A Righte Merrie Christmasse - The Story of Christ-Tide
by John Ashton
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Decorating with Evergreens—Its Origin and Antiquity—Mistletoe in Churches—The permissible Evergreens—The Holly—"Holly and Ivy"—"Here comes Holly"—"Ivy, chief of Trees"—"The Contest of the Ivy and the Holly"—Holly Folk-lore—Church Decorations—To be kept up till Candlemas day.

Christmas Eve is especially the time for decorating houses and churches with evergreens, a custom which seems to have come from heathen times; at least, no one seems to know when it commenced. Polydore Vergil[40] says:—"Trymming of the temples with hangynges, floures, boughes, and garlondes, was taken of the heathen people, whiche decked their idols and houses with such array." That it is an old custom in England to deck houses, churches, etc., at Christ-tide with evergreens is undoubted—the only question is, how old is it? Stow, in his Survey, says: "Against the Feast of Christmas, every man's house, as also their parish churches, were decked with holme, ivy, bayes, and whatsoever the season of the year afforded to be green. The Conduits and Standards in the streets were, likewise, garnished; among the which I read that, in the year 1444, by tempest of thunder and lightning, towards the morning of Candlemas day, at the Leadenhall in Cornhill, a standard of tree, being set up in the midst of the pavement, fast in the ground, nailed full of holme and ivie, for disport of Christmass to the people, was torne up and cast down by the malignant Spirit (as was thought), and the stones of the pavement all about were cast in the streets, and into divers houses, so that the people were sore aghast at the great tempests."

[Footnote 40: Langley's Abridg., p. 100.]

Stow, we see, makes no mention of mistletoe, nor do we find it in old churchwardens' accounts, because mistletoe was accounted a heathen plant, on account of its association with the Druids, and not only was therefore unsuitable to bedeck a place of Christian worship, but the old rite of kissing beneath it rendered it inadmissible. Still, in Queen Anne's time, it was recognised as a Christmas decoration, for Gay in his Trivia has sung—

When Rosemary and Bays, the poet's crown, Are bawl'd in frequent cries through all the town; Then judge the festival of Christmas near, Christmas, the joyous period of the year! Now with bright Holly all the temples strow With Laurel green, and sacred MISTLETOE.

The mistletoe is found in several counties in England, but the bulk of that which we have now at Christ-tide comes from Brittany. There is a popular belief that it grows on oaks, possibly on account of Druidical tradition to that effect, but, as a matter of fact, its connection with that tree in England is very rare, Dr. Ball, in a paper in the Journal of Botany, only mentioning seven authentic instances of its growth on the oak tree in this country. It principally makes its habitat on the apple, poplar, hawthorn, lime, maple, and mountain ash, and has been found on the cedar of Lebanon and the laurel.

The bay tree was believed to have the property of protection against fire or lightning. The ivy was considered to prevent intoxication, and for this reason Bacchus is represented as being crowned with ivy leaves. The holly was originally the Holy Tree, and tradition says that, unknown before, it sprang up in perfection and beauty beneath the footsteps of Christ when he first trod the earth, and that, though man has forgotten its attributes, the beasts all reverence it, and are never known to injure it.

The four following carols are all of the fifteenth century:


Holly and Ivy made a great party, Who should have the mastery In lands where they go.

Then spake Holly, "I am fierce and jolly, I will have the mastery In lands where we go."

Then spake Ivy, "I am loud and proud, And I will have the mastery In lands where we go."

Then spake Holly, and set him down on his knee, "I pray thee, gentle Ivy, say[41] me no villany In lands where we go."

[Footnote 41: Do.]


Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, now sing we. Here comes Holly, that is so gent,[42] To please all men is his intent, Alleluia.

But Lord and Lady of this Hall, Whosoever against Holly call. Alleluia.

Whosoever against Holly do cry, In a lepe[43] he shall hang full high. Alleluia.

Whosoever against Holly doth sing, He may weep and hands wring. Alleluia.

[Footnote 42: Pretty.]

[Footnote 43: A large basket.]


The most worthy she is in town, He that saith other, doth amiss; And worthy to bear the crown; Veni coronaberis.

Ivy is soft and meek of speech, Against all bale she is bliss; Well is he that may her reach, Veni coronaberis.

Ivy is green with colour bright, Of all trees best she is; And that I prove well now be right, Veni coronaberis.

Ivy beareth berries black. God grant us all His bliss; For there shall we nothing lack, Veni coronaberis.


Nay, Ivy, nay, it shall not be, I wis, Let Holly have the mastery as the manner is.

Holly standeth in the hall, fair to behold, Ivy stands without the door; she is full sore a cold. Nay, Ivy, nay, etc.

Holly and his merry men, they dancen and they sing; Ivy and her maidens, they weepen and they wring. Nay, Ivy, nay, etc.

Ivy hath a lybe, she caught it with the cold, So may they all have, that with Ivy hold. Nay, Ivy, nay, etc.

Holly hath berries, as red as any rose, The foresters, the hunters, keep them from the does. Nay, Ivy, nay, etc.

Ivy hath berries, as black as any sloe, There comes the owl and eats them as she go. Nay, Ivy, nay, etc.

Holly hath birds, a full fair flock, The nightingale, the poppinjay, the gentle laverock. Nay, Ivy, nay, etc.

Good Ivy, good Ivy, what birds hast thou? None but the owlet that cries How! How! Nay, Ivy, nay, etc.

It is just as well to be particular as to the quality of the holly used in Christmas decorations; for on that depends who will be the ruler of the house during the coming year—the wife or the husband. If the holly is smooth the wife will get the upper hand, but if it be prickly, then the husband will gain the supremacy. It is also unlucky to bring holly into the house before Christmas Eve. And, please, if you are doing at home any decorations for the church, be sure and make them on the ground floor, for it is specially unlucky to make anything intended for use in a church in an upper chamber.

The custom of church decoration may possibly have been suggested by a verse in the first lesson appointed to be read on Christmas eve—lx. Isaiah, 13. "The glory of Lebanon shall come unto thee, the fir tree, the pine tree, and the box together, to beautify the place of my sanctuary." Some years ago, at the commencement of the great Church revival, the Christmas decorations in churches were very elaborate, but they are now, as a rule, much quieter, and the only admissible evergreens are contained in the following distich—

Holly and Ivy, Box and Bay, Put in the Church on Christmas day.

These decorations, both in church and in private houses, ought to be kept up until the 1st of February, Candlemas eve, when they should be burnt—a proceeding which set fire to the hall of Christ Church, Oxford, in 1719. Herrick gives the following:—


Down with the Rosemary and Bayes, Down with the Mistleto; Instead of Holly, now upraise The greener Box (for show).

The Holly, hitherto did sway; Let Box now domineere; Untill the dancing Easter day, Or Easter's Eve appeare.

The youthfull Box, which now hath grace, Your houses to renew; Grown old, surrender must his place, Unto the crisped Yew.

When Yew is out, then Birch comes in, And many Flowers beside; Both of a fresh and fragrant kinne To honour Whitsuntide.

Green Rushes then, and sweetest Bents, With cooler Oken boughs; Come in for comely ornaments, To readorn the house Thus times do shift; each thing his turn do's hold; New things succeed, as former things grow old.

And with Candlemas day ends all festivity connected with Christ-tide.

End now the White-loafe, and the Pye, And let all sports with Christmas dye.


Legends of the Nativity—The Angels—The Birth—The Cradles—The Ox and Ass—Legends of Animals—The Carol of St. Stephen—Christmas Wolves—Dancing for a Twelve-months—Underground Bells—The Fiddler and the Devil.

It would indeed be singular if an event of such importance as the birth, as man, of the Son of God had not been specially marked out by signs and wonders, and that many legends concerning these should be rife. Naturally He was welcomed by the heavenly host; and Abraham a Sancta Clara, in one of his sermons, gives a vivid description of the wonders that happened on the Nativity. "At the time when God's Son was born, there came to pass a great many wonderful circumstances. First of all, a countless multitude of angels flew from heaven, and paid their homage to the Celestial Child in various loving hymns, instead of the usual lullabie, sung to babies. Next, the deep snow, which had covered the ground in the same neighbourhood, at once disappeared; and, in its place were to be seen trees covered with a thick foliage of leaves, whilst the earth was decorated with a rich and luxuriant crop of the most beautiful flowers."

This visitation of the angels is represented in nearly every old painting of the Nativity, some, like Botticelli, giving a whole band of angels, others contenting themselves with two or three, sufficient to indicate their presence. Fra Jacopone da Todi sings:

Little angels all around Danced and Carols flung; Making verselets sweet and true, Still of love they sung; Calling saints and sinners too, With love's tender tongue.

Lope de Vega makes Our Lady caution the angels as they come through the palm trees—

Holy angels, and blest, Through these palms as ye sweep, Hold their branches at rest, For my Babe is asleep.

And ye, Bethlehem palm-trees, As stormy winds rush In tempest and fury, Your angry noise hush;—

Move gently, move gently, Restrain your wild sweep; Hold your branches at rest, My Babe is asleep.

Mrs. Jameson[44] says that "one legend relates that Joseph went to seek a midwife, and met a woman coming down from the mountains, with whom he returned to the stable. But, when they entered, it was filled with light greater than the sun at noonday; and, as the light decreased, and they were able to open their eyes, they beheld Mary sitting there with her Infant at her bosom. And the Hebrew woman, being amazed, said: 'Can this be true?' and Mary answered, 'It is true; as there is no child like unto my son, so there is no woman like unto his mother.'"

[Footnote 44: Legends of the Madonna, p. 205.]

