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St Peter's 13-18

Guy Fawkes

Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot 

Guy Fawkes is perhaps the most infamous member of a group of Catholics who plotted to assassinate King James I in November 1605.

The plotters planned to use gunpowder to blow up the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament on 5 November 1605. The plot was foiled by an anonymous letter and the conspirators were either killed or arrested and taken to the Tower of London. Guy Fawkes was sentenced to execution and died on 31 January 1606. 

Guy Fawkes and St Peter’s

Guy Fawkes was a pupil at St Peter’s, but precisely how we know is a little convoluted. Nothing survives from Guy Fawkes’s time at School, although our current buildings are on land once inherited by him.

St Peter’s in the late 16th Century was in a different part of York –“ye free schole in ye Horsefair” – located in a building at the corner of Gillygate and Lord Mayor’s Walk, roughly beneath where the coach park on Union Terrace is now. It was in the Horsefair that the school was re-founded by Royal Charter of Philip and Mary in 1557. York later became a centre of Royalist activity in the English Civil War and during the Siege of York in 1644 the school buildings were completely destroyed, and  new accommodation had to be found within the security of the walls. It is likely that either then, or on one of the frequent occasions thereafter when the school moved premises, records, including school registers, were destroyed or abandoned.

However we know that the Free School of St Peter’s was an important place of education. A letter from the then Archbishop of York to the Chief Judge of the Queen’s Exchequer Court (Diocesan Register) dated 1589, says that “two hundred scholars or thereabouts” attended the school, and that it was “the only good schole in this great Cytie”. The Head Master was John Pulleyn and although he must have been discreet in order to keep his job in the prevailing Protestant climate under Queen Elizabeth, he was almost certainly a secret Roman Catholic and may have made an impression on Guy.  The previous Head, John Fletcher, had actually been imprisoned for 20 years because of his adherence to the Catholic faith.

Guy Fawkes, copyright St Peter's School Foundation

Image artist Sue Kerr, image copyright St Peter's Foundation

Guy was an only child born in 1570 to parents Edward Fawkes and Edith Blake, probably in his grandmother’s house in Stonegate.   When his  father died in 1578  his mother, Edith, remarried and moved to Scotton, near Knaresborough. Her new husband was  Dionis Bainbridge, a Catholic who was connected to the strongly Catholic Pulleyn and Percy families.

At school Guy would have known Gunpowder plotter Christopher Wright. He and his plotter brother, John, lived at Patrington and presumably were boarders. Their mother was imprisoned for her beliefs and their aunt was possibly Margaret Clitherow, the canonised York martyr who at one time hid two priests, both Old Peterites, in her house.

Oswald Tessimond was also a Peterite. He became a Jesuit and is thought to have been the first priest to learn of the plot. Edward Oldcorne, another priest, was also said by the government to have been involved, and was tortured and executed like Guy himself in 1606. Earlier, Robert Middleton, Old Peterite, who was the same age as Guy, converted to Catholicism and become a priest – he didn’t live to take part in the events of 1605-6, but was executed in Lancaster in 1601 and martyred as a Jesuit in 1603. Certainly, the School on the Horsefair at this period educated a number of dissidents including Bishop Thomas Moreton, who remarked in his autobiography that he was a schoolfellow of the notorious Guy.

For an account of the plot Antonia Fraser’s book The Gunpowder Plot: Terror and Faith in 1605 is well researched and  very readable and other selected  titles are listed below. Fawkes died in January 1606 in The Old Palace Yard at Westminster.

Knowledge and tradition will always link St Peter’s and its universally known son. A former Head Boy was once asked for his views on Mr Fawkes and said, “We’re very fond of him here, but don’t exactly see him as a role model”. The school has a bonfire on November 5th but does not burn a Guy - another established tradition.

Other resources:

The Education Service at the Houses of Parliament has produced a range of resources for schools covering The Gunpowder Plot.

Selection of titles dealing with the Gunpowder Plot

BUCHANAN, B. J. (2005). Gunpowder plots. London, Allen Lane.

DURST, P. (1970). Intended treason: what really happened in the Gunpowder Plot. London, W.H. Allen.

EDWARDS, F. (2008). The enigma of Gunpowder Plot, 1605: the third solution. Dublin, Ireland, Four Courts Press.

FRASER, A. (1996). The gunpowder plot: terror & faith in 1605. London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

HAYNES, A. (1994). The gunpowder plot: faith in rebellion. Stroud [England], A. Sutton.

HOGGE, A. (2005). God's secret agents: Queen Elizabeth's forbidden priests and the hatching of the Gunpowder Plot. New York, HarperCollins.

LANGDON-DAVIES, J. (1964). The gunpowder plot; a collection of contemporary documents. London, J. Cape.

PARKINSON, C. N. (1977). Gunpowder, treason and plot. New York, St. Martin's Press.

POND, P. C. (1991). The Gunpowder plot. Great Britain, Parliament, House of Commons, Public Information Office.

SHARPE, J. A. (2005). Remember, remember the fifth of November: Guy Fawkes and the gunpowder plot. London, Profile.

For younger readers:

BRADMAN, TOM, & BRADMAN, TONY. (2011). Gunpowder Plot. Gardners Books.

CLEMENTS, G. (2001). The Gunpowder Plot. London, Watts.

FOX, D. (2002). The gunpowder plot. Oxford, Heinemann Library.

GOGERLY, L., & HARLEY, D. (2002). The Gunpowder Plot. London, Hodder Wayland.

MALAM, J., & MALAM, J. (2008). The gunpowder plot. Slough, Cherrytree.

NOTTRIDGE, R., & STACEY, M. (1991). The Gunpowder Plot. Wayland.

POWELL, J. (2009). The gunpowder plot. England, Wayland.

WINSTOCK, L. S. (1973). Gunpowder treason and plot. London, Wayland.