WHO WAS GUY FAWKES?
Just prior to the 5 November every year, children standing eagerly next to an effigy of Guy Fawkes sat in the garden wheelbarrow used to be a common sight. If they were not too shy - and they generally were not - they would usually run at you with open palms asking '..penny for the guy…' in a hope to secure coinage to put towards a handful of cheap fireworks.
Guy Fawkes was born in April 1570 in York. Although his immediate family were all Protestants - the accepted religious practice in England at the time - his maternal grandparents were Catholics, who refused to attend Protestant services.
Guy's father died when he was eight, and his widowed mother was re-married to a Catholic, Dionis Baynbrigge. It was these early influences that were to forge Fawkes' convictions as an adult.
Guy Fawkes and Spain
By the time he was 21 Fawks had sold the estate his father had left him and left for Europe to fight for Catholic Spain against the Protestant Dutch republic in the Eighty Years War. His military career went well and by 1603 he had been recommended for a captaincy. He strangely also adopted the Italian variant of his name, and became known as 'Guido'.
Personally, Fawkes was an imposing man. His former school friend Oswald Tesimond, who had become a Jesuit Catholic priest, described him as "pleasant of approach and cheerful of manner, opposed to quarrels and strife ... loyal to his friends".
Tesimond also claimed Fawkes was "a man highly skilled in matters of war", while the historian Antonia Fraser described him as "a tall, powerfully built man, with thick reddish-brown hair, a flowing moustache in the tradition of the time, and a bushy reddish-brown beard... a man of action ... capable of intelligent argument as well as physical endurance, somewhat to the surprise of his enemies."
Fawkes is drawn into the plot It was while on campaign fighting for Spain in Flanders that Fawkes was approached by Thomas Wintour and asked to join what would become known as the Gunpowder Plot, under the leadership of Robert Catesby.
The foiling of the plot had been expertly engineered by James I's spymaster, Robert Cecil. Fawkes was subjected to various tortures, including the rack. Torture was technically illegal, and James I was personally required to give a licence for Fawkes to endure its ravages.
Fawkes was sentenced to the traditional traitors' death of being 'hanged, drawn and quartered'. However, just before his time came, Guy Fawkes jumped from the gallows, breaking his own neck thereby avoiding the horror of being cut down while still alive, having his testicles cut off and his stomach opened and his guts spilled before his eyes. His lifeless body was hacked into quarters and his remains sent to "the four corners of the kingdom" as a warning to others.
The burning of the 'guy'
It is perhaps surprising that Fawkes and not the charismatic ring-leader Robert Catesby was remembered, but it was Fawkes who was caught red-handed under the Houses of Parliament, it was Fawkes who refused to speak under torture, and it was Fawkes who was publicly executed. Catesby, by contrast, was killed evading capture and was never tried.
Through the centuries the Guy Fawkes legend has become ever-more entrenched, and by the 19th Century it was his likeness that was being placed on the bonfires that were lit annually to commemorate the failure of the plot.
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Based on an article from http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/people/guy_fawkes#p00l2q80
Images care of http://www.anorak.co.uk/296525/news/birmingham-city-bonfire-night-to-go-ahead-without-bonfire.html/ and http://esolcourses.blogspot.com/2009/11/advanced-english-lesson-on-guy-fawkes.html and http://kidzcoolzone.com/the-facts-behind-englands-guy-fawkes-night/ and http://www.folkleads.org.uk/customs/guy_fawkes/guy_fawkes_torture.html and http://mnlydia.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/guy-fawkes-meets-pinata-party-aka-la.html