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Learn about Guy Fawkes, his lifetime activities, and his possible preferences

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Guy Fawkes was born on or about April 13, 1570 in Stonegate, Yorkshire. He was the only son of Edward Fawkes of York and Edith Blake . Prior to the birth of Fawkes, his mother had been delivered of a daughter on October 3, 1568, but the infant (whose had been given the name of Anne), lived a mere seven weeks, being buried on November 14 of the same year. Fawkes had two younger sisters...another Anne (born October 12, 1572), who later married Henry Kilburns in Scotton some time during 1599, and Elizabeth (born May 27, 1575), who later married William Dickenson, also in Scotton, some time during 1594. Fawkes' father had descended from the Fawkes Family of Farnley and was either a notary or proctor of the ecclesiastic courts and advocate of the consistory court of the Archbishop of York. His mother was descended from the Harrington Family, prominent merchants and Aldermen of the City of York.

Fawkes, originally raised as a Protestant, was a pupil of the Free School of St. Peters in York, located in "Le Horse Fayre." This school had been founded by Royal Charter of Philip and Mary in 1557. At this place of learning, Fawkes' schoolfellows may have included John and Christopher Wright (both of whom would be among the co-conspirators of the Gunpowder Plot) and Thomas Morton, who later became the Bishop of Durham. During Fawkes' time at St. Peters, he was under the tutelage of one John Pulleyn, kinsman to the Pulleyns of Scotton and a suspected Catholic who, according to some sources, may have had an early effect on the impressionable Fawkes.

In 1578, Fawkes' father died and was buried at St. Michael-le-Belfry on January 17. For the nine years which followed, Edith remained a sedate and respectable widow before moving to Scotton some time between April 18, 1587 and February 2, 1589. There, she married Dionysius (or Dennis) Bainbridge, son of Philip Bainbridge of Wheatley Hall and Frances Vavasour of Weston (who had previously been associated with the Fawkes Family through her first marriage to Antony Fawkes of York who had died in 1551). Described by a contemporary as being "more ornamental than useful," both Dionysius and Edith seemed to have made use of Fawkes' meager inheritance while it was still within their powers to do so.

There is a possibility that Fawkes was married. The International Genealogy Index, compiled by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, records a marriage between "Guy Fawkes" and "Maria Pulleyn" in Scotton during 1590. The same records also note the birth of a son named "Thomas" to Fawkes and Maria on February 6, 1591. However, these entries appear to have been taken from some secondary source and not from actual parish register entries. Thus, they cannot be authenticated.

Fawkes reached the age of majority in 1591 and proceeded to dispose of various parts of his inheritance. The first documentary proof of these actions is through an indenture of lease dated October 14 of that year, whereby it is recorded that "Guye Faux of Scotton" leased "three and a half acres in Clifton" to one "Christopher Lomley of Yorke." This document was found in 1830 by Robert Davis who recorded that the seal bore the "figure of a bird...apparently a falcon." Apparently, such a seal would confirm Fawkes' ancestry since the falcon is the Family Crest of the Fawkes of Farnley. In yet another document, dated August 1, 1592, it is recorded that "Guye Fawkes of the cittie of Yorke" executed an indenture of conveyance to "Anna Skipseye of Clifton." Therefore, it would appear that Fawkes was no longer in Scotton at that time. For a brief period after this, it would seem that he was employed as a footman by Anthony Browne, the second Lord Montague and member of a leading recusant family.

It is believed that Fawkes left England in either 1593 or 1594 accompanied by one of his Harrington cousins who later became a priest. There destination was Flanders, where Fawkes enlisted in the Spanish Army under the Archduke Albert of Austria...later Governor of the Netherlands. Fawkes is known to have held a post of command when the Spanish took Calais in 1596 under the orders of King Philip II. Described at this time as a man of "excellent good natural parts, very resolute and universally learned," Fawkes was "sought by all the most distinguished in the Archduke's camp for nobility and virtue." He is also described as "a man of great piety, of exemplary temperance, of mild and cheeful demeanour, an enemy of broils and disputes, a faithful friend, and remarkable for his punctual attendance upon religious observance."

