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Guy Fawkes and the plotters
St Michael le Belfrey, York - the scene of Guy Fawkes baptism
York's most infamous son and Catholic was baptised a Protestant

Everybody knows that Guy Fawkes was behind the Gunpowder Plot.

He's the one who was going to blow up the Houses of Parliament, it was his idea and he masterminded the whole thing. Didn't he?

Well, no he didn't.

York's most infamous son, Guy Fawkes, was certainly a key player in the plot and, probably because he was caught red handed preparing to detonate the gunpowder, his has become the name we all remember.

But it almost certainly wasn't his idea.

The plotters

The mastermind behind the plot was Warwickshire born Robert Catesby. The son of a persecuted Roman Catholic, Catesby was a charismatic man described as handsome and well liked.

He married a wealthy protestant and seemed content to attend Church of England services while practising his Roman Catholic faith in private. But after the death of his wife, in 1598, he turned back to his Catholic roots with devotion.

Catesby knew most of his co-conspirators through a network of friendships with various Roman Catholic families. The exception was Guy Fawkes.

The Fawkes connection

Fawkes was almost definitely brought up as a protestant. The son of an ecclesiastical lawyer, Guy was born in York and baptised in St Michael le Belfrey Church, next to York Minster.

The baptism record exists in the parish register. However his father died while Guy was quite young and his mother married a Catholic. At some point the young Guy Fawkes converted to Catholicism.

It's fairly well known that Guy Fawkes attended St Peter's school in York, but less well known is that fellow plotters John and Christopher Wright were there at the same time and it's likely that Guy was already mixing in Catholic circles.

In 1591 when Guy was 21 he left England to serve in Spain's Army of Flanders, fighting against Dutch Protestant rebels in The Netherlands. He served with distinction achieving a rank equivalent to 2nd lieutenant.

It's during this time that Fawkes is believed to have developed an expertise in explosives and the handling and storage of gunpowder.

 CGI image of the explosion had the plot succeeded. Parliament was based in the Palace of Westminster in London, a complex of medieval buildings grouped around Westminster Hall, originally a royal palace
Had the plot succeeded, James VI's daughter would have become Queen

The plot

The plan was to destroy parliament, killing the King and a good number of his protestant officials. The hope was that this would plunge the country into chaos. At the same time an uprising in the Midlands would seize Princess Elizabeth to become a figurehead for Roman Catholic rule of England.

Perhaps what's most startling about the Gunpowder Plot is just how close it came to being realized.

The government was seen as quite paranoid about potential Catholic plots but the intelligence network seemingly failed to spot anything of concern.

It was an anonymous letter, sent at the last moment to a parliamentary official who was known to have been a Catholic, that prompted a search of the Parliament buildings. Apparently even this wasn't taken too seriously, but during the search Guy Fawkes was found, along with lots of gunpowder.

The plot had been foiled. Fawkes was arrested and there's little doubt he was tortured to extract information. He apparently held up well, not giving up his co-conspirators for about two days. But in the meantime the governments intelligence network kicked into action, and it wasn't long before the rest of the plotters were rounded up.

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