Who was Guy Fawkes, the man behind the mask?

A popular symbol of protest today, Guy Fawkes was first the face of treason because of his role in the murderous plot to blow up the British parliament in 1605.

Tensions were high in England in late October 1605, when an English nobleman, Lord Monteagle, received a mysterious letter. Along with the rest of England’s peers and the king, Monteagle intended to attend the opening of Parliament a few days later, on November 5.

The unsigned letter got straight to the point: “My lord, out of the love I bear to some of your friends, I have a care of your preservation, therefore I would advise you as you tender your life to devise some excuse to shift of your attendance at this parliament . . . for though there be no appearance of any stir, yet I say they shall receive a terrible blow.”

The mysterious sender then urged Monteagle to burn the letter after having read its contents. Monteagle—a Catholic—did no such thing. Saving himself from the gruesome punishment that would soon engulf certain of his co-religionists, he forwarded the missive to Robert Cecil, chief minister of King James I. Many English Protestants suspected that members of the Catholic minority were plotting to topple the monarchy and impose a Catholic regime with foreign funding and aid, and this message seemed to confirm their suspicions.

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