On the fifth of November 1605, an attempt to kill the king of England and his government was uncovered. The conspirators were Catholics who were hugely disappointed with the new king, James I (James IV of Scotland). They had hoped that he would be more tolerant of the Catholic faith than his predecessor, Elizabeth, who had mercilessly persecuted them. When this never happened, they decided that the only way was to start a rebellion, first by killing the king and his protestant ministers, then installing his young daughter, a catholic, as queen.
One of the plotters was a mercenary named Guy (Guido) Fawkes. He was not the most important member, as the others were nobles. However he was the one that was caught red-handed putting barrels of gunpowder under the parliament building. The plot was discovered after a Catholic noble, loyal to king, received a letter warning him not to attend the opening of parliament.
For hundreds of years, although somewhat in decline today, it has been the tradition in England to commemorate this event by holding a party where an effigy of Guy Fawkes is burnt on a huge bonfire. In the past, children would collect money for fireworks by taking the ‘Guy’ to houses and asking, ‘a penny for the Guy’.
In the nineteenth century, ‘Guy’ came to signify a badly-dressed man, and later, any man. ‘Guy’ is now common in American English.
I’m quite happy that this tradition is being forgotten, because it reminds us how brutal and barbaric people were and still are. Guy Fawkes was tortured before being hanged, and would have been cut up to pieces before dying if he hadn’t jumped from the scaffold to quicken his death and end his suffering.
The gunpowder plot had the opposite effect to the one desired – Catholics were persecuted even more severely, and religiously equality had to wait a further two hundred years.
You can read more details at wikipedia