Date of Publication: 25 October 2019
With the 5th November approaching, we take a look at Guy Fawkes - who he was and his connections to the city of Oxford. Read it below!
What is Guy Fawkes Night?
Born in 1570 in York, Guy Fawkes was a devout Catholic who disagreed with the very anti-Catholic practices of King James I. In 1605, Guy Fawkes, joined a group of like-minded men and helped to conspire the ‘gunpowder plot.’ There aim was to kill the Protestant King James I by igniting barrels of gunpowder in the cellar during the state opening of Parliament – a time when the King, Commons and Lords would have been present. However, on the night of the plot, an anonymous warning was passed to the King’s chief minister, the cellars were searched and Fawkes and his conspirators were arrested and executed in January 1606.
In the same month of the plot, Parliament had passed the Thanksgiving Act which established an annual church celebration on the 5th November. While these official ceremonies diminished over time, popular festivities marked by bell-ringing, bonfires and fireworks grew in popularity.
Through the generations, the Gunpowder Plot, and the figure of Guy Fawkes in particular, has continued to seize people’s imagination and today, people celebrate with bonfires and colourful firework displays. From church celebrations to political rallies and family-friendly firework displays, the symbolism of Guy Fawkes Day has changed rapidly due to its extraordinary ability to evolve.
Guy Fawkes’ Lantern in Oxford
Sitting opposite Oxford Summer Courses’ head office is the grand Ashmolean Museum. Nestled amongst the treasures in there is an iron lantern, slightly misshapen and aged. It is said to have been Guy Fawkes’ lantern, and was apparently carried by him during his arrest in the Houses of Parliament cellars on the night of the 4th-5th November, 1605.
The lantern was given to the University of Oxford in 1641 by Robert Heywood, a Proctor (which is an official who is responsible for ensuring the rules of the University are observed).
His brother, Peter Heywood, had accompanied Sir Thomas Knyvett, Keeper of Whitehall Palace, in his fateful search of the cellars on the night of the 5th November, and is credited with taking the lantern from Fawkes during the initial struggle which prevented him from detonating the gunpowder. The lantern was supposedly passed to Robert sometime after an assassination attempt in 1640 which left his brother, Peter, mortally wounded. Robert then decided to pass it onto the university in 1641.
For many years, the lantern was on display in the Bodleian Library’s Picture Gallery, but was later handed over to the Ashmolean in 1887 as part of a reorganisation of the University’s collections.
You can see it today on display in the Ashmolean Museum, and if you join us on one of our Oxford courses next summer, you could be visiting the museum as part of your trip!
Worcester College & Guy Fawkes
Robert Catesby was the leader of the group of English Catholics who planned the failed Gunpowder plot in 1605.
Born in Warwickshire, Catesby was educated in the city of Oxford at Gloucester Hall (now known as Worcester College) in 1586. However, those studying at university at that time or those who wished to take public office could not do so without first swearing the Oath of Supremacy, an act which would have compromised Catesby’s Catholic faith. Catesby, presumably, avoided having to do this by leaving the University of Oxford without taking his degree, meaning there is very little evidence of his record here.
When King James I came to power, Catesby had hoped that he would be a more tolerant ruler than his mother, Mary Queen of Scots, who was a devout Catholic. However, these hopes soon withered as James exiled all Catholic priests and Jesuits and reimposed the collection of fines for recusancy.
This is what inspired Catesby to gather together like minded men, including Guy Fawkes, who were similarly suffering under the current regime, and charmed them into assisting with his plot.
Let us know if you’ll be celebrating Guy Fawkes Night this November, and don’t forget to send in your photos and videos of your celebrations to have them featured on our social!