On the night of 4–5th November 1605, a man was arrested in the basement of the House of Lords and gave his name as John Johnson. The area he was in was searched and barrels of gunpowder were found hidden behind some firewood. Johnson was carrying a lantern at the time, which can now be seen in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.
Johnson was intending to ignite the gunpowder during the state opening of Parliament, causing an explosion that would have killed the king (James I) and many Members of Parliament. Johnson was tortured and put on ‘the rack’ at the Tower of London and revealed that his name was Guy (Guido) Fawkes, he was the demolition expert and was part of a gang of 13 men that after the explosion, would start a catholic uprising.
The authorities had an anonymous warning, the cellars were searched, Fawkes was discovered and the plot failed.
But how did the lantern end up at the museum? It was originally given to the University of Oxford by Robert Heywood in 1641 who had been a Proctor (an official responsible for ensuring the rules of the University are observed). His brother, Peter Heywood, had accompanied Sir Thomas Knyvett, Keeper of Whitehall Palace, in his fateful search of the cellars and is credited with taking the lantern from Guy Fawkes during the initial struggle and preventing him from detonating the gunpowder. The University of Oxford gave the lantern to the museum in 1887.
Guy Fawkes, along with the other conspirators were executed on 31st January 1606.
From 1606, 5th November is known as ‘Guy Fawkes Night/Bonfire Night’, in which its customary to burn a ‘guy’ on a fire.