November 5, 1605: Guy Fawkes is captured. Fawkes was born in York, England in 1570 and was only eight at the time of his father’s death. His mother remarried, this time to a recusant Catholic. This meant they did not follow the law to attend mandated Anglican church services. The child converted to Catholicism and eventually went to mainland Europe where he joined the Catholic Spanish army in their Eighty Years’ War against the Protestant Dutch. While there, Guy was known as Guido. While abroad, he looked for help in fighting the Protestants in England, hoping to bring about a Catholic rebellion. He was unsuccessful in that attempt but did meet Thomas Wintour and the two men returned to England.
Wintour introduced Fawkes to Robert Catesby, a man planning to assassinate the Protestant King, James I, and restore the country to its Catholic heritage. The plot was to place a huge amount of gunpowder under the House of Lords and blow up the House as well as the King. The plot was discovered when loyal Catholics warned other Catholic members to be sure and stay away on the date they planned to blow up the buildings. Lord Monteagle received one of these letters and reported the plot to authorities who simply believed it to be a hoax. Monteagle showed the letter to the King who sent Sir Thomas Knyvet to search the cellars beneath the House of Lords.
There was a man who gave his name as John Johnson who was standing by with barrels and barrels of gunpowder, waiting for the signal to set the fuse. While he admitted his intent to blow up the House of Lords, he expressed regret only in his inability to do so. The next day, November 6, the King ordered that Johnson be tortured in order to learn the names of his co-conspirators. They were instructed to start easy, but increase the torture as needed to attain the answers the King sought. The King made up the list of questions to be put to the captive. Johnson was able to stay silent for a two days but on the seventh he revealed his own true name and on the eighth gave up the names of his partners in crime.
The trial of the eight men responsible for the Gunpowder Plot began on Monday, January 27, 1606. The outcome of the trial was never in doubt and the purpose built scaffold was already in place to present the criminals to the waiting crowd, including the King and his family. The charges were read and Guy Fawkes did not plead guilty even though he had admitted his involvement from the moment of his discovery. All eight were found guilty of high treason. Their execution was to be carried out under strict rules set up for the plotters. They were drawn (backwards) through the city streets from the Tower to the Old Palace Yard at Westminster. Then they were hanged and quartered. Fawkes’ body parts were distributed to the four corners of the kingdom in order to warn off other attempts.
To blow you Scotch beggars back to your native mountains. – Guy Fawkes, when asked what he was doing with so much gunpowder
He [Johnson] told us that since he undertook this action he did every day pray to God he might perform that which might be for the advancement of the Catholic Faith and saving his own soul. – Sir William Waad, reporting on torture results
Since Johnson’s being in the Tower, he beginneth to speak English. – Sir Edward Hoby, torture observer
Put to death halfway between heaven and earth as unworthy of both. – sentencing
Also on this day: Buying and Selling – In 1935, the board game Monopoly first went on sale.
Big History – In 1885, Will Durant was born.
Flight First – In 1911, the first US transcontinental flight ended.
Ace of Spies – In 1925, Sydney Reilly died.
Under Pressure – In 1983, the Byford Dolphin accident took place.