Physically by now, Fawkes was apparently most impressive in appearance, being a tall and powerfully-built man with thick reddish-brown hair, a flowing moustache, bushy auburn beard and grey-blue eyes. He has also seemingly adopted the name or affectation of "Guido" instead of "Guy." Fawkes' extraordinary fortitude and "considerable fame among soldiers" (possibly acquired through his services under Colonel Bostock at the Battle of Nieuport in 1600 when, it is thought, he was wounded) brought him to the attention of Sir William Stanley (who was in charge of the English Regiment in Flanders), Hugh Owen and Father William Baldwin.

Fawkes severed his connection with the army of the Archduke on February 16, 1603. At this time, he was granted leave to travel to Spain on behalf of Stanley, Owen and Baldwin in order to "enlighten King Philip II concerning the true position of the Romanists in England." During his stay in Spain, Fawkes renewed his acquaintance with former schoolmate Christoper Wright and the pair began to work toward rallying Spanish support for an invasion of England upon the death of Queen Elizabeth I. This mission would ultimately prove to be a fruitless one.

Upon his return from this rallying journey, Fawkes was informed while in Brussels that Thomas Wintour has been asking for him. Around the time of Easter, when Wintour was preparing to embark for England, Stanley presented Fawkes to him. Although it cannot be absolutely proven, it seems likely that it was at this time Wintour informed Fawkes of the conspirators' intentions. The basis for this is found in Fawkes' confession taken after the defeat of the Gunpower Plot, wherein he states: "I confess that a practice in general was first broken to me against his Majesty for reliefe of the Catholique cause, and not invented or propounded by myself. And this was first propounded unto me about Easter last was twelve month, beyond the Seas, in the Low Countries of the Archduke's obeyance, by Thomas Wintour, who came thereupon with me into England."

Some time between Easter and May, Fawkes was invited by Robert Catesby to accompany Thomas Wintour to Bergen in order to meet with Juan De Velasco, Constable of Castile, who was on his way to the Court of King James I to discuss a treaty between Spain and England. Some time in May of 1604, Fawkes met with Robert Catesby, Thomas Percy, John Wright and Thomas Wintour at an inn known as the "Duck and Drake," located in the fashionable Strand District of Londong. There, he agreed under oath with Percy to join the other three in the Gunpowder Conspiracy. This oath was then sanctified in an adjoining room by the performing of mass and administering of the sacraments by the Jesuit priest, John Gerard.

It was at this time that Fawkes assumed the identify of one "John Johnson." Posing as Percy's servant, Fawkes was entrusted to take care of the tenement which Percy had rented. Around Michaelmas, Fawkes was asked to begin preparations for the mining work, which was the original plan of the conspirators (later abandoned altogether) in order to gain access to the Houses of Parliament. However, these mining preparations had to be delayed until early December, given that the Commissioners of the Union between England and Scotland were meeting in the same house. Eventually, the work in the mine proved too slow and too difficult for men who were unaccustomed to such physical labor and further accomplices were sworn into the Plot.

Around March of 1605, the conspirators hired a cellar beneath Parliament...once again, through the contacts of Thomas Percy. Fawkes assisted in filling the room with barrels of powder hidden beneath iron bars and faggots (bundles of sticks and branches bound together). He was then dispatched to Flanders, presumably in order to communicate the details of the Plot to Stanley and Owen. By the end of August, Fawkes was back in London, working on replacing the spoiled powder barrels and residing at the house of one Mrs. Herbert..."a widow that dwells on the backside of St. Clement's Church." However, Fawkes left the home of Mrs. Herbert when she began to suspect his involvement with the Catholics. On October 18, Fawkes traveled to White Webbs for a meeting with Catesby, Thomas Wintour and Francis Tresham, the purpose of which was to discuss how certain Catholic peers could be excluded from the impending explosion. On October 26, the now famous "Monteagle Letter" was delivered into the hands of William Parker, the Fourth Baron Monteagle and concern quickly circulated amongst the conspirators. Nevertheless, the apparent vague nature of the letter prompted Catesby to continue with institution of the Plot.

