Guy Fawkes was born on April 13, 1570 in Stonegate, York. He was an English soldier who had fought as a mercenary for the Spanish and part of the Roman Catholic extremist group who tried to carry out the Gunpowder Plot on November 5, 1605. The plot was to assassinate King James I of England and the whole of Protestant Parliament by blowing up the Palace of Westminster during the opening session of Parliament. This would have created a power vacuum, supposedly allowing the Catholic Church to seize power. A more likely reason for the plot is that it was an effort by Catholics to try and fight back against the strong anti-Catholic movement in the British government in the period of time around the Protestant Revolution. Fawkes was caught before he could put this plan into action. He was interrogated through torture. Torture was normally forbidden but James I permitted it with the words: "if he will not other wayes confesse, the gentler tortours are to be first usid unto him et sic per gradus ad ima tenditur [and so on step by step to the most severe] and so god spede youre goode worke." Fawkes was ultimately put to death along with his co-conspirators for treason and attempted murder. He died on January 31, 1606, by being hung, drawn and quartered.
His death is celebrated in Great Britain every year on Guy Fawkes Day, 5th November with fireworks and bonfires. This festival originated in the 17th century as a celebration of the failure of the Gunpowder Plot, and an expression of anger at the conspirators (by burning Guy Fawkes in effigy), and was associated with English patriotism and anti-Catholic sentiments. Nowadays it has lost these connotations and is often known simply as "Bonfire Night". Traditionally a stuffed dummy or scarecrow, called a 'Guy', is put on the bonfire before it is lit.
A famous rhyme concerning Guy Fawkes goes as follows:
- Remember, remember the fifth of November,
- Gunpowder, treason, and plot,
- I know of no reason why the gunpowder treason
- Should ever be forgot.
- Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, 'twas his intent
- To blow up the King and Parliament.
- Three score barrels of powder below,
- Poor old England to overthrow;
- By God's providence he was catch'd
- With a dark lantern and burning match.
- Holloa boys, holloa boys, make the bells ring.
- Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!
- Hip hip hoorah!
The rhyme is often shortened to the first four lines.