Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Fawkes, Guy

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FAWKES, GUY (1570–1606), conspirator, only son and second child of Edward Fawkes of York, by his wife Edith, was baptised at the church of St. Michael-le-Belfrey, York, 16 April 1570. The father, a notary or proctor of the ecclesiastical courts and advocate of the consistory court of the Archbishop of York, was second son of William Fawkes, registrar of the exchequer court of York diocese from 1541 till his death about 1565. Guy's paternal grandmother was Ellen Haryngton, daughter of an eminent York merchant, who was lord mayor of that city in 1536; she died in 1575, and bequeathed to Guy her best whistle and an angel of gold. His father was buried in York Minster 17 Jan. 1578–9; he left no will, and his whole estate devolved on his son ‘Guye,’ at the time barely nine years old. There can be no question that his parents were protestants; it is known that they were regular communicants at the parish church of St. Michael-le-Belfrey, and it is a fair inference that Guy was brought up in their belief. He attended the free school at York, where Thomas Morton, afterwards bishop of Durham, and Sir Thomas Cheke, besides John and Christopher Wright, afterwards his fellow-conspirators, were among his schoolfellows (cf. Jardine, p. 37). In 1585 his father's brother, Thomas Fawkes, died, leaving the bulk of his estate to Guy's sisters Elizabeth and Anne, and a trifling legacy to his nephew—‘my gold rynge and my bedd, and one payre of shetes with th' appurtenances.’ Shortly afterwards his mother married a second time. Her husband was Dionis Baynbrigge of Scotton, Yorkshire, and Guy and his sisters removed with their mother to Scotton. Their stepfather, son of Peter Baynbrigge, by Frances Vavasour of Weston, was closely related with many great catholic families, and was doubtless of the same persuasion himself, while some near neighbours, named Pulleyn, were strong adherents of the old faith. Guy was greatly influenced by his new surroundings; the effects of his earlier training soon faded, and he became a zealous catholic. In 1591 he came of age, and succeeded to full possession of his father's property. On 14 Oct. 1591 he leased some houses and land in York to Christopher Lumley, a tailor, and soon afterwards made arrangements for disposing of the rest of his estate. In 1593 he left England for Flanders, where he enlisted as a soldier of fortune in the Spanish army. In 1595 he was present at the capture of Calais by the Spaniards under Archduke Albert, and, according to the testimony of Father Greenway, was ‘sought by all the most distinguished in the archduke's camp for nobility and virtue.’ Sir William Stanley, the chief English catholic who had joined the Spanish army, thought highly of Fawkes, and on the death of Elizabeth directed Fawkes and Fawkes's old schoolfellow, Christopher Wright, to visit Philip III, with a view to securing relief for their catholic fellow-countrymen.

As soon as James I had ascended the throne, and had declared himself in favour of the penal laws, the Gunpowder plot was hatched. Its originators were Robert Catesby [q. v.], John Wright, and Thomas Winter. Fawkes was well known to these men, but had no share in devising the conspiracy. Early in 1604 the conspirators still hoped that Spanish diplomacy might make their desperate remedy unnecessary. Velasco, the constable of Castile, was on his way to the court of James I to discuss the terms of a treaty of peace between Spain and England. Catesby desired to communicate with him at Bergen. Winter was selected for the service about Easter, and Catesby invited Fawkes to accompany him. This was the first active part that Fawkes played in Catesby's dangerous schemes. The journey of Winter and Fawkes brought little result. Soon after their return Fawkes went by appointment to a house beyond Clement's Inn, and there, with four others (Catesby, Thomas Percy, Thomas Winter, and John Wright), took a solemn oath to keep secret all that should be proposed to him. He and Percy, a gentleman pensioner, knew nothing at the time of the proposed plot. But after the ceremony of the oath Percy and Fawkes were informed of the plan of blowing up the parliament house while the king was in the House of Lords. Both approved the proposal, and with the other conspirators withdrew to an upper room, where mass was performed and the sacrament administered by Father Gerard, the jesuit. On 24 May 1604 Percy, acting under Catesby's orders, hired a tenement adjoining the parliament house, in the cellars of which it was determined to construct a mine communicating with the neighbouring premises. Fawkes was directed to disguise himself as Percy's servant and to assume the name of Johnson. As he was quite unknown in London, the keys and the care of the house were entrusted to him. But on 7 July parliament was adjourned till the following February, and the conspirators separated to resume operations about November. In the autumn the penal laws against the catholics were enforced with renewed severity. The conspirators met at Michaelmas, and Fawkes was ordered to prepare the construction of the mine. A delay arose because the commissioners to treat of the union of England and Scotland resolved to meet in the house which Percy had hired, but about 11 Dec. 1604 the five original conspirators brought in tools and provisions by night and began operations in the cellar. The digging of the mine proved more difficult than was anticipated, and John Wright's brother Christopher and Robert Keyes, who had previously been sworn in, but had been told off to take care of a house at Lambeth, where materials for the mine were collected, were sent for to take part in the mining work. Fawkes, dressed as a porter, acted as sentinel in the house, and for a fortnight none of his companions appeared above ground. Information reached Fawkes about Christmas that the meeting of parliament originally fixed for February had been deferred till the October following. Thereupon the conspirators separated, but they resumed work in February 1604–5. In January John Grant and Thomas Winter's brother Robert were sworn of the undertaking, besides an old servant of Catesby named Bates, whose suspicions had been aroused. About March the conspirators hired in Percy's name an adjoining cellar, which ran immediately below the House of Lords, and which had just become vacant. Altering their plan, they abandoned the mine, and filled their newly acquired cellar with barrels of gunpowder and iron bars, concealing the explosives beneath lumber of all kinds.

