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No Popery Banner - Lewes Bonfire Night Celebrations
October 22, 2013 at 7:43 pm by v
History Of Lewes : Cliffe Bonfire Society`s No Popery Banner.
Stretched above Cliffe High Street in Lewes on November fifth will be twelve feet of painted canvas: the Cliffe Bonfire Society’s infamous No Popery banner. It’s spawned a bucketful of bad potpourri jokes over the years, as well as a good dollop of controversy.
No Popery, say objectors, isn’t a sentiment that should be peddled in today’s tolerant Britain. Relax (I paraphrase), say Cliffe Bonfire Society : the slogan isn’t a latter-day Protestant call to arms against Catholics. It’s a comment on the historical context of Bonfire – a reminder of more bigoted times, when the cry of No Popery was heard across the land.
Official No Popery started with Henry VIII, back in the sixteenth century. Desperate to divorce Catherine of Aragon, he asked Pope Clement VII to annul his marriage. Clement refused – so Henry broke with Rome, pronouncing himself Head of the Church. Not long after, a document was sent out, ‘suggesting’ that his subjects should celebrate their escape from Rome’s clutches with processions, bonfires, rejoicing…
That anti-Papal attitude hardened over the decades: cosily entwining itself with a centuries-old tradition of bonfire celebration. In Elizabeth I’s time, bonfires were lit every November 17th, the day Protestant Liz succeeded Catholic Mary. James I’s reign saw bonfire celebrations moved to November 5th, the day the Catholic Gunpowder Plot was foiled. And No Popery revelry got another boost on November 5th 1688, when William of Orange (protestant) launched the Glorious Revolution, and deposed James II (Catholic).
Generation upon generation grew up seeing Catholics as ‘the enemy’. So by the mid-nineteenth century, when the first Lewes Bonfire Societies were formed, No Popery was embedded as a patriotic cry: a statement of support for Queen, country and state religion.
But times, they were a-changing. Since the late 18th century, old restrictions on Catholics in Britain had begun being lifted. Catholics could own property, inherit land, join the army. After 1829 they could even sit in Parliament, As the decades passed, toleration slowly seeped in.
Then came World War One. Catholic France allied with Protestant Britain against Protestant Germany. In the horror of the trenches, Catholics fought alongside Protestants. Where was No Popery now?
The Lewes Bonfire Celebrations had stopped during the war. When they started again, the majority view was that in this new world, the day of the No Popery banner was over. Only Cliffe disagreed. The banner was a tradition of Lewes Bonfire, they said, and as such it had a place. A stand-off began…
Disagreements rumbled on through the decades, coming to a head in the 1950’s when the Lewes Bonfire Council issued an ultimatum to the Cliffe Bonfire Society. Stop carrying the No Popery banner, or be banned from marching in the United Grand Procession with the other Bonfire Societies.
Bovvered ( I paraphrase again ) said Cliffe Bonfire Society, promptly resigning from the Bonfire Council and mapping out their own, alternative march, complete with banner. Although they rejoined the Bonfire Council in the ’70’s, the separation remains. Cliffe Bonfire Society march, proud and alone, under their banner at the bottom of town. The banner-less societies march proudly together at the top. Lucky spectators get two processions for the price of one. #lewesbonfire #bonfirenight
Katie Masters : Viva Lewes
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