Bonfire Prayers

Remember, remember the Fifth of November The Gunpowder Treason

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Bonfire Anthem

Now is the time for marching Now let your hearts be gay Hark to

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Flames In Lewes Headlines - Lewes Bonfire Night Celebrations

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Flames In Lewes Fuel London Headlines In 1679 : The first attested glimpse of Bonfire Boys.

On 5th November 1679 a very graphic report was sent from Lewes to the Domestick Intelligence, a London newspaper. Throughout England hysteria was at fever pitch, stoked by rumours of a ‘popish plot’ to kill King Charles II, root out the Protestant faith and impose Catholicism. The plot, of course, was a complete fiction, elaborated by a Hastings-born charlatan called Titus Oates. But Lewesians lived in a highly politicised Puritan county-town returning two MPs and fully shared the frenzy.

The report begins: ‘this day (5th November) was Celebrated here with extraordinary Solemnity, there being a procession not unworthy taking notice of. In the first place went a company of young men armed with Swords and Muskets, Pikes etc, like a company of Soldiers; next several pictures were carried upon long poles; the first being a Jesuit represented with a bloody sword and a pistol, with the inscription ‘Our Religion is Murder, Rapine and Rebellion’: the third was the picture of two Devils bringing a Triple Crown to the Pope with these words ‘Hail Holy Father’.

Flames In Lewes Bonfire Boys

To every one of these were verses spoken as they passed by. So the perceived threat from Catholics was essentially political. They were feared as a threat to England’s security, a fifth column manipulated by Philip II of Spain or Louis XIV of France, in league with the Pope.

And, as the report makes clear, the threat had been indelibly embodied in the villain of the Gunpowder Plot. ‘Just before the Pope marched Guy Faux with his dark lantern, being booted and spurred after the Old Fashion and wearing a Vizard ( a mask ) with a wonderful long nose. Next comes the Pope with his Cross Keys, Crosier staff and other Fopperies, having his train borne up by several of his clergy. Next followed the Cardinals in their Caps with the rest of the Clergy, Secular and Regular, having wonderful long beards and a string of beads about their middle, which they told as they went along.

All this was familiar anti-papist rancour. But then came something new, a vivid reminder of a recently murdered London magistrate, killed so rumour had it, because he was tracking down the Catholic plotters. Last of all comes the Ghost of Sir Edmund Bury Godfrey, represented by a person in black clothes, and a shirt all bloody, and his face painted so white that he seemed rather dead than alive; before whom went a person carrying a Bloody Sword in his hand, who, sometimes looking back, would seem to be greatly affrighted at the sight of him.

And, finally, flanking the procession, were between twenty and thirty boys with Vizards, and two or three who had their faces painted after an Antick manner, one whereof carried Holy Water in a tin pot, sprinkling the people with a Bottle Brush. As well as this first-ever glimpse of ‘Bonfire Boys’, the report reveals how, elaborately staged the procession was. And, indeed, thereafter, till the 1760’s, references to Bonfire are few and uninformative. Predictably the report concludes: having carried his Holiness through the town and Streets adjacent… at night they committed him to the flames.

Colin Brent : Viva Lewes

Posted in: Articles, Lewes Bonfire History, Religion And Popery Tagged in: , , , , , , , , ,

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