Guy Fawkes’ grisly death saw him scheming to the end

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Bonfire Night remains one of Britain’s most celebrated occasions, where millions across the country brave the cold November 5 air to enjoy firework displays and burn effigies of one of its most controversial villains, Guy Fawkes. Since 1605, Britons have joined together to mark the foiling of his plot to bring down Parliament in London, in what is historically known as the Gunpowder Plot. Though Fawkes’ story is well-known throughout the nation, how the villain died – and cheated the punishment bestowed on him – is not. Here takes a look at how the notorious figure eventually met his end.

The plot to burn down Parliament began in 1604, when Fawkes became involved with a group of English Catholics, who planned to assassinate King James, the Protestant monarch, and replace him with his daughter Princess Elizabeth.

He was often described as a handsome and charming individual, with Fawkes’ former school friend reportedly noting his “pleasant of approach and cheerful of manner, opposed to quarrels and strife… loyal to his friends”.

Fawkes, who was also noted 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” was highly regarded for his involvement during the Eighty Years’ War, where he travelled and fought for Catholic Spain against Protestant Dutch reformers.

In the years since the plot was foiled, many claims of how they intended to kill the monarch emerged, including a plan to gain access to Parliament by tunnelling from a nearby home, though no trace of this endeavour was ever found.

In the build-up to November 5, Lord Monteagle, who was due to attend the opening of Parliament when the plot to blow up the building was scheduled for, received an anonymous letter warning him from going to the premises that day.

The letter, which survives in the National Archives, spoke of those attending Parliament would receive a “terrible blow”, and the details were passed to King James, who ordered a search of the building.

Fawkes was then seen leaving the cellar of Parliament and arrested, and soon barrels of gunpowder were discovered in the heart of the premises, hidden under coal and firewood.

He was subsequently sentenced to be hanged and quartered, but in a bid to remove himself from the excruciating pain, Fawkes came up with another plot. On January 31, 1606, Fawkes begged the monarch for forgiveness.

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He had become weak as a result of days of torture, and was helped up to his post by the hangman. The 35-year-old then began climbing the ladder up towards the looming noose, but then decided to jump to his death, a final desperate bif to prevent suffering further.

Despite this, Fawkes body was still quartered, as was tradition at the time, and his body parts were then distributed across the “four corners of the kingdom”, and were displayed alongside other traitors to the throne.

Reflecting on his significance decades later, A Brief History of ‘The Gunpowder Plot’, published in 1828, recalled the wickedness of Fawkes’ plot and crime. It said: “Of all the plots and conspiracies that ever entered into the mind of man, the Gunpowder plot stands pre-eminent in horror and wickedness.

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“The singular perseverance of the conspirators is shown by the fact, that so early as in Lent of the year 1603, Robert Catesby, who appears to have been the prime mover of the plot, in a conversation with Thomas Wintour and John Wright, first broke with them about a design for delivering England from her bondage, and to replant the Catholic religion.”

It added: “Guy Fawkes was a man of desperate character. In his person he was tall and athletic, his countenance was manly, and the determined expression of his features was not a little heightened by a profusion of brown hair, and an auburn-coloured beard.

“He was descended from a respectable family in Yorkshire, and having soon squandered the property he inherited at the decease of his father, his restless spirit associated itself with the discontented and factious of his age.”

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