Recruitment: how Guy Fawkes did it

Ladies and gentlemen I invite you all to bask in my floundering attempt at drawing a legitimate comparison between the great tale of the gunpowder plot and that of recruitment. That's right, you read it correctly. In direct relation to their roles in the plot, we look at what positions the key conspirators would have held in a modern day organisation. 

Crucial information, I know. Aside from being curiously interesting though, maybe it will help you identify your company's very own Guy Fawkes equivalent. Is it you?

With bonfire night around the corner, an increasing number of fireworks on sale, and (apparently highly flammable) costumes hung in every supermarket, we thought it would be interesting to go back to the roots of this traditional tale. Behind all of the masks, outfits and explosions, there is actually a very intriguing story that led to this now annual celebration. 

To put together an infamous plan like the gunpowder plot requires a tenacity, determination and organisation similar to that of a modern-day blue chip company.

I'm sure most of us are familiar with the gunpowder plot - though the details we know are probably questionable. I'd say we are all guilty (myself included) of claiming we know the story, but then producing this gloriously vague description: "Guy Fawkes got caught. There was gunpowder involved. The end."


The Forgotten Story of Bonfire Night

Most of us nowadays see Bonfire night as a good excuse to make a fire so big that Frodo Baggins will appear from the bushes to throw a ring in it. Most of us see it as an excuse to drink heavily, eat cheap burgers and make noise into the early hours, keeping the neighbourhood's dogs barking for the same length of time. 

Dads and children alike suddenly turn into pyrotechnics connoisseurs, judging fireworks by their size and name - spending half a month's wage on 'The Apache Firedance Bazooka', cramming it into the boot of the Ford Fiesta, only for it to malfunction in the garden and blow the door off of their newly varnished shed. This is what bonfire night has become. Shenanigans so far-flung from the original story that we don't even care anymore. 

But hold your horses and musket fire for a second. There are some rather interesting facts I discovered about the original plot during the research for this article. Some myths I'd carried for years were busted and some unknown details about the conspiracy revealed. There was a lot of intricate, long-term planning that went into the gunpowder plot, along with a lot of conspirators too.

In 1604, Guy Fawkes met up with five other conspirators in the Duck and Drake Inn - which was famously located on The Strand in London - a great location for the Head Office of any new company.

To put together an infamous plan required a tenacity, determination and organisation similar to that of a modern-day blue chip company (disclaimer: I am not implying in any way that these companies should also be hung, drawn and quartered). Like the foiled masterplan, a good company should see that everybody's role is crucial in some way - matching up skillsets with job requirements.

These days we have psychometric testing and assessment days for that. But how, in 1604, was a group of thirteen men brought together to commit what would have been one of the most harrowing act of treason in history? I mean, what was the recruitment process for that? Well apparently there was one and, as any good startup company will tell you, the first thing they needed was a head office 


Head Office - Duck and Drake Inn, The Strand

On the 20th of May 1604, Guy Fawkes met up with five other conspirators in the Duck and Drake Inn - which was famously located on The Strand in London. A great location for the head office of any new company, The Strand is currently home to giants such as Starbucks and Pret a Manger. 

Over the course of their acquaintance, the men would regularly meet here to discuss (under an oath of secrecy) matters regarding the entire plot. Like any good company, the 'staff' grew quickly - to thirteen conspirators in total, all of whom had particular roles in devising the plan. Each of them were chosen for their specialist skills and overall value they would contribute to the group. 

Below are the top five key players, categorised by their equivalent modern-day roles that they played in the entire plot.

Robert Catesby - Managing Director

Contrary to popular belief, Guy Fawkes was a mere pawn in the plan to blow up Parliament. The ring leader or, in recruitment terms, the Managing Director, was in fact Mr. Robert Catesby.

Educated in Oxford (naturally) and often described as influential and charismatic, Catesby was responsible for the recruitment of the conspirators and the initial conception of the plan itself.

Like any good Company Director (or maybe Dictator is more fitting), Catesby was able to inspire and brainwash all of the other conspirators with ease - showing that employee motivation is an important factor to any company's success. Only he didn't succeed. 

After his entire plan went into liquidation, Catesby and a few of his loyal recruits fled to Holbeche House in Staffordshire. It was there that 200 armed men caught up with them, shooting down Catesby - who apparently died holding an image of the Virgin Mary.

Positive attributes for your company: he was a leader, he was ambitious, he inspired others and he went down with his company.

Not so positive attributes: he was attempting to commit high treason. If this appears on anybody's CV under their 'work experience', do not hire them.

Thomas Wintour - The Translator

Like a family business, Catesby turned to none other than his cousin as one of the first hires for the plot. Thomas Wintour was regarded as a very intelligent man who was well educated and even trained as a lawyer. In spite of all of this though, Thomas became a soldier and fought for England in France and throughout central Europe.

