Fawkes was born and educated in York. His father died when Fawkes was eight years old, after which his mother married a recusant Catholic. Fawkes converted to Catholicism and left for the continent, where he fought in the Eighty Years' War on the side of Catholic Spain against Protestant Dutch reformers in the Low Countries. He travelled to Spain to seek support for a Catholic rebellion in England without success. He later met Thomas Wintour, with whom he returned to England.
Fawkes became synonymous with the Gunpowder Plot, the failure of which has been commemorated in Britain since 5 November 1605. His effigy is traditionally burned on a bonfire, commonly accompanied by a fireworks display.