Le Bon,[45] speaking of the cradle of Jesus, says: "According to tradition, the stone cradle contained one of wood. That of stone still exists at Bethlehem, not in its primitive state, but decorated with white marble, and enriched with magnificent draperies. The wooden one was, in the seventh century, at the time of the Mahometan Invasion in the East, transported to Rome, then become the new Jerusalem, the Bethlehem of a new people. It there reposes in the superb basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, where it is guarded by the eternal city with more affection than the Ark of the Covenant, and with more respect than the cottage of Romulus. Centuries have not been able to enfeeble the veneration and the love with which this trophy of the love of God for his creatures has been surrounded. This cradle, this sacred monument, reposes in a shrine of crystal, mounted on a stand of silver enamelled with gold and precious stones, the splendid offering of Philip IV., King of Spain. This shrine is preserved in a brazen coffer, and is only exposed for veneration—on the grand altar, once a year, on Christmas Day."

[Footnote 45: Fleurs de Catholicisme, vol. iii. p. 236.]

The ox and ass are indispensable accessories to a picture of the Nativity, and it is said that their introduction rests on an old tradition mentioned by St. Jerome, and also on a text of prophecy: "The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib."[46] Tradition says that these animals recognised and worshipped their Divine Master.

[Footnote 46: Isaiah i. 3.]

In praesepe ponitur, Sub foeno asinorum, Cognoverunt Dominum, Christum, Regem coelorum.

Et a brutis noscitur, Matris velo tegitur.

So also it is believed in many places that at midnight on Christmas eve all cattle bowed their knees; and Brand gives an instance of this legend, and says "that a Cornish peasant told him in 1790 of his having, with some others, watched several oxen in their stalls on the Eve of old Christmas Day, and that at twelve o'clock, they observed the two oldest oxen fall upon their knees and (as he expressed it in the idiom of the country) make a cruel moan like Christian creatures."

There is another legend which relates how other animals took part in the announcement of the Saviour's coming on earth. Praetorius says:

Vacca puer natus clamabat nocte sub ipsa, Qua Christus pura virgine natus homo est; Sed, quia dicenti nunquam bene creditur uni, Addebat facti testis, asellus; ita. Dumque aiebat; ubi? clamoso guttere gallus; In Betlem, Betlem, vox geminabat ovis. Felices nimium pecudes, pecorumque magistri, Qui norunt Dominum concelebrare suum.

Hone describes a curious sheet of carols printed in London in 1701. "It is headed 'CHRISTUS NATUS EST; Christ is born,' with a wood-cut 10 inches high by 8-1/2 inches wide, representing the stable of Bethlehem; Christ in the crib, watched by the Virgin and Joseph; shepherds kneeling, angels attending; a man playing on the bagpipes; a woman with a basket of fruit on her head; a sheep bleating, and an ox lowing on the ground; a raven croaking, and a crow cawing, on the hay rack; a cock crowing above them; and angels singing in the sky. The animals have labels from their mouths bearing Latin inscriptions. Down the side of the wood-cut is the following account and explanation:—'A religious man inventing the concerts of both birds and beasts drawn in the picture of our Saviour's birth, doth thus express them: The cock croweth, Christus natus est—Christ is born. The raven asked Quando?—When? The crow replied, Hac nocte—this night. The ox crieth out, Ubi? Ubi?—Where? Where? The sheep bleateth out Bethlehem. A voice from heaven sounded, Gloria in Excelsis—Glory be on high!'"

Another pictorial representation of this legend is mentioned by the Rev. Dr. John Mason Neale in The Unseen World (p. 27). An example which, in modern times, would be considered ludicrous, of the manner in which our ancestors made external Nature bear witness to our Lord, occurs in what is called the Prior's Chamber in the small Augustinian house of Shulbrede, in the parish of Linchmere, in Sussex. On the wall is a fresco of the Nativity; and certain animals are made to give their testimony to that event in words which somewhat resemble, or may be supposed to resemble, their natural sounds. A cock, in the act of crowing, stands at the top, and a label, issuing from his mouth, bears the words, Christus natus est. A duck inquires, Quando? Quando? A raven hoarsely answers, In hac nocte. A cow asks, Ubi? Ubi? And a lamb bleats out Bethlehem.

This idea that beasts were endowed with human speech on Christmas night was very widespread, as the following legend well instances, it being common both to Switzerland and Suabia. One Christmas night, in order to test the truth of this legend, a peasant crept slyly upon that solemn and holy night into the stable, where his oxen were quietly chewing the hay set before them. An instant after the peasant had hidden himself, one of the oxen said to another "We are going to have a hard and heavy task to do this week." "How is that? the harvest is got in and we have drawn home all the winter fuel." "That is so," was the reply, "but we shall have to drag a coffin to the churchyard, for our poor master will most certainly die this week." The peasant shrieked, and fell back, senseless, was taken home, and the ox's prophecy was duly fulfilled.

It is also thought that the cocks crow all night at Christmas, and Bourne says, anent this belief, that it was about the time of cock crowing when our Saviour was born, and the heavenly host had then descended to sing the first Christmas carol to the poor shepherds in the fields of Bethlehem.

Shakespeare mentions this popular tradition in Hamlet, act i. sc. i.:—

Some say, that ever 'gainst that season comes Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated, The bird of dawning singeth all night long: And then, they say, no spirit dares stir abroad; The nights are wholesome; then no planets strike, No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm, So hallow'd and so gracious is the time.

But there is yet another legend of cock-crowing which is found in a carol for St. Stephen's Day, temp. Henry VI.:—

Saint Stephen was a clerk In King Herod his hall, And served him of bread and cloth, As ever King befall.

Stephen out of kitchen came With boar his head on hand, He saw a star was fair and bright Over Bethlem stand.

He cast adown the boar his head, And went into the hall. "I forsake thee, King Herod, And thy works all.

"I forsake thee, King Herod, And thy works all, There is a Child in Bethlem born, Is better than we all."

"What aileth thee, Stephen, What is thee befall? Lacketh thee either meat or drink, In King Herod his hall?"

"Lacketh me neither meat nor drink, In King Herod his hall; There is a Child in Bethlem born, Is better than we all."

"What aileth thee, Stephen, Art thou wode,[47] or ginnest to brede[48] Lacketh thee either gold or fee, Or any rich weed?"[49]

"Lacketh me neither gold nor fee, Nor none rich weed, There is a child in Bethlem born Shall help us at our need."

"That is all so sooth, Stephen, All so sooth, I wis, As this capon crow shall, That lyeth here in my dish."

That word was not so soon said, That word in that hall, The Capon crew, Christus natus est! Among the lords, all.

Riseth up my tormentors, By two, and all by one, And leadeth Stephen out of this town And stoneth him with stone.

Tooken they Stephen And stoned him in the way, And therefore is his even, On Christ his own day.

[Footnote 47: Mad.]

[Footnote 48: Beginnest to upbraid.]

[Footnote 49: Dress.]

There are several minor legends of animals and Christ-tide—for instance, at this time the bees are said to hum the Old Hundredth Psalm, but this is mild to what Olaus Magnus tells us Of the Fiercenesse of Men, who by Charms are turned into Wolves:—"In the Feast of Christ's Nativity, in the night, at a certain place, that they are resolved upon amongst themselves, there is gathered together such a huge multitude of Wolves changed from men, that dwell in divers places, which afterwards, the same night, doth so rage with wonderfull fiercenesse, both against mankind, and other creatures that are not fierce by nature, that the Inhabitants of that country suffer more hurt from them than ever they do from the true natural Wolves. For, as it is proved, they sit upon the houses of men that are in the Woods, with wonderfull fiercenesse, and labour to break down the doors, whereby they may destroy both men and other creatures that remain there.

"They go into the Beer-Cellars, and there they drink out some Tuns of Beer or Mede, and they heap al the empty vessels one upon another in the midst of the Cellar, and so leave them; wherin they differ from the natural and true Wolves. But the place, where, by chance they stayed that night, the Inhabitants of those Countries think to be prophetical; Because, if any ill successe befall a Man in that place; as if his Cart overturn, and he be thrown down in the Snow, they are fully persuaded that man must die that year, as they have, for many years, proved it by experience. Between Lituania, Samogetia and Curonia, there is a certain wall left, of a Castle that was thrown down; to this, at a set time, some thousands of them come together, that each of them may try his nimblenesse in leaping. He that cannot leap over this wall, as commonly the fat ones cannot, are beaten with whips by their Captains."

There is a story told of another Magnus, only in this case it was a Saint of that name. On Christmas eve, in the year 1012, a party of about thirty-three young men and women were merrily dancing in the churchyard of a certain church, dedicated to St. Magnus. A priest was at his devotions inside the church, and was so much disturbed by their merriment that he sent to them, asking them to desist for a while. But of this they took no heed, although the message was more than once repeated. Thereupon, waxing indignant, the holy man prayed his patron saint, St. Magnus, to visit the offenders with condign punishment. His prayer was heard, and the result was that the festive crew could not leave off dancing. For twelve whole months they continued dancing; night and day, winter and summer, through sunshine or storm, they had to prance. They knew no weariness, they needed no rest, nor did their clothes or boots wear out; but they wore away the surface of the earth so much that at the end of the twelvemonths they were in a hole up to their middles. The legend goes on to say, that on the expiration of their Terpsichorean punishment they slept continuously for three days and nights.

There are some curious legends of underground bells which sound only at Christmas. A writer in Notes and Queries (5 series, ii. 509) says—"Near Raleigh, Notts, there is a valley said to have been caused by an earthquake several hundred years ago, which swallowed up a whole village, together with the Church. Formerly, it was a custom of the people to assemble in this valley every Christmas Day morning to listen to the ringing of the bells of the Church beneath them. This, it was positively stated, might be heard by placing the ear to the ground, and hearkening attentively. As late as 1827 it was usual on this morning for old men and women to tell their children and young friends to go to the valley, stoop down, and hear the bells ring merrily. The villagers heard the ringing of the bells of a neighbouring church, the sound of which was communicated by the surface of the ground. A similar belief exists, or did, a short time ago, at Preston, Lancashire."

