Guy, Guye or Guido Fawkes is remembered today for his part in the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605. He and other English Catholics conspired to blow up Parliament and kill King James I because of his anti-Catholic policies. The plot was foiled on the evening before the state opening of parliament on 5 November—still celebrated today as Guy Fawkes Day—when he was arrested in the cellars beneath the House of Lords with 36 barrels of gunpowder and all the paraphernalia needed to set off an explosion.
Guy Fawkes was the only son and eldest surviving child of Edward Fawkes and his wife Edith Jackson. He was baptised on 16 April 1570 at St Michael le Belfrey, a parish church next to York Minster in the centre of the City of York. The parish register records: “Guye fawxe, sone to Edward fawxe, [christened] the xvj day of aprile.”
His exact date and place of birth are not recorded. Some early sources give his birthplace as Bishopthorpe or near Spofforth, two villages in Yorkshire, while Fawkes himself said he was born in the City of York. Most modern authors agree he was born in Stonegate, a historic street in central York, although a house in Petergate opposite the south door of St Michael le Belfrey has also been suggested.
His father was a lawyer in the ecclesiastical courts of York and became Registrar of the Exchequer Court of York, a post held by his own father before him.
Guy's family lived in Stonegate, on the north west side of the street, in a house leased from the Dean and Chapter of York. It had been his grandparents' house. His grandfather William Fawkes had died some years earlier, but his grandmother Ellen (Harrington) Fawkes still lived with them. She died in 1575 and bequeathed young Guy her “beste whistle, and one ould angell of gould.”
Guy was educated at “ye free schole in ye Horsefair,” better known as St Peter’s School, in York. Although governed by the Protestant church, the school is suspected of exerting a strong Catholic influence on its students. His fellow students included brothers John and Christopher Wright, and future Jesuit priests Oswald Tesimond and Edward Oldcorne, who, years later, would all be linked to the Gunpowder Plot.
His parents had outwardly conformed to the Protestant religion and regularly attended church at St Michael le Belfrey, but after his father's death Catholic sympathies emerged on both sides of his family.
His father's kinsman William Harrington is known to have harboured Catholic priest Edmund Campion at his house in Mount St John. Campion had arrived in England in 1580 to establish an underground Jesuit mission, something strictly forbidden by Queen Elizabeth's religious policies, and was executed for treason in 1581. Harrington's son William, inspired by Campion, later became a Jesuit priest and he too was put to death in 1594.
On his mother's side, Guy's first cousin Richard Cowling also became a Jesuit priest. Guy's mother is also thought to be related to a Guy Jackson of Bishopthorpe who was listed as recusant during the years 1581-85.
His mother remarried in 1587-89 when Guy was about 18. He lived with her and his Catholic stepfather Dionis Baynbridge near Scotton, a village close to the River Nidd, west of York. While there, he is thought to have embraced Catholicism and come into contact with local recusants, including the Percy and Pulleyn families. It was a period of growing religious tension and harsh penalties for Catholics who failed to conform to the Protestant faith.
In early 1591, he turned 21 and obtained the full right to his father’s estate. It included a barn and yard in Gillygate, York, and 4½ acres of land at Clifton, just north of the city. In October 1591, Guy leased this to a tailor for 21 years at an annual rent of £2 2s. In August 1592, he sold the balance of his estate, consisting of a farmhouse, garden, yard, and about 6½ acres of land at Clifton, for £29 13s 4d. He later said, “his father left him but small living, which he spent.”
Some online family trees and websites claim Fawkes married Maria Pulleine or Pulleyn in about 1590 in Scotton, Yorkshire, and had a son Thomas Fawkes on 6 February 1591. There is no reliable evidence to support this theory. His supposed wife, Mary Pulleyn of Scotton, is recorded as the wife of another man in 1597 and therefore could not have married Fawkes. See Research Notes.
He left England in about 1593 and travelled to the Low Countries. He joined the Army of Flanders, a multinational army of Philip II, King of Spain, and in 1596 fought at the Siege of Calais under Archduke Albert. His society was said to "sought by all the most distinguished in the Archduke's camp for nobility and virtue" and he was described as:
a man of great piety, of exemplary temperance, of mild and cheerful demeanour, an enemy of broils and disputes, a faithful friend, and remarkable for his punctual attendance upon religious observances.
In about 1599, the English government intercepted a letter written by Guy's cousin Richard Cowling to a gentleman in Venice. The letter, endorsed "fugitives," read in part:
I pray you lette me intreate yr favoure and frendshippe for my Cosen Germane Mr Guydo Fawks who serves Sr William (Stanley) as I understande he is in greate wante and yr worde in his behalfe may stande him in greate steede ... He hath lefte a prettie livinge here in his countre which his mother being married to an unthriftie husbande since his departure I think hath wastied awaye. Yet she and the reste of our friends are in good health ... lette him tell my Cousin Martin Harrington that I was at his Brother Henries house at the mounte
Shortly after the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603, Fawkes travelled to Madrid seeking Spanish support for a Catholic uprising in England. He submitted a memorandum to the court of King Philip III railing against the new English monarch James I, who he described as a “heretic” who intended “to have all of the Papist sect driven out of England.” As it turned out, the Spaniards were reluctant to become involved—they had their own plans for peace with England.
