A Defiant Guy Fawkes


An interesting addendum to my execution posts would be a glance at the official written account of Guy Fawkes’ defiance in the hours after his arrest. Far from showing fear or anxiety about his arrest, he appears to have adopted a rather cavalier attitude. However, as with all official accounts, a certain degree of scepticism is prudent. It was in the interests of James I to have Fawkes universally portrayed as a black-hearted Catholic villain, and what follows is anonymous authorised commentary on the initial interrogation of Guy Fawkes. Its interest lies beyond the surprisingly rebellious response of Fawkes, for the suggestion he crumbled upon merely glimpsing the Rack is in fact a propagandic stretch of the truth. Evidence suggests Fawkes was almost certainly subsequently tortured in the Tower.

The prisoner himselfe was brought into the house, where in respect of the strangenesse of the accident, no man was stayed from the sight of speaking with him. And within a while after, the Counsell did examine him; Who seeming to put on a Romane resolution, did both to the Councell, and to every other person that spake with him that day, appeare so constant & settled upon his grounds, as we all thought we had found some newe Mutius Scaeuola [Roman general] borne in England. For not withstanding the horrour of the Fact, the guilte of his conscience, his suddain surprising, the terrour which should have beene stroken in him by coming into the presence of so grave a Counsell, and the restlesse and confused questions that every man all that day did vexe him with; yet was his countenance so farre from being dejected, as he often smiled in scornefull manner, not only avowing the Fact, but repenting only his failing in the execution thereof (hee said) the Divell and not God was the discoverer: Answering quickly to every mans objection, scoffing at any idle questions which were propounded unto him, and jesting with such as hee thought had no authoritie to examine him. All that day could the Counsell get nothing out of him touching his Complices, refusing to answere any such questions which hee thought might discover the Plot, and laying all the blame upon himselfe; Whereunto he said he was moved only for Religion and conscience sake, denying the King to be his lawfull Soveraigne, or the Anoynted of God in respect he was an Hereticke, and giving himselfe no other name than John Johnson, servant to Thomas Percy. But the next morning being carried to the Tower, he did not there remaine above two or three days, being twice or thrice in that space re-examined, and the Racke only offered and showed unto him when the maske of his Romaine fortitude did visibly begin to weare and slide off his face, And then did he begin to confesse part of the truth.

On 6th November James signed an order authorising the torture of Fawkes. At this time the two favoured methods of torture used in the Tower were the manacles and the rack. Both designed to be extremely painful, the manacles were ‘iron gloves into which the hands of the suspect were placed, and from which he was hung up against a wall.’ Initially the suspect’s feet would be propped on a pile of wooden billets for support, but these would eventually be removed ‘to leave him dangling, sometimes for several hours. The gauntlets could also be tightened to heighten the agony.’ The rack, a form of torture in which the suspect’s body was stretched, led to the dislocation of the suspect’s arms and legs and usually caused permanent physical damage. Fawkes almost certainly suffered the manacles, and in all probability the rack too. His signature below is testament to his broken body.

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