Great ideas that originated in the pub – part 96

by Nick

I’m reading Tim Harris’s wonderful Restoration at the moment, and I just came across a lovely anecdote of some students in Edinburgh plotting to burn an effigy of the pope after a night down the pub.1

There happened to be hanging up in the pub a copper plate showing an engraving of the pope being burned in effigy in London – part of the Whig demonstrations against popery and arbitrary government during the Exclusion Crisis. A plan was hatched: Edinburgh too would have its pope-burning. The students had a whip-round amongst friends and raised enough to hire a carver to make an effigy with:

Cloathes, Tripple Crown, Keys and other necessary habilments.2

Edinburgh University tried to prevent it taking place by offering the students a bond:

We the students of the University of Edinburgh considering the Dangerous Consequences might attend the burning of the Pope on Christmas-Day, do bind ourselves not to do it upon that Day, or any Day hereafter.3

Unsurprisingly, not many students signed up.

News of the plan spread, and soon others in the town got wind of it. They were met by soldiers stationed round the town in an attempt to prevent it, but it went ahead, the procession noisily shouting “no Pope, no Pope”. It was eventually stopped when it got to the High Street, at which point the ringleaders decided to blow up their effigy with gunpowder. Beats Rag Week hands down…

My image is taken from the broadside The Solemn Mock Procession of the Pope, Cardinalls, Jesuits, Fryers &c. through the City of London, November the 17th, 1679. It shows three lines of a Whig procession ending with the burning of the pope in effigy outside Temple Bar.

© The Trustees of the British Museum

1. Tim Harris, Restoration: Charles II and his Kingdoms, 1660-1685 (Allen Lane: 2005), pp. 187-189.
2. L.L., The History of the late proceedings of the students of the colledge at Edenborough (1681), Wing / 461:05.
3. Anonymous, The Scots demonstration of their abhorrence of popery with all its adherents (1681), Wing / S2025.