This legend is not peculiar to England, for there is the same told of a place in the Netherlands, named Been, near Zoutleeuw, now engulphed in the ocean. It was a lovely and a stately city, but foul with sin, when our Lord descended to earth upon a Christmas night to visit it. All the houses were flaming with lights, and filled with luxury and debauchery; and, as our Lord, in the guise of a beggar, passed from door to door, there was not found a single person who would afford Him the slightest relief. Then, in His wrath, He spoke one word, and the waves of the sea rushed over the wicked city, and it was never seen more; but the place where it was immersed is known by the sound of the church bells coming up through the waters on a Christmas night.

In spite of Shakespeare's dictum that "no spirit dares stir abroad," the rule would not seem to obtain in the Isle of Man—for there is a legend there, how a fiddler, having agreed with a stranger to play, during the twelve days of Christmas, to whatever company he should bring him, was astonished at seeing his new master vanish into the earth as soon as the bargain had been made. Terrified at the thought of having agreed to work for such a mysterious personage, he quickly resorted to the clergyman, who ordered him to fulfil his engagement, but to play nothing but psalms. Accordingly, as soon as Christ-tide arrived, the weird stranger made his appearance, and beckoned the fiddler to a spot where some company was assembled. On reaching his destination, he at once struck up a psalm tune, which so enraged his audience that they instantly vanished, but not without so violently bruising him that it was with difficulty that he reached home to tell his novel Christmas experience.


The Glastonbury Thorn, its Legend—Cuttings from it—Oaks coming into leaf on Christmas day—Folk-lore—Forecast, according to the days of the week on which Christmas falls—Other Folk-lore thereon.

Even the vegetable world contributed to the wonders of Christmas, for was there not the famous Glastonbury Thorn which blossomed on old Christmas day? Legend says that this was the walking staff of Joseph of Arimathaea, who, after Christ's death, came over to England and settled at Glastonbury, where, having planted his staff in the ground, it put forth leaves, and miraculously flowered on the festival of the Nativity; and it is a matter of popular belief, not always followed out by practice, that it does so to this day. The fact is that this thorn, the Crataegus praecox, will, in a mild and suitable season, blossom before Christmas. It is not a particularly rare plant. Aubrey thus speaks of it in his Natural History of Wiltshire.

"Mr. Anthony Hinton, one of the Officers of the Earle of Pembroke, did inoculate, not long before the late civill warres (ten yeares or more), a bud of Glastonbury Thorne, on a thorne, at his farm house, at Wilton, which blossoms at Christmas, as the other did. My mother has had branches of them for a flower-pott, several Christmasses, which I have seen. Elias Ashmole, Esq., in his notes upon Theatrum Chymicum, saies that in the churchyard of Glastonbury grew a walnutt tree that did putt out young leaves at Christmas, as doth the King's Oake in the New Forest. In Parham Park, in Suffolk (Mr. Boutele's), is a pretty ancient thorne, that blossomes like that at Glastonbury; the people flock hither to see it on Christmas Day. But in the rode that leades from Worcester to Droitwiche is a black thorne hedge at Clayes, half a mile long or more, that blossoms about Christmas day, for a week or more together. Dr. Ezerel Tong sayd that about Rumly-Marsh, in Kent, are thornes naturally like that near Glastonbury. The Soldiers did cutt downe that near Glastonbury; the stump remaines."

Several trees which are descended by cuttings from the Holy Thorn still exist in and about Glastonbury. One of them, of somewhat scanty and straggling growth, occupies the site of the original thorn, on the summit of Weary-all Hill. Another, a much finer tree, compact and healthy, stands on private premises, near the entrance of a house that faces the abbot's kitchen. These descendants of the Holy Thorn inherit the famous peculiarity of that tree.

The Gentleman's Magazine for 1753, has the following in its "Historical Chronicle" for January. "Quainton in Buckinghamshire, Dec. 24. Above 2000 people came here this night, with lanthorns and candles, to view a black thorn which grows in the neighbourhood, and which was remembered (this year only) to be a slip from the famous Glastonbury Thorn, that it always budded on the 24th, was full blown the next day, and went all off at night; but the people, finding no appearance of a bud, 'twas agreed by all that Decemb. 25, N.S., could not be the right Christmas Day,[50] and, accordingly, refused going to Church, and treating their friends on that day, as usual: at length the affair became so serious that the ministers of the neighbouring villages, in order to appease the people, thought it prudent to give notice that the old Christmas Day should be kept holy as before.

[Footnote 50: This was the first Christmas day, New Style: the change taking place Sept. 2, 1752, which became Sept. 14.]

"Glastonbury. A vast concourse of people attended the noted thorns on Christmas Eve, New Stile; but, to their great disappointment, there was no appearance of its blowing, which made them watch it narrowly the 5th of Jan., the Christmas-day, Old Stile, when it blow'd as usual."

A writer in Notes and Queries (3 series ix. 33) says, "A friend of mine met a girl on Old Christmas Day, in a village of North Somerset, who told him that she was going to see the Christmas Thorn in blossom. He accompanied her to an orchard, where he found a tree, propagated from the celebrated Glastonbury Thorn, and gathered from it several sprigs in blossom. Afterwards, the girl's mother informed him that it had, formerly, been the custom for the youth of both sexes to assemble under the tree at midnight, on Christmas Eve, in order to hear the bursting of the buds into flower; and, she added, 'As they com'd out, you could hear 'em haffer.'"[51]

[Footnote 51: Crackle.]

This celebration of Christ-tide was not confined to this thorn—some oaks put forth leaves on Christmas day. Aubrey says that an oak in the New Forest "putteth forth young leaves on Christmas-day, for about a week at that time of the yeare. Old Mr. Hastings, of Woodlands, was wont to send a basket full of them to King Charles I. I have seen of them several Christmasses brought to my father. But Mr. Perkins, who lives in the New Forest, sayes that there are two other oakes besides that, which breed green buddes after Christmas day (pollards also), but not constantly."

There is yet another bit of Folk-lore anent flowers and Christ-tide which may be found in The Connoisseur, No. 56, Feb. 20, 1755. "Our maid, Betty, tells me that, if I go backwards, without speaking a word, into the garden, upon Midsummer Eve, and gather a Rose, and keep it in a clean sheet of paper, without looking at it, 'till Christmas day, it will be as fresh as in June; and, if I then stick it in my bosom, he that is to be my husband will come and take it out."

It is perhaps as well to know what will happen to us if the Feast of the Nativity falls on a particular day in the week—as, according to the proverb, "forewarned is fore armed."

Nowe takethe heed, euery man, That englisshe vnderstonde can, If that Crystmasse day falle Vpon Sonday, wittethe weel alle, That wynter saysoun shal been esy, Save gret wyndes on lofft shal flye. The somer affter al-so bee drye, And right saysounable, I seye. Beestis and sheepe shal threue right weel, But other vytayle shal fayle, mooste deel.[52]

* * * * *

Be kynde shal, with-outen lees, Alle landes thanne shal haue pees. But offt-tymes, for synne that is doone, Grace is wyth-drawen from many oone And goode tyme alle thinges for to do; But who-so feelethe, is sone for-do. What chylde that day is borne, Gret and ryche he shal be of Corne.

If Cristmasse day on Monday bee, Gret wynter that yeer shal ghee see, And ful of wynde lowde and scille;[53] But the somer, truwly to telle, Shal bee sterne with wynde also, Ful of tempeste eeke ther-too; And vitayles shal soo multeplye, And gret moryne of bestes shal hye. They that bee borne, with-outen weene, Shoulle be strong men and kene.

If Crystmasse day on Tuysday be, Wymmen shal dye gret plentee. That wynter shal shewe gret merveylle Shippes shal bee in gret parayle; That yeer shal kynges and lordes bee sleyne, In lande, of werre gret woone,[54] certayne. A drye somer shal be that yeere; Alle that been borne that day in-feere, They been stronge and coveytous, But theyre ende shal be petous;[55] They shal dye with swerd or knyff. If thou stele ought, hit leesethe thy lyfe; But if thou falle seeke, certayne, Thou shalt tourne to lyf ageyne.

If that the Cristmasse day Falle vpon a Weddensday, That yeere shal be hardee and strong, And many huge wyndes amonge. The somer goode and mury shal be, And that yeere shal be plentee. Yonge folkes shal dye alsoo; Shippes in the see, tempest and woo. What chylde that day is borne is his Fortune to be doughty and wys, Discrete al-so and sleeghe of deede, To fynde feel[56] folkes mete and weede.[57]

If Cristmasse day on therusday bee, A wonder wynter yee shoule see, Of wyndes, and of weders wicke,[58] Tempestes eeke many and thicke. The somer shal bee strong and drye, Corne and beestes shal multeplye, Ther as the lande is goode of tilthe; But kynges and lordes shal dye by filthe What chylde that day eborne bee, He shal no dowte Right weel ethee,[59] Of deedes that been good and stable. Of speeche ful wyse and Raysonable. Who-so that day bee thefft aboute, He shall bee shent,[60] with-outen doute; But if seeknesse that day thee felle, Hit may not long with thee dwelle.

If Cristmasse day on fryday be, The frost of wynter harde shal be, The frost, snowe and the floode; But at the eende hit shal bee goode. The somer goode and feyre alsoo, Folke in eerthe shal haue gret woo. Wymmen with chylde, beestes and corne, Shal multeplye, and noon be lorne.[61] The children that been borne that day, Shoule longe lyve, and lechcherous ay.

