Guy Fawkes was born on April 13, 1570, in Yorkshire, England. He was the only son of Edith Blake and Edward Fawkes. Guy Fawkes attended St. Peter’s school and then became a soldier. Fawkes served in the military for many years, fighting Protestants in the Eighty Years War in Austria and specializing in the use of explosives. He gained notoriety as one of the chief conspirator in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.
Under the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, Catholics had endured a great deal of persecution, and they hoped that her successor, James I, would be more tolerant of their religion, given that his mother was a devout Catholic. Once James I took control, they were soon disappointed, however, as James imposed heavy fines on anyone practicing Catholicism.
In 1604, Guy Fawkes, along with twelve other conspirators, committed to carrying out a plan to blow up the Houses of Parliament and King James I. Robert Catesby was the mastermind behind the plot; Guy Fawkes was recruited because of his expertise in the use of explosives. Other conspirators were close friends and family of Robert Catesby: Thomas Wintour, Jack Wright, Thomas Percy, Robert Keyes, Robert Wintour, John Grant, Kit Wright, Thomas Bates, Ambrose Rockwood, Francis Tresham, and Everard Digby.
The conspirators rented a cellar under the House of Lords, which they filled with thirty-six barrels of gunpowder, planning to ignite it on November fifth, when James I would be opening Parliament. The plot was discovered, however, because Francis Tresham had written a letter to a relative in Parliament, warning him not to attend on that day. The letter was passed to the King’s men, who caught Guy Fawkes, red-handed, in the cellar on the night of November fourth.
Guy Fawkes was tortured and forced to give a confession and the names of his co-conspirators. He was tried and executed by hanging, then drawn and quartered, for treason on January 31, 1606 in the Old Palace Yard of Westminster The other conspirators were rounded up and either killed in the process of being arrested or later executed.
Bonfires were lit on the night of November fifth in celebration of the foiled plot and the safety of the king. Since that fateful day in 1605, , Fireworks Night, or Bonfire Night, as it’s commonly called, is celebrated annually on the fifth of November. Celebrations include burning an effigy, or straw dummy, of Guy Fawkes, fireworks, and, of course, bonfires.
No one knows whether or not Guy Fawkes would have succeeded in blowing up Parliament--some say the gunpowder was way too old to have exploded. But today the Houses of Parliament is much more secure and is equipped with video surveillance camera systems, making it unlikely that a new gunpowder plot could ever succeed. The Gunpowder plot is still remembered today, and every year the opening of Parliament is begun with the Yeoman of the Guard searching the basement for explosives.