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Guy Fawkes, The Gunpowder Plot and Bonfire Night
Guy Fawkes and 12 other men conspired to blow up the Houses of Parliament on November 5th, 1605.
Who were these men?

Robert Catesby was the charismatic leader of the group of conspirators. He had a way with people, and convinced a number of his impressionable friends to go along with the murderous plan which would later be known as the Gunpowder Plot. Even as problems with his plot later arose and some members expressed doubt, Catesby remained convinced that violent action was the only way forward.

Catesby first recruited his close friends and relatives: Thomas Wintour, Jack Wright and Thomas Percy, but the group quickly grew to include Guy Fawkes. The small core of conspirators felt Guy would be a strong addition. Guy was not part of the close knit circle of Catesby's small group, but he had spent time in the Netherlands and in Spain where he had fought, many said very well, as a mercenary. While in Spain he also earned the nickname Guido. Indeed, he even signed his name Guido Fawkes in a number of places.

He was as passionate about the plight of the Catholics in England as his colleagues. As a member of the group, he quickly became a trusted member, and was later charged with the dangerous task of acquiring 36 barrels of gunpowder and storing them in a rented space beneath the House of Lords.

Soon after Fawkes' addition, others who joined the group were Robert Wintour, Christopher (Kit) Wright, Robert Keyes, Thomas Bates. Latecomers to the group were John Grant, Ambrose Rookwood, Francis Tresham, and Everard Digby. In all, there were 13 conspirators in the Gunpowder Plot.

If Robert Catesby was the leader, how did Guy Fawkes become the most famous member of the Gunpowder Plot?

Guy Fawkes was the one who was caught under the House of Lords with 36 barrels of gunpowder. For two days, Guido was the only suspect in custody and his name became synonymous with the Powder Treason, as the Gunpowder Plot was known at the time.

But Guy wasn't in prison alone for long. Soon, many conspirators were either caught outright as they flew from London, or surrendered shortly thereafter. Some, however, including the ringleader Robert Catesby, were killed in a siege within a few days of the failed attempt.

All the conspirators who were not killed in the siege were imprisoned, tortured, and executed in the most gruesome way (except Francis Tresham who fell sick and died while in prison).

As is often the case with confessions made under duress, plotters admitted to everything they knew, and most likely complemented this information with whatever authorities wanted to hear - in hopes of ending their ordeal. The result was questionable confessions, likely augmented by authorities for their own purposes. These confessions incriminated two leading English Jesuits - who, according to some historians, were unlikely to have had any involvement in the Plot. Indeed, would most likely have been most opposed to it. Nevertheless, the government used the Gunpowder Plot to justify further anti-Catholic repression, including executing at least two Jesuits leaders they felt were threatening to their authority.

All imprisonned plotters were executed publicly in March 1607. They were "hanged, drawn, and quartered", a brutal practice which authorities hoped would instill terror in other potential traitors.

Did public executions really function as a deterrent? Or did they simply feed the climate of violence that encouraged Catesby and his men to pursue their deadly aims?

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