Guido (Guy) Fawkes (April 13, 1570 - January 31, 1606), was a member of a group of Catholic conspirators who endeavoured to blow up the Houses of Parliament in England in 1605. The plot was uncovered and the barrels of gunpowder defused before any damage was done.
Fawkes was born in Stonegate in York where he attended St Peter's school. He served for many years as a soldier gaining considerable expertise with explosives. In 1593 he enlisted in the army of Archduke Albert of Austria in the Netherlands, fighting against the Protestant United Provinces in the Eighty Years' War. In 1596 he helped capture Calais.
The Gunpowder Plot was concocted in May of 1604 with Robert Catesby, Thomas Percy, John Wright, Robert Keyes, and Robert Wintour. In March 1605, the conspirators rented a cellar beneath Parliament through Thomas Percy; Fawkes assisted in filling the room with gunpowder which was concealed beneath bric-a-brac. The 36 barrels in the cellars of Westminster Hall contained an estimated 2500 kg of gunpowder. The explosion could have reduced the Old Palace of Westminster and the Abbey to rubble. On November 5th, Fawkes was arrested in the cellar; on his person were a watch, slow matches and touchpaper.
Fawkes was brought into the king's bedchamber, where the ministers had hastily assembled, at one o'clock in the morning. He maintained an attitude of cool defiance, 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. Fawkes was interrogated under torture. Since torture was forbidden except by the express instruction of the monarch or the Privy Council, King James I in a letter of November 6 stated: "The gentler tortours are to be first used unto him, et sic per gradus ad maiora tenditur [and thus by increase to the worst], and so God speed your goode worke". On November 9, Fawkes confessed all and revealed the names of his co-conspirators. His signature after torture is strikingly shaky.
A nominal trial then ensued on January 27, 1606 at which the sentences had already been predetermined. On January 31, Fawkes, Wintour, and a number of others implicated in the conspiracy were taken to Old Palace Yard in Westminster. There they were hanged, drawn and quartered.
According to historian Antonia Fraser, the gunpowder was taken to the Tower of London and would have been reissued if in good condition, or otherwise sold for recycling. However a sample of the gunpowder may have survived -- in March 2002 workers at the British Library, investigating archives of John Evelyn, found a box containing various samples of gunpowder and several notes: "Gunpowder 1605 in a paper inscribed by John Evelyn. Powder with which that villain Faux would have blown up the parliament." and "Gunpowder. Large package is supposed to be Guy Fawkes' gunpowder." and "But there was none left! WEH 1952".
In England, Guy Fawkes Night (often referred to as Bonfire Night) is on November 5th, and is celebrated with bonfires and fireworks, (many people do this on the closest Friday or Saturday night). Sometimes, an effigy of Guy Fawkes (a "guy") is burnt on the fire. In previous centuries, an effigy of the Pope might also be burnt. Children sometimes set up a guy in the streets in the days beforehand and ask for a "penny for the guy".
Remember, remember, the fifth of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.
-- traditional verse
Guy Fawkes appears in the 2002 List of "100 Great Britons" (sponsored by the BBC and voted for by the public), alongside such other greats as David Beckham, Aleister Crowley, Winston Churchill and Johnny Rotten. Cynical Britons are sometimes known to comment that Guy Fawkes was the only man to go to Parliament with honourable intentions.
In an interesting example of semantic progression, Guy Fawkes has become immortalised by one of the most common words in the English language, particularly in American spoken English. The burning on 5 November of an effigy of Fawkes, known as a "guy," led to the use of the word "guy" as a term of general reference for a man, as in "some guy called for you." In the 20th century, under the influence of American popular culture, "guy" gradually replaced "fellow," "bloke," "chap" and other such words throughout the English-speaking world.
The story of Guy Fawkes was a major inspiration for Alan Moore's post-nuclear war tale of a fascist Britian, V for Vendetta. The main character in that story is modeled on Fawkes.