In May 1605 the work was done, and a further adjournment took place. Fawkes was sent to Flanders to communicate the details of the plot to Sir William Stanley and the jesuit Owen. Stanley was in Spain, and Owen held out little hope that the conspiracy would meet with Stanley's approval. At the end of August Fawkes was again in London. He busied himself in replacing with dry barrels any in the cellar that were injured by damp, and learned that parliament was not to meet till 5 Nov. He took a lodging at ‘one Mrs. Herbert's house, a widow that dwells on the backside of St. Clement's Church,’ and when he found that his landlady suspected him of associating with Roman catholics, he hurriedly left. Mrs. Herbert stated that he was always ‘in good clothes and full of money’ (Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. ix. 277–9). About Michaelmas Sir Everard Digby, Ambrose Rookwood, and Francis Tresham, three wealthy country gentlemen, were added to the list of conspirators, and entrusted with the duty of providing armed men to second the attack on the government after the explosion had taken place. At the same time the important work of firing the gunpowder was entrusted to Fawkes, whose coolness and courage had been remarkable throughout. A slow match was to be used which would allow him a quarter of an hour to make good his escape. His orders were to embark for Flanders as soon as the train was fired, and spread the news of the explosion on the continent.

As the day approached the conspirators discussed the possibility of warning their catholic friends in the House of Lords of their impending danger. Fawkes wished to protect Lord Montague. It was decided that it was allowable for individual conspirators to do what they could without specific warning to induce their friends to absent themselves from the parliament house on the fatal date. But Tresham was especially anxious to secure the safety of Lord Monteagle, and, after the first discussion, met Catesby, Thomas Winter, and Fawkes at White Webbs in order to obtain their permission to give a distinct warning to his friend. Catesby and Winter were obdurate. On Saturday, 26 Oct., Lord Monteagle received an ambiguous letter entreating him to avoid attending the king at the opening of parliament. Monteagle showed it to Lord Salisbury the same day. The news soon reached Winter and Catesby. Fawkes, ignorant of this turn of affairs, was sent to examine the cellar on 30 Oct., and reported that it was untouched. By 31 Oct. the character of the plot was apprehended with much accuracy at court. But the ministers resolved to make no search in the parliament house till the day before the 5th, so that the conspirators might mature their plans. On Sunday, 3 Nov., a few of the leading conspirators met together and satisfied themselves that the details of the plot were unknown to the authorities. All except Fawkes prepared, however, to leave London at short notice. He undertook to watch the cellar by himself. Next day Suffolk, the lord chamberlain, accompanied by Monteagle, searched the parliament house. In the cellar they noticed abundance of coals and wood, and perceived Fawkes, whom they described as ‘a very bad and desperate fellow,’ standing in a corner. They were told that Thomas Percy rented the cellar with the adjoining house. The officers left, without making any remark, and reported their observations to the king. Fawkes was alarmed, but resolved to apply the match to the gunpowder on the next appearance of danger, even if he perished himself. He went forth to give Percy warning, but returned to his post before midnight, and met on the threshold Sir Thomas Knyvett, a Westminster magistrate, and his attendants. The cellar was searched; the gunpowder discovered; Fawkes was bound, and on his person were discovered a watch, slow matches, and touchwood, while a dark lantern with a light in it was found near the cellar door. Fawkes declared that had he been in the cellar when Knyvett entered it, he would have ‘blown him up, house, himself, and all.’ At one o'clock in the morning the council met in the king's bedchamber at Whitehall, and Fawkes, who betrayed neither fear nor excitement, was brought in under guard. He coolly declined to give any information about himself beyond stating that his name was Johnson, and persisted in absolute silence when interrogated as to his fellow-conspirators. He asserted that he was sorry for nothing but that the explosion had not taken place. When asked by the king whether he did not regret his proposed attack on the royal family, he replied that a desperate disease required a dangerous remedy, and added that ‘one of his objects was to blow the Scots back again into Scotland.’ Fawkes was removed the same night to the Tower, and was subjected to further examination by the judges Popham and Coke, and Sir William Waad, lieutenant of the Tower, on each of the following days. A long series of searching questions was prepared by the king himself on 6 Nov. (cf. Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. viii. 369). Fawkes's name was discovered by a letter found upon him from Anne, lady Vane, but no threats of torture could extort the names of his friends, nor any expression of regret for the crime he had meditated. To overcome his obstinacy he was subjected to the rack, ‘per gradus ad ima,’ by royal warrant. Torture had the desired effect. On 8 Nov., although still ‘stubborn and perverse,’ he gave a history of the conspiracy without mentioning names. On the next day his resolution broke down, and he revealed the names of his fellow-conspirators, after learning that several had already been arrested at Holbeach. His confession is signed in a trembling hand ‘Guido Fawkes.’ Meanwhile parliament had met as arranged on 5 Nov., and on 9 Nov. had been adjourned till 21 Jan. On that day the 5th of November was set apart for ever as a day of thanksgiving. Guy Fawkes's name is still chiefly associated with the date. A proposal to inflict some extraordinary punishment on the offenders awaiting trial was wisely rejected. A special thanksgiving service was prepared for the churches, and many pamphlets, some in Latin verse, denounced the plotters.

