Meet a lesser known Guy Fawkes

An homage to a forgotten bonfire night (anti)hero


Photography: Jonathan Cherry Styling: Gemma Cherry

Every dog has his day, and every dastardly plot has its poster boy. But we do think Guy Fawkes unfairly got all the glory where the - let’s not forget, murderous but poorly organised - Gunpowder Plot of 1605 is concerned.

For starters, it was Robert Catesby, rather than Fawkes himself, that orchestrated the plan. Fawkes may have been in charge of the explosives, but really he is Robin to Catesby’s Batman. It seems odd Fawkes should be the one to emerge with a national celebration named for him.

But most schoolchildren could name Catesby and Fawkes with little strain. What of the other Gunpowder Plotters*?

We at The Simple Things love an underdog, so here are a few words in celebration of Francis Tresham. Tresham was a key part of the plot and possibly was himself the undoing of the entire thing. So, if you think about it, he changed the course of British history (there might have been no English Civil War for starters).

Tresham had been imprisoned for his part in the failed rebellion against the Government in 1601. He got in on the Gunpowder Plot quite late - in October 1605. He was asked to provide a large sum of cash and use of property to the plotters, but refused, instead coughing up a rather more menial amount. Clearly he had concerns about the whole shebang from the off.

It is thought that Tresham was the author of ‘the Monteagle letter’, a note penned to Lord Monteagle (Tresham’s brother-in-law) which was passed to the Secretary of State, warning Monteagle not to attend parliament on the day of the plot, and thus tipping off the Government. It’s historically been accepted that Tresham wrote the letter, though he denied it to his co-conspirators, and never mentioned it, even at the moment of his death (of natural causes) in the Tower of London.

So, did Tresham single-handedly alter the course of history with his alleged anonymous note? Well, not entirely. Yes, it was the catalyst that blew the plot apart (pun intended) but in fact, by November 5th, the gunpowder the plotters had stored away had gone the way of all gunpowder and split into its component parts, rendering it completely harmless. Had Fawkes managed to get a light to it under Parliament, it’s safe to say it would have gone off not with a bang but a whimper. It had been stored too long to do any damage.

So on Guy Fawkes’ night, let’s hear it for slightly reticent, fearful tell-tales who may not have changed history but played their part. And didn’t get caught with their hand in the gunpowder and a guilty look on their face.

Happy Francis Tresham Night! And if you’re celebrating this weekend, in the November issue of The Simple Things we have Bonfire Night recipes that will garner oohs and aahs galore, from pumpkin scones, through popcorn, to pesto for your hotdog. Sure to create more of a spark than Guy Fawkes’s November 5th efforts did, at any rate.

*The other plotters, in case you are interested, or are attending a pub quiz tonight, were: John Wright, Thomas Wintour, Thomas Percy, Robert Keyes, Thomas Bates, Robert Wintour, Christopher Wright, John Grant, Ambrose Rookwood and Sir Everard Digby.

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