Guy Fawkes – 2

Around March 1605, Thomas Percy and the conspirators hired a cellar beneath Parliament and Fawkes assisted in filling the room with barrels of gunpowder which were hidden beneath some iron bars and fire-starting faggots. He was then dispatched to Flanders to tell details of the plot to Stanley and Owen.

In August, he was back in London, replacing the spoiled powder barrels, and residing at the home of ” a widow that dwells on the backside of St. Clement’s Church”. But he soon left this accommodation when his landlady started to suspect his involvement with Catholics.

On October 18, 1605, Fawkes traveled to White Webbs for a meeting with Catesby, Wintour and Francis Tresham to discuss how some Catholic Parliament peers could be excluded from the explosion. This compassion for compatriots proved to be their undoing.

On October 26, the now famous Monteagle Letter was delivered into the hands of Catholic Peer of the Realm, William Parker, 4th Baron Monteagle, urging him NOT to attend the Parliamentary Opening. Concern quickly erupted amongst the conspirators, but the letter’s apparent vagueness prompted Catesby to decide to continue with their gunpowder plot.

On October 30, Fawkes, who was apparently ignorant of the Monteagle letter’s existence, inspected the cellar again and satisfied himself that the gunpowder was still in place and had not been disturbed or spoiled by dampness.

On November 3, a few of the leading conspirators met in London and agreed that the authorities were still unaware of their actions. All except Fawkes had made plans for a speedy exit from London.

Fawkes had already agreed to watch the cellar by himself, as he had also been given the assignment to fire the gunpowder, undoubtedly because of his munitions experience in the Low Countries. His orders were then to embark for Flanders and to spread the news of the explosion.

On November 4, the Lord Chamberlain, Thomas Howard, Earl of Suffolk, searched the parliament buildings accompanied by Monteagle and John Whynniard.

In the cellar they found an unusually large pile of billets and faggots, and saw Fawkes whom they described as “a very bad and desperate fellow”. When they asked who claimed the pile, Fawkes replied it was Thomas Percy’s, in whose employment he worked.

They reported these details to the King, and they again searched the cellar, a little before midnight November 5, this time led by Sir Thomas Knyvett, a Westminster magistrate and Gentleman of the Privy Chamber.

Fawkes went to warn Percy, but returned to his post before night. Once again, the pile of billets and faggots was searched and this time, the powder discovered. Fawkes was arrested. They discovered he was carrying a watch, slow matches and touchwood. Fawkes supposedly declared later that if he’d been in the cellar when Knyvett entered it he would have “blown him up, house, himself, and all”.

In the morning of November 5, the Privy Council met in the King’s bedchamber, and Fawkes was brought in under guard. He declined to give any information other than his name was Johnson and he was a servant of Thomas Percy. When the King asked how “Johnson” could conspire such a hideous treason, Fawkes replied that a dangerous disease required a desperate remedy. He wanted to blow all the Scotsmen present back into Scotland.

King James indicated in a letter of November 6 that “The gentler tortours are to be first used unto him, et sic per gradus ad mia tenditur [and so by degrees proceeding to the worst], and so God speed your goode worke”, as it [torture] was contrary to English common law, unless authorized by the King or by the Privy Council.

Eventually, on November 7, Guido’s spirit broke and he confessed his true name and that the plot was confined to five men. “He told us that since he undertook this action he did every day pray to God that he might perform all that which might be for the advancement of the Catholic Faith and saving his own soul”.

On November 8 he recounted the events of the conspiracy, without naming names, then on the 9 November he named his fellow plotters, having heard that some of them had already been arrested at Holbeche. Guido’s final signature is a barely legible scrawl, a haunting testament to his suffering. There is no direct account as to what tortures were used on Guy Fawkes, but they were terrifyingly effective.

On January 27, 1606, the day of the capture of Edward Oldcorne and Henry Garnet, the trial of the eight surviving conspirators began in Westminster Hall, the oldest, original building in Parliament.

Certainly, it was a trial in name only, for a guilty verdict already had been handed down. The conspirators each pleaded not guilty, a plea which caused consternation. Fawkes explained his objection was to the implication that the “seducing Jesuits” were the principal offenders.

On January 31, 1606, Fawkes, Thomas Wintour, Ambrose Rookwood and Robert Keyes were taken to the Old Palace Yard at Westminster and hanged, drawn and quartered (a heinous and barbaric act among so-called civilized society).

The Crown found satisfaction that it caused this to happen “in the very place which they had planned to demolish in order to hammer home the message of their wickedness”. Thomas Wintour was first, followed by Rookwood, then Keyes. Guido Fawkes, the “romantic caped figure of such evil villainy” came last, and he was so severely weakened that he could scarcely climb the ladder of the scaffold.

A witness said, “He made no speech, but with his crosses and idle ceremonies made his end upon the gallows and the block, to the great joy of all the beholders that the land was ended of so wicked a villainy”.

With centuries of hindsight, history has looked more kindly on Guy Fawkes as a man — for he was not a mercenary ruffian, but rather he was a zealot and a man of piety and humanity. Certainly, we saw that the Stuarts generally did not rule well and the religious conflicts between the (illegal) English Protestants and the (true) Church (as the Catholics saw the events) played out with even greater loss of life during Cromwell’s Protestant Reformation, than would have happened if the Gunpowder Plot sedition had been accomplished, and real, equitable change might have been instituted. But, government went on as usual, barging along to even bigger religious strife and persecution. The Stuarts’ celebration was short-lived.

But, for now, fireworks will fill the skies throughout Britain, and a man who lived and died by his conviction, will be honored in a singular and unique way.

Learn more from the Gunpowder Plot Society.

©2009 mystic at Travel Vacation Review