At one time, Pope-burning processions were popular in this country. (Unfortunately, some still take place on Guy Fawkes Night.) The Green Ribbon Club met in the King’s Head Tavern at Chancery Lane End, London. This was the secret headquarters of Shaftsbury’s subversive and venomous anti-Catholic party. The exact date of its founding is not certain but it was well established by 1678 and it was here that the Pope-Burning processions were organised by the club. The processions, which included mock Cardinals, Jesuits, etc, finished with the lighting of a huge bonfire in front of the club windows and, to inculcate in the masses the deeply anti-popish ideological teaching of the state, the burning of the Pope’s effigy. This proved a most effective tool for inflaming their religious hatred and fears.
John Arnold possessed a loathsome effigy of the Pope, and he referred to this as “his baby” or “his doll”. In 1678, he had invited Fr David Lewis to view it but the captive priest had declined the offer.
In November 1679, there was a Pope-Burning procession in Abergavenny, no doubt organised by John Arnold and his anti-Catholic cohorts. The Master of Ceremonies, armed with a firearm, was that repugnant little creature, Mayne Trott. Two robust sow gelders led the procession with a figure of the Pope, “richly adorned with relics, pictures, beads and bells and other superstitious emblems”. There is little doubt that this was the “doll” which Arnold had invited Fr Lewis to see. Since maximum frenzy was the objective, there were also signs and placards reminding the onlookers of the Gunpowder Plot and the murder of Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey. Pope-burning processions always began with a man ringing a bell and bellowing “Remember Justice Godfrey.”
Ironically, the festivities did not prove popular with the good people of Abergavenny. However, its unpopularity was not due to any charitable or conciliatory feelings towards their Catholic neighbours. No, it was unpopular because it interfered with the town’s annual fair!
(A painting of Abergavenny on the outside of buildings in Abergavenny Town Centre)