If Cristmasse day on saturday falle, That wynter wee most dreeden alle. Hit shal bee ful of foule tempest, That hit shal slee bothe man and beest. Fruytes and corne shal fayle, gret woone, And eelde folk dye many oon. What woman that of chylde travayle, They shoule bee boothe in gret parayle. And children that been borne that day, With June half yeere shal dy, no nay.

[Footnote 52: There seems to be a hiatus here.]

[Footnote 53: Shrill.]

[Footnote 54: Abundance.]

[Footnote 55: Piteous.]

[Footnote 56: Many.]

[Footnote 57: Clothing.]

[Footnote 58: Wicked, foul.]

[Footnote 59: Thrive.]

[Footnote 60: Brought to confusion.]

[Footnote 61: Lost.]

The Shepherd's Kalendar says: "If the sun shines clear and bright on Christmas day, it promises a peaceful year, free from clamours and strife, and foretells much plenty to ensue; but if the wind blows stormy towards sunset, it betokens sickness in the spring and autumn quarters."

Another authority, Husband-man's Practice, warns us that "when Christmas day cometh while the moon waxeth, it shall be a very good year, and the nearer it cometh to the new moon, the better shall that year be. If it cometh when the moon decreaseth, it shall be a hard year, and the nearer the latter end thereof it cometh, the worse and harder shall the year be."

The same book says: "The wise and cunning masters in Astrology have found that men may see and mark the weather of the holy Christmas night, how the whole year after shall be in his working and doing, and they shall speak on this wise:

"When on the Christmas night and evening it is very fair and clear weather, and is without wind and rain, then it is a token that this year will be plenty of wine and fruite.

"But if the contrariwise, foul weather and windy, so shall it be very scant of wine and fruite.

"But if the wind arise at the rising of the sun, then it betokeneth great dearth among beasts and cattle this year.

"But if the wind arise at the going down of the same, then it signifieth death to come among kings and other great lords."


Withholding Light—"Wesley Bob"—Wassail Carol—Presents in Church—Morris Dancers—"First Foot"—Red-haired Men—Lamprey Pie—"Hodening"—Its Possible Origin—The "Mari Lhoyd."

There was a curious tradition in the north of England, which is practically done away with in these days of lucifer matches. In the old days of tinder boxes, if any one failed to get a light, it was of no use his going round to the neighbours to get one, for even his dearest friends would refuse him, it being considered most unlucky to allow any light to leave the house between Christmas eve and New Year's day, both inclusive. No reason has been found for this singular and somewhat churlish custom.

Another north country custom, especially at Leeds, was for the children to go from house to house carrying a "Wessel (or Wesley) bob," a kind of bower made of evergreens, inside which were placed a couple of dolls, representing the Virgin and Infant Christ. This was covered with a cloth until they came to a house door, when it was uncovered. At Huddersfield, a "wessel bob" was carried about, gorgeously ornamented with apples, oranges, and ribbons, and when they reached a house door they sung the following carol:

Here we come a wassailing Among the leaves so green, Here we come a wandering So fair to be seen.


For it is in Christmas time Strangers travel far and near, So God bless you, and send you a happy New Year.

We are not daily beggars, That beg from door to door, But we are neighbours' children, Whom you have seen before.

Call up the butler of this house, Put on his golden ring, Let him bring us a glass of beer, And the better we shall sing.

We have got a little purse Made of stretching leather skin, We want a little of your money To line it well within.

Bring us out a Table, And spread it with a cloth; Bring out a mouldy cheese, Also your Christmas loaf.

God bless the Master of the house, Likewise the Mistress too, And all the little children That round the table go.

Good master and mistress, While you're sitting by the fire, Pray think of us poor children Who are wand'ring in the mire.[62]

[Footnote 62: Those who went round thus were called "Vessel Cup women."]

At Aberford, near Leeds, two dolls were carried about in boxes in a similar manner, and they were called "wesley (wassail) boxes."

Whilst on the subject of Yorkshire Christmas customs, I may mention that a correspondent of the Gentleman's Magazine (1790, vol. 60, p. 719), says that at Ripon the singing boys came into the church with large baskets of red apples, with a sprig of rosemary stuck in each, which they present to all the congregation, and generally have a return made to them of 2d., 4d., or 6d., according to the quality of the lady or gentleman.

In the History of Yorkshire (1814, p. 296) it tells how, during the Christmas holidays, the Sword or Morisco Dance used to be practised at Richmond by young men dressed in shirts ornamented with ribbons folded into roses, having swords, or wood cut in the form of that weapon. They exhibited various feats of activity, attended by an old fiddler, by "Bessy," in the grotesque habit of an old woman, and by the fool, almost covered with skins, a hairy cap on his head, and the tail of a fox hanging from his head. These led the festive throng, and diverted the crowd with their droll antic buffoonery. The office of one of these characters was to go about rattling a box, and soliciting money from door to door to defray the expenses of a feast, and a dance in the evening.[63]

[Footnote 63: This dance is thus described in Notes and Queries (5th series, xii. 506). "Six youths, called sword dancers, dressed in white and decked with ribbons, accompanied by a fiddler, a boy in fantastic attire, the Bessy, and a doctor, practised a rude dance till New Year's day, when they ended with a feast. The Bessy interfered, whilst the dancers, surrounded him with swords, and he was killed."]

In Sheffield the custom of "first-foot" is kept up on Christmas day and New Year's day, but there is no distinction as to complexion or colour of hair of the male who first enters the house.

A correspondent in Notes and Queries (3rd series, i. 223), writes: "The object of desire is that the first person who enters a house on the morning of Christmas day or that of New Year's day, should have black or dark hair. Many make arrangements by special invitation that some man or boy of dark hair, and otherwise approved, should present himself at an early hour to wish the compliments of the season, and the door is not opened to let any one else in until the arrival of the favoured person. He is regaled with spice cake and cheese, and with ale or spirits, as the case may be. All the 'ill luck'—that is, the untoward circumstances of the year, would be ascribed to the accident of a person with light hair having been the first to enter a dwelling on the mornings referred to. I have known instances where such persons, innocently presenting themselves, have met with anything but a Christmas welcome. The great object of dread is a red-haired man or boy (women or girls of any coloured hair or complexion are not admissible as the first visitors at all), and all light shades are objectionable.

"I have not been able to trace the origin of the custom, nor do I remember having read any explanation of its meaning. I once heard an aged woman, who was a most stern observer of all customs of the neighbourhood, especially those which had an air of mystery or a superstition attached to them, attempt to connect the observance with the disciple who sold the Saviour. In her mind all the observances of Christmas were associated with the birth or death of Christ, and she made no distinction whatever between the events which attended the Nativity, and those which preceded and followed the Crucifixion. She told me that Judas had red hair, and it was in vain to argue with her that he had no connection whatever with the events which our Christmas solemnities and festivities were intended to commemorate. It satisfied her mind, and that was enough. After many inquiries, I was not able to obtain any answer more reasonable."

More than twenty-two years after the above, another correspondent writing on the subject to the same periodical (6th series, x. 482) says (speaking of Yorkshire): "The first person to enter the house on a Christmas morning must be a male, and the first thing brought in must be green. Some folks used to lay a bunch of holly on the doorstep on Christmas Eve, so as to be ready. Some say you must not admit a strange woman on Christmas day; but I have heard of one old gentleman near York who would never permit any woman to enter his house on a Christmas Day."

It was formerly the custom of the city of Gloucester to present a lamprey pie to the king at Christmas. This custom was kept up until early in this century, when it fell into desuetude. It was revived in 1893, not at Christmas, but in May, when a beautiful pie, with finely moulded paste, and enamelled silver skewers, which also served as spoons, was presented to Her Majesty.

There was, or is, a curious custom in Kent at Christ-tide called "Hodening," the best account of which that I have seen is in the Church Times of January 23, 1891: "Hodening was observed on Christmas Eve at Walmer in 1886, which was the last time I spent the festival there," writes one antiquary. Another writes: "When I was a lad, about forty-five years since, it was always the custom, on Christmas Eve, with the male farm servants from every farm in our parish of Hoath (Borough of Reculver), and neighbouring parishes of Herne and Chislet, to go round in the evening from house to house with the hoodining horse, which consisted of the imitation of a horse's head made of wood, life size, fixed on a stick about the length of a broom handle, the lower jaw of the head was made to open with hinges, a hole was made through the roof of the mouth, then another through the forehead, coming out by the throat; through this was passed a cord attached to the lower jaw, which, when pulled by the cord at the throat, caused it to close and open; on the lower jaw large-headed hobnails were driven in to form the teeth. The strongest of the lads was selected for the horse; he stooped, and made as long a back as he could, supporting himself by the stick carrying the head; then he was covered with a horsecloth, and one of his companions mounted his back. The horse had a bridle and reins. Then commenced the kicking, rearing, jumping, etc., and the banging together of the teeth. As soon as the doors were opened the 'horse' would pull his string incessantly, and the noise made can be better imagined than described. I confess that, in my very young days, I was horrified at the approach of the hoodining horse, but, as I grew older, I used to go round with them. I was at Hoath on Thursday last, and asked if the custom was still kept up. It appears it is now three or four years since it has taken place. I never heard of it in the Isle of Thanet. There was no singing going on with the hoodining horse, and the party was strictly confined to the young men who went with the horses on the farms. I have seen some of the wooden heads carved out quite hollow in the throat part, and two holes bored through the forehead to form the eyes. The lad who played the horse would hold a lighted candle in the hollow, and you can imagine how horrible it was to any one who opened the door to see such a thing close to his eyes. Carollers in those days were called hoodiners in the parishes I have named."

