Students of history will readily recall that Guy, or Guido, Fawkes, having been arrested in the undercroft of the Palace of Westminster on November 5, 1605, was subsequently charged with attempting to blow up the House of Lords during the state opening of Parliament. A former soldier in the service of Philip II of Spain, he was discovered next to 36 barrels of gunpowder while in possession of a pocket watch, matches and a quantity of tinder. He told officers that his name was Johnson and denied plotting to harm the king or subvert the Protestant religion. Sadly for him, he was disbelieved, tortured and executed, along with a number of others said to be his co-conspirators.
An open and shut case, you might think. But now, more than 500 years on, the transcript of an interview Fawkes gave to the official Madrid Mensual soon after his arrest has emerged suggesting he might have been just an innocent tourist.
The journalist who conducted the interview, Señor Iago de Compostela, a former CEO of the Armada Publishing Group, began by asking the accused how he came to be in the undercroft of Parliament on the night in question.
“I came down from York on t’Wednesday afternoon coach,” he said. “It got in t’Mermaid Inn the following Monday. “All I wanted to do before heading back was to take a look at Westminster Abbey, which I had been told were fabulous. The Lady Chapel, finished in 1503, with its exquisite fan-vaulting, is said to be one of the wonders of its time.
“Unfortunately, it started to rain just as I were half-way down Whitehall, so I decided to skip it until Tuesday and went for a skinful in t’Red Lion instead. But then, next day, after I’d concluded the main tour of t’abbey, I were looking for t’stairs down t’t crypt when I must have taken a wrong turning and ended up in this cellar, which I later discovered were right underneath House of Lords. Well, blow me up … I mean down. Pitch-black it were. I couldn’t see a thing.
“I had just lit a match so that I could find my way out when I heard this voice behind me informing me that I were under arrest for treason. Treason? You could have knocked me down with a feather, or in this case a halbard. I’m just hoping that when t’king finds out I’m just an ordinary bloke – you know, a civilian, not an enemy agent – he’ll say, no harm done, lad, carry on.”
De Compostella is reported to have consulted his list of questions, provided by the Spanish ambassador, before continuing his searching interrogation. “Is Fawkes your real name?” he asked.
“Oh aye. Guy Fawkes, that’s me. Yorkshire born and bred.”
“It says here you gave your name as Johnson.”
“I never. I think they just assumed that if I were up to no good, I must be called …”
“ … Johnson. Absolutamente. When in fact you were just a lad from the Sticks down to take a look at the Chapel of the Blessed Virgin. No harm in that, is there? What a waste of everybody’s time. So it must have been stressful for you being accused, out of the blue, of trying to kill the king.”
“Too bloody right. It’s fair turned my life upside down, no word of a lie. I used to be a foot shorter for a start, and I had fingernails.”
The manuscript breaks off here. The interview was apparently ended by the arrival of two burly men wearing masks and leather aprons. But we now know that as far as the Escorial is concerned, Philip II had nothing to do with the Gunpowder Plot and Fawkes was no more than a fall guy.
Amen to that.