On Wednesday, October 30, Fawkes (apparently ignorant of the letter's existence) inspected the cellar once more and satisfied himself that the gunpowder was still in place and had not been disturbed. The following Sunday (November 3), a few of the leading conspirators met in London and agreed that it appeared the authorities remained unaware of the Plot. However, all but Fawkes made plans for a speedy exit from London. Agreeing to remain and watch the cellar by himself, Fawkes had already been given the task of firing the powder (doubtless due to his munitions experience in the Low Countries where he had been taught how to "fire a slow train"). His orders were to embark for Flanders as soon as the powder had been fired and to spread news of the explosion throughout the Continent.

The following Monday afternoon, Thomas Howard (Earl of Suffok and the Lord Chamberlain) searched the buildings of Parliament accompanied by Monteagle and John Whynniard, owner of the munitions-laden cellar. In that cellar, they discovered an unusually large pile of faggots and noted the presence of Fawkes, whom they described as a "very bad and desperate fellow." When asked who claimed this suspicious pile, Fawkes replied that it belonged to Thomas Percy, his employer. These details were reported to the King and believing by the look of Fawkes that "he seemed to be a man shrewd enough, but up to no good," the cellar was searched a second time...a little before midnight on the following evening. On this occasion, the search party was led by Sir Thomas Knyvett, a Westminster Magistrate and Gentleman of the Privy Chamber. Fawkes had sought out Percy that same day in order to warn him, but had returned to his post before nightfall. Once again, the pile of faggots, coal and iron bars was searched. This time, the powder unearthed. Fawkes was promptly arrested. Upon his person was discovered a watch, slow matches and touchwood. Later, Fawkes declared that if he had been in the cellar when Knyvett entered, he would have "blown him up, house, himself and all!"

During the early morning hours of November 5, the Privy Council gathered in the King's bedchamber and Fawkes was brought in under guard. He declined to reveal any information beyond the fact that his name was "Johnson" and that he was a servant of Thomas Percy. Further questioning later that day unveiled little more than Fawkes' apparent contempt. When asked by the King how it were possible the he could conspire to such a hideous form of treason, Fawkes responded that a dangerous disease required a desperate remedy...and that his intent was to blow all the Scotsmen present back to the border.

By order of King James, "gentler tortours" were first to be administered to Fawkes, since torture was contrary to common law unless authorized by the reigning monarch or Privy Council. Eventually, on November 7, Fawkes' spirit was broken. He confessed his true name and that the Plot had been confined to five men. The following day, he recounted the events of the conspiracy without naming names...but, on November 9, Fawkes identified his fellow conspirators, having heard that some of them had already been arrested at Holbeche. Fawkes' final signature (a barely legible scrawl) is testament to his suffering. There is no record of exactly what forms of torture Fawkes was subjected to, although it is almost certain that manacles were employed and, most probably, also the rack. It would appear that he was also confined for some period of time to the infamous "Little Ease" located in the Tower of London...a cell so small that it was impossible to stand, sit or lie down properly with any degree of comfort.

On Monday, January 27, 1606, the trial of the eight surviving conspirators commenced in Westminster Hall. The proceedings were little more than a legal formality since a guilty verdict had almost certainly already been handed down. The conspirators pled their innocence...a plea which caused some consternation among those present at the trial. Fawkes later explained that his personal objection was to the implication that the "seducing Jesuits" were the principal offenders.

On Friday, January 31, 1606, Guy Fawkes, Thomas Wintour, Ambrose Rookwod and Robert Keyes were taken to the Old Palace Yard at Westminster and hung, drawn and quartered "in the very place which they had planned to demolish in order to hammer home the message of their wickedness." The last of the four to suffer his appointed fate was Fawkes...the "romantic caped figure of such evil villainy." A spectator to the scene later wrote:

Last of all came the great devil of all, Guy Fawkes, alias Johnson, who should have put fire to the powder. His body being weak with the torture and sickness, he was scarce able to go up the ladder, yet with much ado, by the help of the hangman, went high enough to break his neck by the fall. 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. According to "A Narrative of the Gunpowder Plot" written by David Jardine in 1857, Fawkes should not be regarded as a "mercenary ruffian, ready for hire to do any deed of blood; but as a zealot, misled by misguided fanaticism, who was, however, by no means destitute of piety or humanity."

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