THE GUNPOWDER PLOTTER
WHO WAS GUY FAWKES?
Guy Fawkes, the most infamous conspirator in the Gunpowder Plot, was a tall, athletic man with brown hair and auburn beard, modest, self-contained and valiant.
He was highly intelligent, direct of purpose, pure of heart, well-read and, as a soldier of fortune in the Netherlands, not only “Skilful in the wars” but apart from his fanaticism, which seems to have grown by degrees into a positive megalomania, possessed of many attractive and even endearing moral qualities. “He was 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,” wrote Jardine.
In 1595 Fawkes was present at the capture of Calais by the Spaniards and according to the testimony of Father Greenway, “was sought and admired by all the most distinguished in the camp for his nobility and virtue”. On the death of Elizabeth, Fawkes and Christopher Wright visited Philip Ill of Spain with a view to securing relief for their Catholic countrymen.
Guy Fawkes was selected to join the Gunpowder Plot by Robert Catesby on account of his military qualities, and his face is unknown to the Government spies. At that time he was aged about 35 and was unmarried.
The firing of the gunpowder was entrusted to Fawkes whose coolness and courage had been remarkable. Indeed after three distinct warnings that the Government had intelligence of the Plot he still returned to his post in the cellar which he undertook to guard alone.
He was discovered and arrested just before midnight on 4th November 1605. Under torture, he revealed the names of his fellow conspirators, and in January the following year he was tried, found guilty and hanged.
GUY FAWKES LANTERN
This is the actual lantern which was in the hand of Guy Fawkes when he was apprehended beneath the Houses of Parliament – just moments before he was to light the fuse.
You can see it in the beautifully refurbished Ashmolean Museum in Oxford where it has appropriately been re-located to a basement exhibition gallery.
GUY FAWKES CARNIVALS
In the South West of England – centred on Somerset but taking in large parts of Devon, Dorset, Glocs and Wilts – there exists a centuries-old tradition of Illuminated Carnivals. Some are known as Guy Fawkes Carnivals because they date back to the celebrations associated with Guy Fawkes and the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot.
Like the Bonfire Societies of the South East, these Carnivals are notable for the extensive community involvement in the fireworks celebration. The South West carnivals have the added dimension of their spectacular illuminated parades. Another unique celebration is the squibbing which takes place as part of the Bridgwater Carnival.
The degree of skill, effort and organisation which goes into creating these magnificent shows is singularly impressive and many now stage events well outside of the Guy Fawkes season either as a complement to or as a fundraiser for the main event.
Read about another character with historical associations with fireworks: Green Man. Both a mythical figure and a ceremonial functionary, Green Man is a part of our afireworks heritage.