Published By: Pen and Sword
Publication Date: 9th October 2017
Guy Fawkes, born in York in 1570, is one of the key figures in British history, taking a central role in a plot that would have destroyed the ruling class and changed the nation forever. Today protesters wear his mask, families burn his effigy, and he is an instantly recognisable name and face. But just who was the real Guy Fawkes? In this new book, we take an exciting look at the flesh and blood person behind the myth. We find out what radicalised the man who was born a Protestant, and yet planned mass murder for the Catholic cause. The book takes a fresh look at Guy’s early life in York and beyond, and examines how that led to him becoming a Catholic mercenary and a key member of the 1605 Gunpowder treason.
This fresh new biography of Guy’s life removes the layers of complexity that can cloud the British history of this time: an era when fearful Catholics hid in tiny priest holes, government spies were everywhere, and even your closest friends could send you to be hung, drawn and quartered. Guy and his conspirators were prepared to risk everything and endanger everyone, but were they fanatics, freedom fighters, or fools? This explosive read, accompanied with beautiful illustrations, is accessible and engaging, combining contemporary accounts with modern analysis to reveal new motivations behind Guy’s actions.
It’s Bonfire Night and for the last few days fireworks have been going off all over the country. I was sent this book about a year ago, by Alex, who used to do the digital marketing at Pen & Sword, and since I’m away visiting friends this weekend, friends who are currently playing Skyrim and Fallout, I thought I’d bring this book with me, to pass the time. It seemed appropriate. Besides, at some point soon I’ll be getting another book from Pen & Sword called The Gunpowder Plot Deceit that posits a hypothesis – that the plot was instigated by agent provocateurs – that Holland specifically refutes.
Everyone in Britain has heard of Guy Fawkes, but don’t really know anything about him. It’s assumed he’s either the ringleader or was a minor part in the plot. Holland makes the case that he was Robert Catesby’s third in command, a trusted soldier, long-time friend of several other conspirators – especially the Wright brothers with whom he went to school as a boy in York – and a militantly committed Catholic convert. Born in 1570 the second, but first surviving, child and only son, to a prominent Protestant lawyer and his wife, in York, he lost his father as a child. Unusually his mother waited a decade to remarry and when she did it was to another well-connected man, a ‘church Catholic’. Under the influence of his school master, and then his step-father, Guy became a convinced Catholic, witnessing the harsh punishments meted out in the later years of Queen Elizabeth I’s reign. In the early 1590s, Guy left England to join the English Regiment of Catholics fighting for the Spanish crown in the Low Countries. Here he gained experience and the trust of important Catholic leaders in exile, even being sent to Valladolid to negotiate with King Philip III in 1601 for support for an English Catholic uprising.
When Robert Catesby needed a man with experience in mining and explosives, a known and trusted soldier, and deeply committed Catholic, Guy Fawkes was the man for the job. While not in on it from the start, once he’d been given the details in 1604, Guy Fawkes was committed to the cause. His commitment continued to the end.
Tom Holland necessarily simplifies the historical and political context but tells the story of Guy Fawkes from Yorkshire lawyers son to a most infamous man, overshadowing the other conspirators and making life so much worse for Catholics in Britain for centuries to come, in an accessible and confident manner. He holds to the main narrative, occasionally diverting for a chapter to tell the stories of other members of the conspiracy, emphasising their family connections with each other, political events and the nature of life in England for Catholics at the time. He draws on contemporary documents and current historical thinking to draw a picture from the complex web of events.
This book is an excellent place to start if you want to understand what happened.