And the following communication is interesting and valuable: "Some such custom prevailed in the seventh century. In the Penitential of Archbishop Theodore (d. 690) penances are ordained for 'any who, on the Kalends of January, clothe themselves with the skins of cattle and carry heads of animals.' The practice is condemned as being daemoniacum (see Kemble's Saxons, vol. i., p. 525). The custom would, therefore, seem to be of pagan origin, and the date is practically synchronous with Christmas, when, according to the rites of Scandinavian mythology, one of the three great annual festivals commenced. At the sacrifices which formed part of these festivals, the horse was a frequent victim in the offerings to Odin for martial success, just as in the offerings to Frey for a fruitful year the hog was the chosen animal. I venture, therefore, to suggest that hodening (or probably Odening) is a relic of the Scandinavian mythology of our forefathers."

Brand says: "It has been satisfactorily shown that the Mari Lhoyd, or horse's skull decked with ribbons, which used to be carried about at Christmas in Wales, was not exclusively a Welsh custom, but was known and practised in the border counties. It was undoubtedly a form of the old English Hobby Horse, one universally prevalent as a popular sport, and conducted, as the readers of Strutt, Douce, and others are already well aware, with all kinds of grotesque and whimsical mummery."


Curious Gambling Customs in Church—Boon granted—Sheaf of Corn for the Birds—Crowning of the Cock—"The Lord Mayor of Pennyless Cove"—"Letting in Yule"—Guisards—Christmas in the Highlands—Christmas in Shetland—Christmas in Ireland.

In 1570 was published "The Popish Kingdome, or, Reigne of Antichrist, written in Latin Verse by Thomas Naogeorgus (Kirchmayer) and englished by Barnabe Googe," and in it we have some curious Christmas customs and folk-lore.

Then comes the day wherein the Lorde did bring his birth to passe; Whereas at midnight up they rise, and every man to Masse. This time so holy counted is, that divers earnestly Do thinke the waters all to wine are chaunged sodainly; In that same houre that Christ himselfe was borne, and came to light, And unto water streight againe transformde and altred quight. There are beside that mindfully the money still do watch, That first to aultar commes, which then they privily do snatch. The priestes, least other should it have, takes oft the same away, Whereby they thinke, throughout the yeare to have good lucke in play, And not to lose: then straight at game till day-light do they strive, To make some present proofe how well their hallowde pence wil thrive. Three Masses every priest doth sing upon that solemne day, With offrings unto every one, that so the more may play. This done, a woodden child in clowtes is on the aultar set, About the which both boyes and gyrles do daunce and trymly jet, And Carrols sing in prayse of Christ, and, for to helpe them heare, The organs aunswere every verse with sweete and solemne cheere. The priestes doe rore aloude; and round about the parentes stande, To see the sport, and with their voyce do helpe them and their hande.

Another old Christmas belief may be found in the Golden Legend, printed by Wynkyn de Worde, where it is said, "that what persone beynge in clene lyfe desyre on thys daye (Christmas) a boone of God: as ferre as it is ryghtfull and good for hym, our lorde at reuerence of thys blessid and hye feste of his natiuite wol graunt it to hym."

Most English Christmas customs, save the Christmas Tree, cards, and the stocking hung up to receive gifts, are old, but one of the prettiest modern ones that I know of was started by the Rev. J. Kenworthy, Rector of Ackworth, in Yorkshire, about forty years since, of hanging a sheaf of corn outside the church porch, on Christmas eve, for the special benefit of the birds. It seems a pity that it is not universally practised in rural parishes.

To be spoken of in the past tense also are, I fear, the Christ-tide customs of Wales—the Mari Lhoyd, or Lwyd, answering to the Kentish Hodening, and the Pulgen, or the Crowning of the Cock, which was a simple religious ceremony. About three o'clock on Christmas morning the Welsh in many parts used to assemble in church, and, after prayers and a sermon, continue there singing psalms and hymns with great devotion till it was daylight; and if, through age or infirmity, any were disabled from attending, they never failed having prayers at home and carols on our Saviour's nativity.

At Tenby it was customary at four o'clock on Christmas morning for the young men of the town to escort the rector with lighted torches from his residence to the church. Sometimes also, before or after Christmas day, the fishermen of Tenby dressed up one of their number, whom they called the "Lord Mayor of Pennyless Cove," with a covering of evergreens and a mask over his face; they would then carry him about, seated in a chair, with flags flying, and a couple of violins playing before him. Before every house the "Lord Mayor" would address the occupants, wishing them a merry Christmas and a happy New Year. If his good wishes were responded to with money his followers gave three cheers, the masquer would himself give thanks, and the crowd again cheered.

In Scotland, Christ-tide is not observed as much as in England, the Scotch reserving all their festive energy for the New Year. Yet, in some parts of Scotland, he who first opens the door on Yule day is esteemed more fortunate during the coming year than the remainder of the family, because he "lets in Yule." And Yule is treated as a real person, as some people set a table or chair, covered with a clean cloth, in the doorway, and set upon it bread and cheese for Yule. It is common also to have a table covered in the house from morning till night with bread and drink upon it, that every one who calls may take a portion, and it is considered particularly inauspicious if any one comes into a house and leaves it without doing so. However many be the callers during the day, all must partake of the good cheer.

In Chambers's Popular Rhymes (ed. 1870, p. 169), it is said that the doings of the guisards (masquers) form a conspicuous feature in the New Year proceedings throughout Scotland. The evenings on which these persons are understood to be privileged to appear are those of Christmas, Hogmanay, New Year's day, and Handsel Monday. Dressed in quaint and fantastic attire, they sing a selection of songs which have been practised by them some weeks before. There were important doings, however—one of a theatrical character. There is one rude and grotesque drama (called Galatian) which they are accustomed to perform on each of the four above-mentioned nights; and which, in various fragments or versions, exists in every part of Lowland Scotland. The performers, who are never less than three, but sometimes as many as six, having dressed themselves, proceed in a band from house to house, generally contenting themselves with the kitchen as an arena, whither, in mansions presided over by the spirit of good humour, the whole family will resort to witness the scene of mirth.

Grant, in his Popular Superstitions of the Highlands, says that as soon as the brightening glow of the eastern sky warns the anxious housemaid of the approach of Christmas day, she rises, full of anxiety at the prospect of her morning labours. The meal, which was steeped in the sowans bowie a fortnight ago to make the Prechdacdan sour, or sour scones, is the first object of her attention. The gridiron is put on the fire, and the sour scones are soon followed by hard cakes, soft cakes, buttered cakes, bannocks, and pannich perm. The baking being once over, the sowans pot succeeds the gridiron, full of new sowans, which are to be given to the family, agreeably to custom, this day in their beds. The sowans are boiled into the consistency of molasses, when the lagan-le-vrich, or yeast bread, to distinguish it from boiled sowans, is ready. It is then poured into as many bickers as there are individuals to partake of it, and presently served to the whole, both old and young. As soon as each despatches his bicker, he jumps out of bed—the elder branches to examine the ominous signs of the day, and the younger to enter into its amusements.

Flocking to the swing—a favourite amusement on this occasion, the youngest of the family gets the first "shouder," and the next oldest to him, in regular succession. In order to add more to the spirit of the exercise, it is a common practice with the person in the swing, and the person appointed to swing him, to enter into a very warm and humorous altercation. As the swung person approaches the swinger, he exclaims, "Ei mi tu chal"—"I'll eat your kail." To this the swinger replies, with a violent shove, "Cha ni u mu chal"—"You shan't eat my kail." These threats and repulses are sometimes carried to such a height as to break down or capsize the threatener, which generally puts an end to the quarrel.

As the day advances those minor amusements are terminated at the report of the gun, or the rattle of the ball-clubs—the gun inviting the marksmen to the Kiavamuchd, or prize-shooting, and the latter to Luchd-vouil, or the ball combatants—both the principal sports of the day. Tired at length of the active amusements of the field, they exchange them for the substantial entertainment of the table. Groaning under the "Sonsy Haggis" and many other savoury dainties, unseen for twelve months before, the relish communicated to the company by the appearance of the festive board is more easily conceived than described. The dinner once despatched, the flowing bowl succeeds, and the sparkling glass flies to and fro like a weaver's shuttle. The rest of the day is spent in dancing and games.

An old Shetlander, telling about Yule-time in Shetland[64] in his boyhood, says: "I daresay Yule—the dear Yule I remember so well—will ere long be known and spoken of only as a tradition; for, altogether, life in those islands is now very different from what it was some fifty or sixty years ago." Yule, it seems, was then kept on old Christmas day, and great were the preparations made for it. Everybody had to have a new suit of clothes for the season, and the day began with a breakfast at nine—a veritable feast of fat things; and "before we rise from the table, we have yet to partake of the crowning glory of a Yule breakfast, and without which we should not look upon it as a Yule breakfast at all. From the sideboard are now brought and set before our host a large china punch-bowl, kept expressly for the purpose; a salver, with very ancient, curiously-shaped large glasses—also kept sacred to the occasion—and a cake-basket heaped with rich, crisp shortbread. The bowl contains whipcol, the venerable and famous Yule breakfast beverage. I do not know the origin or etymology of the name whipcol. I do not think it is to be found in any of the dictionaries. I do not know if it was a Yule drink of our Viking ancestors in the days of paganism. I do not know if there was any truth in the tradition that it was the favourite drink of the dwellers in Valhalla, gods and heroes, when they kept their high Yule festival. But this I know, there never was, in the old house, a Yule breakfast without it. It had come down to us from time immemorial, and was indissolubly connected with Yule morning. That is all I am able to say about it, except that I am able to give the constituents of this luscious beverage, which is not to be confounded with egg-flip. The yelks of a dozen fresh eggs are whisked for about half an hour with about a pound of sifted loaf sugar; nearly half a pint of old rum is added, and then a pint of rich, sweet cream. A bumper of this, tossed off to many happy returns of Yule day, together with a large square of shortbread, always rounded up our Yule breakfast."

[Footnote 64: Chambers' Journal, Dec. 21, 1881.]

