Nov 01, 2010— read in full
Famous cases: The trial of Guy Fawkes
Why, after 400 years, do we still remember the 5th of November?
Guy Fawkes converted to Catholicism around the age of 16. He became a soldier and spent ten years fighting for the Spanish Catholic cause. During that time, he learnt a lot about explosives.
In May of 1604 he returned to England and met with Robert Catesby, Thomas Percy, John Wright and Thomas Wintour at an inn in London. The group disapproved of King James and the Protestant aristocracy, and agreed to do something about it. They took an oath to blow up the House of Parliament during the state opening thus killing King James, his family and the many other Protestants who would be there.
They filled the chamber underneath the House of Lords with 36 barrels of gunpowder concealed under a store of winter fuel, but as the time of the plot drew close, some of the conspirators began to have doubts. They were worried about fellow Catholics who would have been present at Parliament during the opening. One of the conspirators wrote a warning letter to Lord Monteagle to try and save him.
Unfortunately for Fawkes, Lord Monteagle sent the letter to the Secretary of State, who initiated a search of the vaults beneath the House of Lords in the early morning of 5th November. The search party discovered Fawkes guarding a pile of fuel, not far from about twenty barrels of gunpowder.
Torture for truth
Guy Fawkes was arrested. He was taken before the Privy Council where he remained defiant. When asked by one of the Scottish lords what he had intended to do with so much gunpowder, Fawkes answered; "To blow you Scotch beggars back to your own native mountains."
He was then taken to the Tower of London be interrogated. Torture was forbidden except by royal permission so King James wrote a letter authorising its use. He stated that “The gentler tortures are to be first used unto him, and so by degrees proceeding to the worst, and so God speed your good work." Fawkes gradually broke down and by the 9th November he had named his fellow plotters.
In January 1606, the trial of the surviving conspirators began in Westminster Hall. It only lasted one day, for although the conspirators pleaded not guilty, a guilty verdict had already been handed down. On 31st January the men were taken to the Old Palace Yard at Westminster and hanged, drawn and quartered "in the very place which they had planned to demolish in order to hammer home the message of their wickedness."