Perhaps the greatest asset he provided to the plot itself was his ability to speak several languages, many of which he was fluent in. This allowed him to converse with influential people overseas and potentially draft in more key members (as he did with Guy Fawkes).

Thomas was the first to be shot (in the shoulder) in the same Holbeche House that Catesby died. However, unlike Catesby, Thomas didn't die there - instead he was taken for questioning and, ultimately, tortured to death. But it was through his confessions that we are privileged to know the gunpowder plot story in so much detail. Out of all captured, it was Thomas who gave the most descriptive account of the plot from start to finish.

So while he may not have been using his language skills here, he most definitely helped to 'translate' this tale into the books of history.

Positive attributes for your company: could negotiate in several languages to broker international deals for you. Proficient lawyer should you encounter legal battles.

Not so positive attributes: he folded easily under questioning and torture, meaning he cannot be trusted. He was also looking to commit high treason. Again, not a selling point.

Thomas Percy - The Security Guard

Thomas Percy was a tall and physically imposing man. But this isn't the only reason I've given him the vocation of Security Guard. On the 9th of June 1604, Thomas was appointed as a Gentleman Pensioner. Nowadays a Gentleman Pensioner is known as the 'Honourable Corps of Gentlemen at Arms' - or, to you and me, the Royal Bodyguards.

This role gave Percy enough reason to establish a London base and, on the 25th of March in 1605, Percy was able to acquire a lease of the undercroft, which resided directly beneath the first floor of the House of Lords. It was here that Percy would appoint a caretaker called John Johnson. Not your conventional caretaker though, as he was one of the other conspirators involved in the plot.

Percy eventually met the same fate as his MD, being hit with a 'lucky' shot and killed by the same musket ball that killed Catesby.

Positive attributes for your company: an intimidating physical presence who would be sure to look after any of your company valuables. He would also prove to be a great bodyguard if your company has a flamboyant celebrity CEO like Tony Stark.

Not so positive attributes: could be deemed two-faced, considering he was under the Royal Service but plotted to kill them. Treason is also a sign of a bad hire.

Ambrose Rookwood - The Driver

Like any modern-day corporation, good distributors and logistics were essential. Ambrose Rookwood was enlisted as part of the plot primarily for his large stable of horses. These would act as their 'getaway' vehicles to escape to the Midlands and begin their uprising there. So think of Rookwood as the owner of a HGV company or a taxi firm. 

Positive attributes for your company: can provide a viable and cost-effective logistics solution.

Not so positive attributes: would be unable to carry large or heavy goods, due to using horses and not wagons.

Guy Fawkes - The Caretaker

A relatively small cog in the wheel of the gunpowder plot, Guy Fawkes is the most notorious member out of all the conspirators. Why? Mainly because of the manner in which he was discovered - beneath parliament with 36 barrels of gunpowder. Never has anyone been caught so red-handed (apart from one time I found my dog, Shadow, eating his way through a pack of bacon). 

Like Shadow, Guy was discovered with sheer horror by the guards and hauled from his precious 2,500kg of gunpowder. But how, beneath a building of such national magnitude and significance, was Guy able to smuggle such a vast amount of explosives?

Do you remember Thomas Percy, 'The Security Guard'? Of course you do, it was only a few paragraphs ago. To quote myself: "It was here that Percy would appoint a caretaker called John Johnson" - well that 'John Johnson' was Guy Fawkes. Plot twist or what?

With the status and trust that Percy had earned as one of the Royal Bodyguards, his renting of the undercroft beneath the House of Lords went completely under the radar of any 'suspicious activity'. He then hired Guy as a caretaker - whose only care was to take the gunpowder there and ignite the fuse. However, the would-be saboteur was discovered on November 5th 1605. Fawkes was described by an old school friend as "loyal to his friends and capable of intelligent argument as well as physical endurance." 

The physical endurance would come in handy, as Fawkes was tortured for two days prior to his hanging. What is little known about his death though is that Fawkes threw himself from the gallows before being noosed, breaking his neck and killing himself instantly. A merciful end that spared him the sight of his insides being torn out whilst he was still alive.

Positive attributes for your company: apparently an expert on war and a well dressed man, Fawkes would be ideal for shooting down your competitors in a professional manner.

Not so positive attributes: getting caught so easily reflects on Guy's ability to foresee unravelling events. Therefore his vision and ambition for the future may be shortsighted. Oh and, like the rest, he was trying to blow up the King of England. This is not a recognised certification.

Remember, Remember 

As it turns out, this article is slightly more of a history lesson than a 1700s recruitment masterclass. Nonetheless, I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing it. There are however some very good anecdotes a company can learn from this, the main one being 'fail to prepare, prepare to fail'. 

Although you could argue that the conspirators were rather meticulous in their plot, they failed to cover all aspects and eventualities, which ultimately (and thankfully) led to their demise. Like any new start-up business, failing to prepare for all potential hurdles that your company might face, could see you going out of business as quickly as you came in.

Have a great bonfire night and be careful around fires and fireworks!

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