1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Fawkes, Guy

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FAWKES, GUY (1570–1606), English “gunpowder plot” conspirator, son of Edward Fawkes of York, a member of a good Yorkshire family and advocate of the archbishop of York’s consistory court, was baptized at St Michael le Belfrey at York on the 16th of April 1570. His parents were Protestants, and he was educated at the free school at York, where, it is said, John and Christopher Wright and the Jesuit Tesimond alias Greenway, afterwards implicated in the conspiracy, were his schoolfellows. On his father’s death in 1579 he inherited his property. Soon afterwards his mother married, as her second husband, Dionis Baynbrigge of Scotton in Yorkshire, to which place the family removed. Fawkes’s stepfather was connected with many Roman Catholic families, and was probably a Roman Catholic himself, and Fawkes himself became a zealous adherent of the old faith. Soon after he had come of age he disposed of his property, and in 1593 went to Flanders and enlisted in the Spanish army, assisting at the capture of Calais by the Spanish in 1596 and gaining some military reputation. According to Father Greenway he was “a man of great piety, of exemplary temperance, of mild and cheerful demeanour, an enemy of broils and disputes, a faithful friend and remarkable for his punctual attendance upon religious observances,” while his society was “sought by all the most distinguished in the archduke’s camp for nobility and virtue.” He is described as “tall, with brown hair and auburn beard.”

In 1604 Thomas Winter, at the instance of Catesby, in whose mind the gunpowder plot had now taken definite shape, introduced himself to Fawkes in Flanders, and as “a confident gentleman,” “best able for this business,” brought him on to England as assistant in the conspiracy. Shortly afterwards he was initiated into the plot, after taking an oath of secrecy, meeting Catesby, Thomas Winter, Thomas Percy and John Wright at a house behind St Clement’s (see Gunpowder Plot and Catesby, Robert). Owing to the fact of his being unknown in London, to his exceptional courage and coolness, and probably to his experience in the wars and at sieges, the actual accomplishment of the design was entrusted to Fawkes, and when the house adjoining the parliament house was hired in Percy’s name, he took charge of it as Percy’s servant, under the name of Johnson He acted as sentinel while the others worked at the mine in December 1604, probably directing their operations, and on the discovery of the adjoining cellar, situated immediately beneath the House of Lords, he arranged in it the barrels of gunpowder, which he covered over with firewood and coals and with iron bars to increase the force of the explosion. When all was ready in May 1605 Fawkes was despatched to Flanders to acquaint Sir William Stanley, the betrayer of Deventer, and the intriguer Owen with the plot. He returned in August and brought fresh gunpowder into the cellars to replace any which might be spoilt by damp. A slow match was prepared which would give him a quarter of an hour in which to escape from the explosion. On Saturday, the 26th of October, Lord Monteagle (q.v.) received the mysterious letter which revealed the conspiracy and of which the conspirators received information the following day. They, nevertheless, after some hesitation, hoping that the government would despise the warning, determined to proceed with their plans, and were encouraged in their resolution by Fawkes, who visited the cellar on the 30th and reported that nothing had been moved or touched. He returned accordingly to his lonely and perilous vigil on the 4th of November. On that day the earl of Suffolk, as lord chamberlain, visited the vault, accompanied by Monteagle, remarked the quantity of faggots, and asked Fawkes, now described as “a very tall and desperate fellow,” who it was that rented the cellar. Percy’s name, which Fawkes gave, aroused fresh suspicions and they retired to inform the king. At about ten o’ clock Robert Keyes brought Fawkes from Percy a watch, that he might know how the anxious hours were passing, and very shortly afterwards he was arrested, and the gunpowder discovered, by Thomas Knyvett, a Westminster magistrate. Fawkes was brought into the king’s bedchamber, where the ministers had hastily assembled, at one o’clock. He maintained an attitude of defiance and of “Roman resolution,” smiled scornfully at his questioners, making no secret of his intentions, replied to the king, who asked why he would kill him, that the pope had excommunicated him, that “dangerous diseases require a desperate remedy,” adding fiercely to the Scottish courtiers who surrounded him that “one of his objects was to blow back the Scots into Scotland.” His only regret was the failure of the scheme. “He carrieth himself,” writes Salisbury to Sir Charles Cornwallis, ambassador at Madrid, “without any feare or perturbation ...; under all this action he is noe more dismayed, nay scarce any more troubled than if he was taken for a poor robbery upon the highway,” declaring “that he is ready to die, and rather wisheth 10,000 deaths, than willingly to accuse his master or any other.” He refused stubbornly on the following days to give information concerning his accomplices; on the 8th he gave a narrative of the plot, but it was not till the 9th, when the fugitive conspirators had been taken at Holbeche, that torture could wring from him their names. His imperfect signature to his confession of this date, consisting only of his Christian name and written in a faint and trembling hand, is probably a ghastly testimony to the severity of the torture (“per gradus ad ima”) which James had ordered to be applied if he would not otherwise confess and the “gentler tortures” were unavailing,—a horrible practice unrecognized by the law of England, but usually employed and justified at this time in cases of treason to obtain information. He was tried, together with the two Winters, John Grant, Ambrose Rokewood, Robert Keyes and Thomas Bates, before a special commission in Westminster Hall on the 27th of January 1606. In this case there could be no defence and he was found guilty. He suffered death in company with Thomas Winter, Rokewood and Keyes on the 31st, being drawn on a hurdle from the Tower to the Parliament House, opposite which he was executed. He made a short speech on the scaffold, expressing his repentance, and mounted the ladder last and with assistance, being weak from torture and illness. The usual barbarities practised upon him after he had been cut down from the gallows were inflicted on a body from which all life had already fled.

Bibliography.Hist. of England, by S. R. Gardiner, vol. i.; and the same author’s What Gunpowder Plot was (1897); What was the Gunpowder Plot? by J. Gerard (1897); The Gunpowder Plot, by D. Jardine (1857); Calendar of State Pap. Dom. 1603–1610; State Trials, vol. ii.; Archaeologia, xii. 200; R. Winwood’s Memorials; Notes and Queries, vi. ser. vii. 233, viii. 136; The Fawkeses of York in the 16th Century, by R. Davies (1850); Dict. of Nat. Biog. and authorities cited there. The official account (untrustworthy in details) is the True and Perfect Relation of the Whole Proceedings against the late most Barbarous Traitors (1606), reprinted by Bishop Barlow of Lincoln as The Gunpowder Treason (1679). See also Gunpowder Plot.

The lantern said to be Guy Fawkes’s is in the Bodleian library at Oxford.  (P. C. Y.)