. It was thought that his military background would be of great aid to the plotters in executing their plan as he had extensive knowledge in using and properly packing gun powder to ensure its utmost effectiveness.

5- Fawkes actually gave up the name of Guy in 1603 and preferred to be called the Italian name Guido. This is the name he signed his forced confession with after being caught in 1605.

6- Thirty-six barrels of gun powder were found in the cellar with Fawkes when he was caught and he endured two days of torture before he gave up the names of the other 12 conspirators. When he was questioned as to why so much gun powder had been assembled for the act Fawkes replied with, “To blow you Scotch beggars back to your native mountains.”. Although he would have been killed if the plot had succeeded, King James I of England is said to have admired Fawkes’s resolve and claimed that the prisoner possessed a Roman resolution.

Gunpowder Plot blast zone. Picture taken from the article “Gunpowder Plot would have devastated London” on https://www.newscientist.com

7- The thirty-six barrels founds held around 2500 Kg’s of gunpowder in total, today’s equivalent would be the same amount in TNT and would have brought anything within 40 meter of the blast to the ground. Any building within 110 meter would have suffered partial destruction and the windows of properties could have been blown out anywhere up to 900 meters from the explosion.
8- From 1606 on-wards to current day, on November 5, before the annual State opening of British Parliament, the Yeoman of the Guard search the Houses of Parliament at Westminster to make sure there are no threats to the Crown and Parliament members hiding within the Cellar.

9- Aside from the eight Plot conspirators who survived capture to be tried

and executed, the Jesuit Superior of England, Father Henry Garnet, was also tried for High Treason and sentenced to execution by being Hung, Drawn and Quartered. His offence was having known about the plot after it was told to him during a confessional in July 1605. Feeling that he was bound Canon Law to uphold the sacrosanct of the confessional he wrote to his superiors in Rome and appealed to them to urge the Catholics not to use such shows of force, but did not inform anyone of the Plot. He was executed on May 3 1606.

10- Having been charged with High Treason Fawkes and his conspirators were sentenced to be Hung, Drawn, and Quartered, a punishment that involved the men being drawn, facing backwards and tied to a wooden panel, by horse to a set of Gallows, before being hung by the neck until near death. After this they would be cut down and whilst still conscious have their genitals removed and tossed in a fire in front of them, followed by disembowelment and the removal of their heart. Now dead they would be beheaded and their bodies cut into four pieces to be sent to the corners of the kingdom as a warning to all others. On January 31 1606 in Old Palace yard at Westminster, having watched 3 fellow plotters be executed before him Fawkes managed to escape his grisly death at the very last minute. As he climbed the ladder to the top of the gallows so his execution could commence he jumped from the rungs and and effectively snapped his own neck using the already secured noose. Although he was already dead his body was still quartered and sent to the four corners of the kingdom as a warning to other would be assassins.

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