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Digital Subscriptions > History Revealed > November 2015 > History Makers: Guy Fawkes

History Makers: Guy Fawkes

Guy Fawkes was neither the leader nor the brains behind the plot to blow up Parliament. So why, asks Jonny Wilkes, is he the one we remember, remember every fifth of November?

GUNPOWDER, TREASON AND PLOT

WHAT A GUY To some, Guy Fawkes was just a would-be murderer; to others, he encapsulated the spirit of protest
BRIDGEMAN IMAGES X1, ISTOCK X1

Protestant England in the first years of the 17th century was not a safe place to be a Catholic. Priests risked their lives by saying Mass in secret, while draconian laws made sure all Catholics were forced to publicly worship in Protestant services and declare their loyalty to the monarch as the head of the church. By the time the Tudor dynasty ended, the country had endured decades of religious division and violence since the creation of the Church of England and any pro-Catholic laws made during the brief reign of Mary I had been expunged. Protestantism was firmly established and Catholics faced persecution, suppression, even death.

There was a glimmer of hope that this would end when James VI of Scotland – the son of the executed Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots – succeeded to the English throne on the death of Elizabeth I in 1603. He made early promises of greater tolerance and abolished fines levied against ‘recusants’, those who refused to attend Protestant churches. But that was not to last and, before long, James’s attitude towards Catholics grew just as aggressive as that of his predecessors. Discontent reached an all-time high and – in huddled, whispering groups around the country – Catholics began plotting to overthrow James and restore their religion. England in 1605 was a powder keg and one of the men holding a match was Guy Fawkes.

GUY AND THE GUYS A contemporary engraving shows Guy Fawkes with some of the other Gunpowder plotters, including the man who recruited him, Thomas Winter, and the leader Robert Catesby
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