Guy Fawkes, also known as Guido Fawkes (1570 – 1606), is Britain’s most infamous traitor and the best-known member of a group of Catholic militants who attempted to assassinate King James I, along with the membership of England’s House of Commons and House of Lords. The intended to do so by blowing up Parliament during its opening session in 1605, as a prelude to a Catholic uprising, in what came to be known as the Gunpowder Plot.
Fawkes was born into a prominent rural family and converted to Catholicism in his youth. Between an adventurous spirit and the excessive zeal of the newly converted, he left Protestant England in 1593 to fight for Catholic Spain in the Netherlands, where he won a reputation for cool courage. In 1604, he was recruited by English Catholic plotters in search of a military expert less recognizable in England than themselves, and thus able to move about more freely in carrying out their plans without arousing suspicions.
They rented a cellar extending beneath the House of Lords in Westminster Palace, where Parliament was scheduled to hold its opening session on November 5th, 1605, and rigged it to blow up with 36 barrels of gunpowder, which they concealed beneath piles of coals and sticks. The plot was revealed, however, in an anonymous letter sent to an English peer, warning him to stay away from Parliament’s opening session. During a search on November 4th, Fawkes was discovered in the cellar guarding the gunpowder barrels.
Captured, Fawkes was tortured on the rack and forced to reveal the names of his co-conspirators. He was tried, convicted, and sentenced to a traitor’s death by drawing, hanging, and quartering, but escaped the gruesome execution at the last moment as he was being taken up to the gallows, by leaping off the ladder to his death below of a broken neck.
His corpse was still quartered and its parts displayed across the realm. He is commemorated in Britain every November 5th, Guy Fawkes Day, with fireworks and the burning of his effigy, while masked children go about begging “a penny for the Guy”.