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Guy Fawkes - Treason!

The events which led to the foiling of an attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament with gunpowder in 1605 is still celebrated every year on the anniversery of that day, November 5th.

Guy Fawkes Night!
"Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder treason and plot;
We see no reason
Why Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot"

This is the rhyme schoolchildren still chant as their excitement and anticipation for November 5th mounts. What happened in 1605 in London has left its mark on the heritage of the nation.

Around midnight at the start of 5th November 1605, 36 barrels of gunpowder were uncovered under the House of Lords of the Houses of Parliament. The following day was State Opening Day and a big explosion had certainly been planned for the occasion! Who had wanted to blow up the Parliament and those in it at the start of James I reign and why?

An initial search was undertaken, it is said, after a mysterious and anonymous letter was received by Lord Monteagle, a Catholic, which warned him not to attend the State Opening on November 5th. Suspicions were aroused and the cellars of the Houses of Parliament were searched. A lone man calling himself John Johnson was found along with stacks of wood and coal. Later events revealed the man to be Guy Fawkes, the wood and coal was provided to cover the 36 kegs of gunpowder.

Guy Fawkes was one of a group of thirteen traitors led by Roberts Catesby, who hoped to raise a new monarch, sympathetic to their cause, and return England to its Catholic past. Fawkes' job was to light the slow fuses for the gunpowder and then leave by boat for the Continent. The other conspirators had left London the preceding week.

After the midnight search Fawkes was arrested. His co- conspirators still alive were taken to the Tower of London from 6th November onwards. Others had been shot after fleeing to the Midlands.

There was said to be great rejoicing in London on 5th November and Sunday 10th November was appointed a day of thanksgiving. The trail took place in Westminster Hall on 27 January 1606. The House of Commons Information Office records that "All of them were then probably subjected to extensive and cruel torture... executions were attended with all the bloody barbarity (including castration, disemboweling alive etc) that the mediaeval punishment for treason, hanging drawing and quartering, demanded. The heads and other portions of the conspirators' bodies were set up at various points in Westminster and London."

Guy Fawkes was born in 1570 at York and, ironically was brought up a Protestant. He became a mercenary in the Spanish Army shortly after becoming a Catholic. This explains why he is sometimes referred to as Guido Fawkes.

He was not the mastermind of the gunpowder plot, however it is his name which is associated with the celebrations which take place every year in Great Britain. Even today, the Houses of Parliament are still searched by the Yeomen of the Guard just before the State Opening to ensure nobody with similar intentions to Fawkes is concealed in the cellars!

How is Guy Fawkes night celebrated today? To find out visit our British Life page or, even better, be a part of the celebrations by coming on our final Turner's Lune Valley and Yorkshire Dales tour.

Historians have believed for a long time that Guy Fawkes and his friends hoped through their actions to return England to Catholicism, however others claim that agents-provocateurs planned to discredit the Jesuits by using a group of people gullible enough. This would reinforce Protestantism again after a wave of popular revulsion caused by numerous Catholic executions in the autumn of 1604.

If you would like to explore the history behind the Gunpowder Plot further, an excellent site can be found at



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