In early 1604 Fawkes met Thomas Winter in Flanders. Winter recruited him to join a small group of English Catholics who had resolved to “doe some whatt in Ingland if the pece with Spaine healped us nott.” The two men returned to London together. In May 1604, Fawkes met Robert Catesby, the leader of the group, and was told of his scheme to blow up parliament using gunpowder.
The original plan involved tunnelling under the House of Lords and laying explosives to be set off when King James attended the state opening of parliament. Thomas Percy, another member of the group, leased a small house next to the Lords' chamber in May 1604 and Fawkes, who was relatively unknown in London, took charge of the house in the guise of John Johnson, Percy’s servant.
After various delays, including the prorogation of parliament due to a severe outbreak of the plague, the men began the slow process of digging a tunnel from the house’s cellar through the foundations of the parliament buildings. In March 1605, they discovered a tenant vacating an undercroft or cellar on the ground floor under the House of Lords. They quickly secured the lease, and, abandoning their tunnel, began to stockpile gunpowder in the cellar.
|Contemporary engraving of conspirators|
The summer of 1605 was spent away from London and Fawkes briefly returned to Flanders to forewarn their supporters of the scheme. The threat of the plague abated and it was announced that King James would open parliament on 5 November 1605.
The plotters made their final preparations in October, agreeing that Fawkes would remain in London to explode the gunpowder, then escape to the continent, and the others would lead a simultaneous uprising in the Midlands.
A weak point in their scheme was that the explosion could potentially kill anyone who attended the state opening, whether they be friend or foe. Towards the end of October, someone familiar with their plans sent an anonymous letter to Lord Monteagle warning him not to attend the opening on 5 November. He took the letter to Whitehall and an initial inspection of the parliament buildings identified an unusually large pile of firewood and coals in the ground floor cellars beneath the House of Lords.
This was enough to raise suspicions and, at about midnight on 4 November, Westminster magistrate Sir Thomas Knyvett and his men began a more thorough search. Near the entrance of the building, they saw Fawkes standing fully clothed and with his boots on. This seemed suspicious at that time of night so they arrested him. Hidden under the firewood and coals in the cellar they found 36 barrels of gunpowder. Fawkes was searched and found to be carrying three slow matches and all of the paraphernalia needed to set off an explosion.
Fawkes was closely questioned but refused to implicate his fellow plotters. He did not deny his intention to blow up the House of Lords, but took all of the blame on himself. His only regret was that he had failed to set off the explosion. At first, he insisted his name was John Johnson, he was 36 years old and that:
he had been born in Yorkshire, 'in Netherdale', that his father had been called Thomas, and that his mother's maiden name had been Edith Jackson.
It took two days to discover his real name was Fawkes, and this was only after King James authorised his torture in the Tower of London, beginning with the “gentler tortures” then gradually increasing in severity. He admitted he was:
born in the city of York, and that his father's name was Edward Fawkes, a gentleman, a younger brother, who died about thirty years before.
Fawkes and seven co-accused stood trial for high treason at Westminster Hall on 27 January 1605/6. All eight men were convicted and condemned to death. He was hanged, drawn and quartered on 31 January 1605/6 at the Old Palace Yard, next to the parliament buildings in Westminster.
Fraser (1996) says Fawkes' birthdate "is likely to have been 13 April " because it was "customary" to baptise a child three days after birth. This date is repeated in Wikipedia and other online biographies.
In the 16th century, children were usually baptised soon after birth, generally within one week. The religious policies of Queen Elizabeth encouraged baptisms to be held on Sundays and other holy days. Of the 31 children baptised at St Michael le Belfrey in 1570, 25 (74%) were baptised on Sundays, 5 (16%) on other holy days and 3 (10%) on ordinary days.
Fawkes was baptised on 16 April 1570, a Sunday in the old style Julian calendar. He was likely born in the week before his baptism, but there is no reason to single out 13 April as his probable birthdate. The only certainty is that he was born by 16 April.
The origin of this theory is not known, but It appears to be of recent invention. It can only be traced back to an unsourced user contributed entry to the International Genealogical Index (FamilySearch) in the 1990s. Fraser (1996) refers to this entry and says:
A Pullieine bride would have been plausible for Guy Fawkes, since he was already connected to the family because of his mother's second marriage. However, not one contemporary account at the time of Guy Fawkes' greatest fame—or infamy—refers to him as a married man, nor is there any reference to his wife or child either in England or the Low Countries.
An unsourced user contributed entry to FamilySearch is not a reliable source for an event more than 400 years ago. No reliable source has been found to suggest Fawkes married or had a child. In particular:
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