Book Review: “The Real Guy Fawkes” by Nick Holland

After having read Antonia Fraser’s great book on the Gunpowder Plot, I wanted to read a biography of Guy Fawkes. Unfortunately, I waded through several of those cheap and inaccurate (and, therefore, largely ultimately worthless) Kindle biographies of Guy Fawkes, and was left rather annoyed. Happily, I came across Nick Holland’s book on NetGalley, which I only recently had begun using. This book is exciting, informative, and really gives readers a good feel for who the real Guy Fawkes probably was.

The cover is superb – I loved it immediately, and I’m so pleased that Pen & Sword didn’t go for the “V for Vendetta” mask that I’ve seen several other books on the Gunpowder Plot use (this drives me absolutely bananas). Holland’s Acknowledgements  section was noteworthy in that he came across as very humble and nice – something one doesn’t always find in an excellent book such as this is.

There are many very interesting facts and educated conjecture based on primary sources which I found very welcome indeed. Sometimes one reads biographies in which the author has only used other historians’ works and clearly haven’t done any archival research themselves. Holland isn’t one of those, and it shows. The Notes section at the end of the book shows he certainly did his own research at places such as the National Archives.

Among a variety of things, I was very surprised to learn that “Guy Fawkes, the man who played such as central role in a Catholic terror plot, was born and raised into a Protestant family, but…this is just one of the things that many of the gunpowder plotters had in common”. The son of Edith and Edward Fawkes, the latter a public notary of the ecclesiastical court, Guy was educated at St. Peter’s School – which was attended by two brothers – Christopher and Jack Wright: his future co-conspirators in the gunpowder treason. Holland states that, according to Guy’s former schoolmaster John Pulleyn, Guy was “highly intelligent and well-read”.

Holland went on to state that “weddings between Catholics were often conducted in secret”, and that Fawkes may have once married, and that while the secretive nature of such marriages make it “impossible to prove that it did take place, the absence of an official record is certainly no indication that it didn’t.”

Some readers may dislike the style in which this history was written. For example, “The handle was turned carefully, with one hand resting upon the hilt of his sword, but once inside, much to Guy’s relief, it was apparent he was alone”. I know that some other historians dislike this kind of narrative writing, as we can’t know exactly this sort of thing. I, however, enjoyed it, especially as the whole biography is a good mix of analytical and narrative which works well.

Although the majority of the book focuses on Guy Fawkes, from his birth to his gruesome end, Holland does take time to describe the other plotters and ably details the timeline of the events, people, and places associated with the gunpowder plot.

I thoroughly recommend it.

TSCL rating: 5/5

 

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