The Tragic Life And Death Of Guy Fawkes

Apparently he was a pretty fair soldier, but as a domestic terrorist, he was lacking. According to History ExtraGuy Fawkes, born in 1570 in York, England, didn't even start out Catholic — that came with the influence of his Catholic stepfather, even though it was an illegal religion in England at the time. Guy converted in his teens, and by his early 20s he left England to join the Catholic Spanish Army, then embroiled in a fight with the Protestant Dutch Army over control of the Netherlands. Within 10 years Fawkes had attained the rank of captain and had started calling himself Guido. He also traveled to Spain and petitioned the king there to attack England's new Protestant king, James I and VI (yes, one king with both numbers; it's complicated). By 1604 Fawkes was conspiring with 13 other Catholic Englishmen to blow up the House of Lords and King James as well, replacing the monarch with a Catholic king. In what came to be known as The Gunpowder Plot, Fawkes's expertise with explosives found him guarding the 36 barrels of gunpowder the conspirators placed beneath Parliament, ready to detonate when the king opened the proceedings on November 5.

Fawkes and friends

For good or ill, Fawkes, perhaps a better explosives expert than terrorist, was discovered in the cellar with the goods — or the bads, depending on your point of view. He was arrested and tortured for two days in the Tower of London before signing a confession — as Guido Fawkes — and sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered: He would be dragged (hence the "drawn" part) by horse through the streets of London, publicly hanged by the neck until not quite dead, brought down so that various body parts could be removed (without anesthetic) and those parts burned as he watched, and finally decapitated. Once dead (finally) the corpse would be cut into quarters and the pieces sent for display in various parts of the realm as an object lesson to other would-be traitors. History tells us that Fawkes, however, despite his weakened condition — his torture probably included time on the rack — leapt to his death from the high scaffold, cheating the crowd of the fun of capital punishment. Today, Guy Fawkes Night/Bonfire Night takes place, complete with masks, on November 5 in celebrations throughout England that often include burning the pope in effigy. Or the Prime Minister. Or whoever.