Football was the only game played at, and at this they continued till 3 P.M., when they sat down to a dinner which entirely eclipsed the breakfast. After tea, there was dancing to the music of a fiddler until eleven, when a substantial supper was partaken of, then several glasses of potent punch, before retiring to rest. For a whole week this feasting and football playing was kept up, and wonderful must have been the constitutions of the Shetlanders who could stand it.

In Catholic Ireland, as opposed to Presbyterian Scotland, we might expect a better observance of Christ-tide; and the best account I can find of Christmas customs in Ireland is to be met with in Notes and Queries (3rd series, viii. 495).

"Many of what are called 'the good old customs' are not now observed in the rural districts of Ireland; and I have heard ignorant old men attribute the falling off to the introduction of railways, the improvement of agricultural operations, and cattle shows! Amongst some of the customs that I remember in the south-east of Ireland were the following:

"A week or two before Christmas landed proprietors would have slaughtered fine fat bullocks, the greater portion of which would be distributed to the poor; and farmers holding from ten acres of land upwards, were sure to kill a good fat pig, fed up for the purpose, for the household; but the poorer neighbours were also certain of receiving some portions as presents. When the hay was made up in the farm yards, which was generally about the time that apples became ripe, quantities of the fruit would be put in the hayricks, and left there till Christmas. The apples thus received a fine flavour, no doubt from the aroma of the new-mown hay. In localities of rivers frequented by salmon, which came up with the floods of August and September, the inhabitants used to select the largest fish, pickle them in vinegar, whole ginger, and other spices, and retain them till Christmas, when they formed a most delicious dish at the breakfast table. Large trout were preserved in like manner for the same purpose. Eggs were collected in large quantities, and were preserved in corn chaff, after having been first rubbed over with butter. I have eaten eggs, so preserved, after three or four months and they tasted as fresh as if only a day old.

"In districts where the farmers were well-to-do, and in hamlets and villages, young men used to go about fantastically dressed, and with fifes and drums serenade and salute the inhabitants, for which they were generally rewarded with eggs, butter, and bacon. These they would afterwards dispose of for money, and then have a 'batter,' which, as Dr. Todd, of Trinity College, Dublin, truly says, is a 'drinking bout.' These bands of itinerant minstrels were called 'Mummers.' They are not now to be met with. It was usual for people to send presents to each other, which consisted chiefly of spirits (potheen, home-made whisky), beer, fine flour, geese, turkeys, and hares. A beverage called 'Mead,' which was extracted from honeycomb, was also a favourite liquor, and when mixed with a little alcoholic spirit, was an agreeable drink, but deceitful and seductive, as well as intoxicating. This used to pass in large quantities amongst neighbours. 'Christmas cakes' and puddings were extensively made and sent as presents. The latter were particularly fine, and made with fine flour, eggs, butter, fruit, and spices. I have never met anything in cities and large towns to equal them in their way, both as regards wholesomeness and flavour.

"Of course, the houses were all decorated with holly and ivy, winter natural flowers, and other emblems of joy. People hardly went to bed at all on Christmas eve, and the first who announced the crowing of the Cock, if a male, was rewarded with a cup of tea, in which was mixed a glass of spirits; if a female, the tea only; but, as a substitute for the whisky, she was saluted with half a dozen kisses, which was the greatest compliment that could be paid her. The Christmas block for the fire, or Yule log, was indispensable. The last place in which I saw it was the hall of Lord Ward's mansion, near Downpatrick, in Ireland; and although it was early in the forenoon, his lordship (then a young man) insisted on my tasting a glass of whisky, not to break the custom of the country, or the hall. He did the same himself."


Ordinance against out-door Revelry—Marriage of a Lord of Misrule—Mummers and Mumming—Country Mummers—Early Play—Two modern Plays.

These Christmas revelries were sometimes carried to excess, and needed curbing with the strong hand of the law, an early instance of which we find in Letter Book I. of the Corporation of the City of London, fol. 223, 6 Henry V., A.D. 1418.

"The Mair and Aldermen chargen on e kynges byhalf, and is Cite, at no manere persone, of what astate, degre, or condicoun at euere he be, duryng is holy tyme of Christemes be so hardy in eny wyse to walk by nyght in eny manere mommyng, pleyes, enterludes, or eny oer disgisynges with eny feynyd berdis,[65] peyntid visers, diffourmyd or colourid visages in eny wyse, up peyne of enprisonement of her bodyes and makyng fyne after e discrecioun of e Mair and Aldremen; ontake[66] at hit be leful to eche persone for to be honestly mery as he can, within his owne hous dwellyng. And more ouere ei charge on e Kynges byhalf, and e Cite, at eche honest persone, dwellyng in eny hye strete or lane of is Citee, hang out of her house eche night, duryng is solempne Feste, a lanterne with a candell er in, to brenne[67] as long as hit may endure, up[68] peyne to pay ivd, to e chaumbre at eche tyme at hit faillith."

[Footnote 65: False beards.]

[Footnote 66: Except that it shall be.]

[Footnote 67: Burn.]

[Footnote 68: Upon pain of paying.]

And to cite another case, much later in date, the Commissioners for Causes Ecclesiastical kept strict watch on some of the Christmas revellers of 1637. They had before them one Saunders, from Lincolnshire, for carrying revelry too far. Saunders and others, at Blatherwick, had appointed a Lord of Misrule over their festivities. This was perfectly lawful, and could not be gainsaid. But they had resolved that he should have a lady, or Christmas wife; and probably there would have been no harm in that, if they had not carried the matter too far. They, however, brought in as bride one Elizabeth Pitto, daughter of the hog-herd of the town. Saunders received her, disguised as a parson, wearing a shirt or smock for a surplice. He then married the Lord of Misrule to the hog-herd's daughter, reading the whole of the marriage service from the Book of Common Prayer. All the after ceremonies and customs then in use were observed, and the affair was carried to its utmost extent. The parties had time to repent at leisure in prison.

The old English disport of mumming at Christmas is of great antiquity—so great that its origin is lost. Fosbroke, in his Encyclopaedia of Antiquities (ed. 1843, ii. 668), says, under the heading "Mummers: These were amusements derived from the Saturnalia, and so called from the Danish mumme, or Dutch momme—disguise in a mask. Christmas was the grand scene of mumming, and some mummers were disguised as bears, others like unicorns, bringing presents. Those who could not procure masks rubbed their faces with soot, or painted them. In the Christmas mummings the chief aim was to surprise by the oddity of the masks, and singularity and splendour of the dresses. Everything was out of nature and propriety. They were often attended with an exhibition of gorgeous machinery.[69] It was an old custom also to have mummeries on Twelfth night. They were the common holiday amusements of young people of both sexes; but by 6 Edward III. the mummers, or masqueraders, were ordered to be whipped out of London."

[Footnote 69: Fosbroke here seems to have mixed up masquers and mummers.]

The original mumming was in dumb show, and was sometimes of considerable proportions, vide one in 1348, where there were "eighty tunics of buckram, forty-two visors, and a great variety of other whimsical dresses were provided for the disguising at court at the Feast of Christmas." A most magnificent mummery or disguising was exhibited by the citizens of London in 1377, for the amusement of Richard, Prince of Wales, in which no fewer than 130 persons were disguised; which, with that in 1401, I have already described. Philip Stubbes, the Puritan, says: "In 1440, one captain John Gladman, a man ever true and faithful to God and the King, and constantly sportive, made public disport with his neighbours at Christmas. He traversed the town on a horse as gaily caparisoned as himself, preceded by the twelve months, each dressed in character. After him crept the pale attenuated figure of Lent, clothed in herring skins, and mounted on a sorry horse, whose harness was covered with oyster shells. A train, fantastically garbed, followed. Some were clothed as bears, apes, and wolves; others were tricked out in armour; a number appeared as harridans, with blackened faces and tattered clothes, and all kept up a promiscuous fight. Last of all marched several carts, whereon a number of fellows, dressed as old fools, sat upon nests, and pretended to hatch young fools."

We still have our mummers in very many a country village; but the sport is now confined to the village boys, who, either masked or with painted faces, ribbons, and other finery (I have known them tricked out with paper streamers, obtained from a neighbouring paper mill), act a play(!), and, of course, ask for money at its conclusion. By some, it is considered that this play originated in the commemoration of the doughty deeds of the Crusaders.

The earliest of these plays that I can find is in a fifteenth century MS.—temp. Edward IV.—and the characters are the nine worthies:

Ector de Troye. Thow Achylles in bataly me slow, Of my worthynes men speken I now.

Alisander. And in romaunce often am I leyt, As conqueror gret thow I seyt.

Julius Caesar. Thow my cenatoures me slow in cōllory, Fele londes byfore by conquest wan I.

Josue. In holy Chyrche 3e mowen here and rede, Of my worthynes and of my dede.

Dauit. After y^{t} slayn was Golyas, By me the sawter than made was.

Judas Macabeus. Of my wurthynesse 3yf 3e wyll wete, Secke the byble, for ther it is wrete.

Arthour. The round tabyll I sette w^{t} Knyghtes strong, Zyt shall I come a3en, thow it be long.

Charles. With me dwellyd Rouland Olyvere, In all my conquest fer and nere.

Godefry de Boleyn. And I was Kyng of Jherusalem, The crowne of thorn I wan fro hem.

Of the comparatively modern play acted by the mummers space only enables me to give two examples, although I could give many more. The first is the simplest, and only requires three principal actors, and this is still played in Oxfordshire.[70]

[Footnote 70: Notes and Queries, 6th series xii. 489.]

A Knight enters with his sword drawn, and says:

Room, room, make room, brave gallants all, For me and my brave company! Where's the man that dares bid me stand? I'll cut him down with my bold hand!

St. George. Here's the man that dares bid you stand; He defies your courageous hand!