On 27 Jan. 1605–6 Fawkes, with the two Winters, Grant, Rookwood, Keyes, and Bates, were tried before a special commission in Westminster Hall. All pleaded not guilty. Fawkes was asked by the lord chief justice, Popham, how he could raise such a plea after his confessions of guilt, and he replied that he would not retract his confession, but the indictment implicated ‘the holy fathers’ in the plot, which was unwarranted. All the prisoners were found guilty as soon as their confessions were read. Sir Everard Digby was then tried and convicted separately. Finally judgment of death was passed on all. On Friday, 31 Jan., Fawkes, with Winter, Rookwood, and Keyes, were drawn from the Tower to the old palace at Westminster, opposite the parliament house, where a scaffold was erected. Fawkes was the last to mount. He was weak and ill from torture, and had to be helped up the ladder. He spoke briefly, and asked forgiveness of the king and state.

A rare print of the plotters Fawkes, the two Wrights, the two Winters, Catesby, Percy, and Bates, was published in Holland by Simon Pass soon after their execution, and was many times reissued. There is a copy in Caulfield's ‘Memoirs of Remarkable Persons,’ 1795, ii. 97. A contemporary representation of the execution by N. de Visscher is also extant, besides an elaborate design by Michael Droeshout entitled ‘The Powder Treason, Propounded by Sattan, Approved by Anti-Christ,’ which includes a portrait of ‘Guydo Fauxe.’ In Carleton's ‘Thankfull Remembrance’ is an engraving by F. Hulsius, showing ‘G. Faux’ with his lighted lantern in the neighbourhood of some barrels. A somewhat similar illustration appears in Vicars's ‘Quintessence of Cruelty, a Master Peice of Treachery,’ 1641, a translation from the Latin verse of Dr. [Francis] Herring, issued in 1606, and translated in 1610. In most of these drawings Fawkes's christian name is printed as ‘Guydo’ or ‘Guido,’ a variant of ‘Guye,’ which he seems to have acquired during his association with the Spaniards. A lantern, said to be the one employed by Fawkes in the cellar, is now in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. A Latin inscription states that it was the gift of ‘Robert Heywood, late proctor of the university, 4 April 1641.’ Another lantern, to which the same tradition attaches, was sold from Rushden Hall, Northamptonshire, about 1830 (History of Rushden Hall).

[A True and Perfect Relation of the whole Proceedings against the late most Barbarous Traitors, London, 1606, is an official version of the story of the plot. The account of the trial is very imperfect, consisting mainly of the vituperative speeches of Coke and Northampton. It was reprinted with additions as ‘The Gunpowder Treason, with a Discourse of the Manner of its Discovery,’ in 1679. See also the Relation of the Gunpowder under the Parliament House, printed in Archæologia, xii. 202*; Howell's State Trials; David Jardine's Narrative of the Gunpowder Plot, 1857; Winwood's Memorials; The Fawkes's of York in the Sixteenth Century, 1850; Gardiner's Hist. of England, vol. i.; State Papers (Dom. James I), 1605–6; and art. Catesby, Robert. William Hazlitt contributed three articles to the Examiner, 12, 19, and 20 Nov. 1821, pretending to justify Fawkes, from which Lamb quoted in his essay on Guy Faux.]

S. L. L.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.121
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
268 ii 38-39 Fawkes, Guy: for Bodleian Library read Ashmolean Museum
4f.e. after Sixteenth Century insert by Robert Davies