The Knight. Then mind your eye, to guard the blow, And shield your face, and heart also.

(St. George gets wounded in the combat, and falls.)

Doctor, Doctor, come here and see, St. George is wounded in the knee; Doctor, Doctor, play well your part. St. George is wounded in the heart!

(The Doctor enters.)

I am a Doctor, and a Doctor good, And with my hand I'll stop the blood.

The Knight. What can you cure, Doctor?

The Doctor. I can cure coughs, colds, fevers, gout, Both pains within and aches without; I will bleed him in the thumb.

St. George. O! will you so? then I'll get up and run!

Some more Mummers or Minstrels come in, and they sing the following stanza, accompanied by the Hurdy Gourdy:—

My father, he killed a fine fat hog, And that you may plainly see; My mother gave me the guts of the hog, To make a hurdy gourdy.

Then they repeat the song in full chorus, and dance.

The other example is far more elaborate, and was read by J.S. Udal, Esquire, in a paper on Christmas Mummers in Dorsetshire before the Folk-lore Society, 13th April 1880. He said: "I will now proceed to give the entire rendering of the first version as it was obtained for me, some few years ago, by an old Dorsetshire lady, who is now dead, and in this the dramatis personae are as follow:—



Here comes I, Father Christmas, welcome, or welcome not, I hope Old Father Christmas will never be forgot. Although it is Old Father Christmas, he has but a short time to stay I am come to show you pleasure, and pass the time away. I have been far, I have been near, And now, I am come to drink a pot of your Christmas beer; And, if it is your best, I hope, in heaven your soul will rest. If it is a pot of your small, We cannot show you no Christmas at all. Walk in, Room, again I say, And, pray, good people, clear the way. Walk in, Room.

Enter ROOM.

God bless you all, Ladies and Gentlemen, It's Christmas time, and I am come again. My name is Room, one sincere and true, A merry Christmas I wish to you. King of Egypt is for to display, A noble champion without delay. St. Patrick too, a charming Irish youth, He can fight, or dance, or love a girl with truth. A noble Doctor, I do declare, and his surprising tricks, bring up the rear. And let the Egyptian King straightway appear.


Here comes I, Anthony, the Egyptian King. With whose mighty acts, all round the globe doth ring; No other champion but me excels, Except St. George, my only son-in-law. Indeed, that wondrous Knight, whom I so dearly love, Whose mortal deeds the world dost well approve, The hero whom no dragon could affright, A whole troop of soldiers couldn't stand in sight. Walk in, St. George, his warlike ardour to display, And show Great Britain's enemies dismay. Walk in, St. George.


Here am I, St. George, an Englishman so stout, With those mighty warriors I long to have a bout; No one could ever picture me the many I have slain, I long to fight, it's my delight, the battle o'er again. Come then, you boasting champions, And here, that in war I doth take pleasure, I will fight you all, both great and small, And slay you at my leisure. Come, haste, away, make no delay, For I'll give you something you won't like, And, like a true-born Englishman, I will fight you on my stumps. And, now, the world I do defy, To injure me before I die. So, now, prepare for war, for that is my delight.

Enter ST. PATRICK, who shakes hands with ST. GEORGE.

My worthy friend, how dost thou fare, St. George? Answer, my worthy Knight.


I am glad to find thee here; In many a fight that I have been in, travelled far and near, To find my worthy friend St. Patrick, that man I love so dear. Four bold warriors have promised me To meet me here this night to fight. The challenge did I accept, but they could not me affright.


I will always stand by that man that did me first enlarge, I thank thee now, in gratitude, my worthy friend, St. Geaerge; Thou did'st first deliver me out of this wretched den, And now I have my liberty, I thank thee once again.


I'll give St. George a thrashing, I'll make him sick and sore, And, if I further am disposed, I'll thrash a dozen more.


Large words, my worthy friend, St. George is here, And likewise St. Patrick too; And he doth scorn such men as you. I am the man for thee, Therefore, prepare yourself to fight with me; Or, else, I'll slay thee instantly.


Come on, my boy! I'll die before I yield to thee, or twenty more.

(They fight, and ST. PATRICK kills CAPTAIN BLUSTER.)


Now one of St. George's foes is killed by me, Who fought the battle o'er, And, now, for the sake of good St. George, I'll freely fight a hundred more.


No, no, my worthy friend, St. George is here, I'll fight the other three; And, after that, with Christmas beer, So merry we will be.


No beer, or brandy, Sir, I want, my courage for to rise, I only want to meet St. George, or take him by surprise; But I am afraid he never will fight me, I wish I could that villain see.


Tremble, thou tyrant, for all thy sin that's past, Tremble to think that this night will be thy last. Thy conquering arms shall quickly by thee lay alone And send thee, passing, to eternal doom. St. George will make thy armour ring; St. George will soon despatch the Gracious King.


I'll die before I yield to thee, or twenty more.

(They fight, ST. GEORGE kills the GRACIOUS KING.)


He was no match for me, he quickly fell.


But I am thy match, and that my sword shall tell, Prepare thyself to die, and bid thy friends farewell. I long to fight such a brave man as thee, For it's a pleasure to fight so manfully (a line missing.) Rations so severe he never so long to receive. So cruel! for thy foes are always killed; Oh! what a sight of blood St. George has spilled! I'll fight St. George the hero here, Before I sleep this night. Come on, my boy, I'll die before I yield to thee, or twenty more. St. George, thou and I'll the battle try, If thou dost conquer I will die.

(They fight, ST. GEORGE kills the GENERAL.)


Where now is Colonel Spring? he doth so long delay, That hero of renown, I long to show him play.


Holloa! behold me, here am I! I'll have thee now prepare, And by this arm thou'lt surely die, I'll have thee this night, beware. So, see, what bloody works thou'st made, Thou art a butcher, sir, by trade. I'll kill, as thou did'st kill my brother, For one good turn deserves another.

(They fight, ST. GEORGE kills the COLONEL.)


Stay thy hand, St. George, and slay no more; for I feel for the wives and families of those men thou hast slain.


So am I sorry. I'll freely give any sum of money to a doctor to restore them again. I have heard talk of a mill to grind old men young, but I never heard of a doctor to bring dead men to life again.


There's an Irish doctor, a townsman of mine, who lived next door to St. Patrick, he can perform wonders. Shall I call him, St. George?


With all my heart. Please to walk in, Mr. Martin Dennis. It's an ill wind that blows no good work for the doctor. If you will set these men on


their pins, I'll give thee a hundred pound, and here is the money.


So I will, my worthy knight, and then I shall not want for whiskey for one twelvemonth to come. I am sure, the first man I saw beheaded, I put his head on the wrong way. I put his mouth where his poll ought to be, and he's exhibited in a wondering nature.


Very good answer, Doctor. Tell me the rest of your miracles, and raise those warriors.


I can cure love-sick maidens, jealous husbands, squalling wives, brandy-drinking dames, with one touch of my triple liquid, or one sly dose of my Jerusalem balsam, and that will make an old crippled dame dance the hornpipe, or an old woman of seventy years of age conceive and bear a twin. And now to convince you all of my exertions,—Rise, Captain Bluster, Gracious King, General Valentine, and Colonel Spring! Rise, and go to your father!

(On the application of the medicine they all rise and retire.)

Enter OLD BET.

Here comes dame Dorothy, A handsome young woman, good morning to ye. I am rather fat, but not very tall, I'll do my best endeavour to please you all. My husband, he is to work, and soon he will return, And something for our supper bring, And, perhaps, some wood to burn. Oh! here he comes!


Well! Jan.


Oh! Dorothy.


What have you been doing all this long day, Jan?


I have been a-hunting, Bet.


The devil! a-hunting is it? Is that the way to support a wife? Well, what have you catched to-day, Jan?


A fine jack hare, and I intend to have him a-fried for supper; and here is some wood to dress him.


Fried! no, Jan, I'll roast it nice.


I say, I'll have it fried.


Was there ever such a foolish dish!


No matter for that. I'll have it a-done; and if you don't do as I do bid, I'll hit you in the head.


You may do as you like for all I do care, I'll never fry a dry jack hare.


Oh! you won't, wooll'ee?

(He strikes her and she falls.)

Oh! what have I done! I have murdered my wife! The joy of my heart, and the pride of my life. And out to the gaol I quickly shall be sent. In a passion I did it, and no malice meant. Is there a doctor that can restore? Fifty pounds I'll give him, or twice fifty more.

(Some one speaks.)

Oh! yes, Uncle Jan, there is a doctor just below, and for God's sake let him just come in. Walk in, Doctor.



Are you a doctor?


Yes, I am a doctor—a doctor of good fame. I have travelled through Europe, Asia, Africa, and America, and by long practice and experience I have learned the best of cures for most disorders instant (incident?) to the human body; find nothing difficult in restoring a limb, or mortification, or an arm being cut off by a sword, or a head being struck off by a cannon-ball, if application have not been delayed till it is too late.


You are the very man, I plainly see, That can restore my poor old wife to me. Pray tell me thy lowest fee.


A hundred guineas, I'll have to restore thy wife, 'Tis no wonder that you could not bring the dead to life.


That's a large sum of money for a dead wife!


Small sum of money to save a man from the gallows. Pray what big stick is that you have in your hand?


That is my hunting pole.


Put aside your hunting pole, and get some assistance to help up your wife.

(OLD BET is raised up to life again.)

Fal, dal, lal! fal, dal, lal! my wife's alive!

Enter SERVANT MAN who sings.

Well met, my brother dear! All on the highway Sall and I were walking along, So I pray, come tell to me What calling you might be. I'll have you for some serving man.


I'll give thee many thanks, And I'll quit thee as soon as I can; Vain did I know Where thee could do so or no, For to the pleasure of a servant man.


Some servants of pleasure Will pass time out of measure, With our hares and hounds They will make the hills and valleys sound That's a pleasure for some servant man.


My pleasure is more than for to see my oxen grow fat, And see them prove well in their kind, A good rick of hay, and a good stack of corn to fill up my barn, That's a pleasure of a good honest husband man.


Next to church they will go with their livery fine and gay, With their cocked-up hat, and gold lace all round, And their shirt so white as milk, And stitched so fine as silk, That's a habit for a servant man.


Don't tell I about thee silks and garments that's not fit to travel the bushes. Let I have on my old leather coat, And in my purse a groat, And there, that's a habit for a good old husband man.


Some servant men doth eat The very best of meat, A cock, goose, capon, and swan; After lords and ladies dine, We'll drink strong beer, ale, and wine; That's a diet for some servant man.


Don't tell I of the cock, goose, or capon, nor swan; let I have a good rusty piece of bacon, pickled pork, in the house, and a hard crust of bread and cheese once now and then; that's a diet for a good old honest husband man.

So we needs must confess That your calling is the best, And we will give you the uppermost hand; So no more we won't delay, But we will pray both night and day, God bless the honest husband man. Amen.

[Exeunt OMNES.]


A Christmas jest—Ben Jonson's Masque of Christmas—Milton's Masque of Comus—Queen Elizabeth and the Masters of Defence.

This is rather sorry stuff; but then in purely rural places, untouched by that great civiliser, the railroad, a little wit goes a great way, as we may see by the following story told in Pasquil's "Jests," 1604. "There was some time an old knight, who, being disposed to make himself merry on a Christmas time, sent for many of his tenants and poore neighbours, with their wives to dinner; when, having made meat to be set on the table, he would suffer no man to drinke till he that was master over his wife should sing a carrol; great niceness there was who should be the musician. Yet with much adoe, looking one upon another, after a dry hemme or two, a dreaming companion drew out as much as he durst towards an ill-fashioned ditty. When, having made an end, to the great comfort of the beholders, at last it came to the women's table, when, likewise, commandment was given that there should no drinkes be touched till she that was master over her husband had sung a Christmas carroll, whereupon they fell all to such a singing that there never was heard such a catterwauling piece of musicke. Whereat the knight laughed so heartily that it did him halfe as much good as a corner of his Christmas pie."

Of Masques I have already written, in describing Royal Christ-tides, but there is one, a notice of which must not be omitted, Ben Jonson's Masque of Christmas, as it was presented at Court 1616. The dramatis personae are:—

CHRISTMAS, attired in round hose, long stockings, a closed doublet, a high-crowned hat, with a brooch, a long thin beard, a truncheon, little ruffs, white shoes, his scarfs and garters tied cross, and his drum beaten before him.

HIS SONS AND DAUGHTERS (ten in number) led in, in a string, by CUPID, who is attired in a flat cap, and a prentice's coat, with wings at his shoulders.

MISRULE, in a velvet cap, with a sprig, a short cloak, great yellow ruff, his torch-bearer bearing a rope, a cheese, and a basket.

CAROL, a long tawney coat, with a red cap, and a flute at his girdle, his torch-bearer carrying a song-book open.

MINCED PIE, like a fine cook's wife, drest neat; her man carrying a pie, dish, and spoons.

GAMBOL, like a tumbler, with a hoop and bells; his torch-bearer arm'd with a colt staff and a binding staff.

POST AND PAIR, with a pair-royal of aces in his hat; his garment all done over with pairs and purs; his squire carrying a box, cards, and counters.

NEW YEAR'S GIFT, in a blue coat, serving man like, with an orange, and a sprig of rosemary gilt, on his head, his hat full of brooches, with a collar of gingerbread; his torch-bearer carrying a march pane with a bottle of wine on either arm.

MUMMING, in a masquing pied suit, with a vizard; his torch-bearer carrying the box, and ringing it.

WASSEL, like a neat sempster and songster; her page bearing a brown bowl, drest with ribands, and rosemary, before her.

OFFERING, in a short gown, with a porter's staff in his hand, a wyth borne before him, and a bason, by his torch-bearer.

BABY CAKE (Twelfth cake), dressed like a boy, in a fine long coat, biggin bib, muckender, and a little dagger; his usher bearing a great cake, with a bean and a pease.

After some dialogue, Christmas introduces his family in the following song:—

Now, their intent, is above to present, With all the appurtenances, A right Christmas, as, of old, it was, To be gathered out of the dances.

Which they do bring, and afore the king, The queen, and prince, as it were now Drawn here by love; who over and above, Doth draw himself in the geer too.

[Here the drum and fife sounds, and they march about once. In the second coming up, Christmas proceeds to his Song.]

Hum drum, sauce for a coney; No more of your martial music; Even for the sake o' the next new stake, For there I do mean to use it.

And now to ye, who in place are to see With roll and farthingale hooped; I pray you know, though he want his bow, By the wings, that this is CUPID.

He might go back, for to cry What you lack? But that were not so witty: His cap and coat are enough to note, That he is the Love o' the City.

And he leads on, though he now be gone, For that was only his rule: But now comes in, Tom of Bosom's-Inn, And he presenteth MIS-RULE.

Which you may know, by the very show, Albeit you never ask it: For there you may see, what his ensigns be, The rope, the cheese, and the basket.

This CAROL plays, and has been in his days A chirping boy, and a kill-pot. Kit cobler it is, I'm a father of his, And he dwells in the lane called Fill-pot.

But, who is this? O, my daughter Cis, MINCED PIE; with her do not dally On pain o' your life; she's an honest cook's wife, And comes out of Scalding-alley.

Next in the trace, comes GAMBOL in place; And to make my tale the shorter, My son Hercules, tane out of Distaff lane, But an active man and a porter.

Now, POST AND PAIR, old Christmas's heir, Doth make and a gingling sally; And wot you who, 'tis one of my two Sons, card makers in Pur-alley.

Next, in a trice, with his box and his dice, Mac' pipin my son, but younger, Brings MUMMING in; and the knave will win For he is a costermonger.

But NEW YEAR'S GIFT, of himself makes shift To tell you what his name is; With orange on head, and his gingerbread, Clem Waspe of Honey lane 'tis.

This, I you tell, is our jolly WASSEL, And for Twelfth night more meet too; She works by the ell, and her name is Nell, And she dwells in Threadneedle street too.

Then OFFERING, he, with his dish and his tree, That in every great house keepeth, Is by my son, young Little-worth, done, And in Penny-rich street he sleepeth.

Last BABY CAKE, that an end doth make Of Christmas merry, merry vein-a, Is child Rowlan, and a straight young man, Though he comes out of Crooked lane-a.

There should have been, and a dozen, I ween, But I could find but one more Child of Christmas, and a LOG it was, When I had them all gone o'er.

I prayed him, in a tune so trim, That he would make one to prance it: And I myself would have been the twelfth, O! but LOG was too heavy to dance it.

Nor must we forget a Masque by Milton, "Comus, a Masque, at Ludlow Castle, 1634," in which appeared the Lord Brockley, Mr. Thomas Egerton, his brother, and the Lady Alice Egerton.

But all Christmas sports were not so gentle as was the Masque, as the following account of the Virgin Queen's amusements shows us. Amongst the original letters preserved by the descendants of Sir John Kytson, of Hengrave Hall, is one addressed by Christopher Playter to Mr. Kytson, in 1572, which contains the following: "At Chris-time here were certayne ma^{rs} of defence, that did challenge all comers at all weapons, as long sworde, staff, sword and buckler, rapier with the dagger: and here was many broken heads, and one of the ma^{rs} of defence dyed upon the hurt which he received on his head. The challenge was before the quenes Ma^{tie}, who seemes to have pleasure therein; for when some of them would have sollen a broken pate, her Majesty bade him not to be ashamed to put off his cap, and the blood was spied to run about his face. There was also at the corte new plays, w^{h} lasted almost all night. The name of the play was huff, suff, and ruff, with other masks both of ladies and gents."


The Lord of Misrule—The "Emperor" and "King" at Oxford—Dignity of the Office—Its abolition in the City of London—The functions of a Lord of Misrule—Christmas at the Temple—A grand Christmas there.

We have seen in the account of historic Christ-tides how a Lord of Misrule was nominated to amuse Edward VI., and with what honour he was received at the Mansion house. The popular idea of the Lord of Misrule is that he was a buffoon; but this is far from being the case. Warton says that, in an original draught of the Statutes of Trinity College, Cambridge, founded in 1546, one of the chapters is entitled "De Praefecto Ludorum, qui IMPERATOR dicitur." And it was ordered, as defining the office of "Emperor," that one of the Masters of Arts should be placed over the juniors every Christmas for the regulation of their games and diversions at that season. His sovereignty was to last during the twelve days of Christmas, and also on Candlemas day, and his fee was forty shillings. Warton also found a disbursement in an audit book of Trinity Coll. Oxon. for 1559. "Pro prandio Principis Natalicii."

Anthony a Wood, in his Athenae, speaking of the "Christmas Prince of St. John's College, whom the Juniors have annually, for the most part, elected from the first foundation of that College," says: "The custom was not only observed in that College, but in several other Houses, particularly in Merton College, where, from the first foundation, the fellows annually elected, about St. Edmund's Day, in November, a Christmas Lord, or Lord of Misrule, styled in the Registers Rex Fabarum, and Rex Regni Fabarum: which custom continued till the Reformation of Religion, and then that producing Puritanism, and Puritanism Presbytery, the possession of it looked upon such laudable and ingenious customs as popish, diabolical, and anti-Christian."

The office was one of dignity, as we may see by Henry Machyn's diary, 1551-52: "The iiij day of Januarii was made a grett skaffold in chepe, hard by the crosse, agaynst the kynges lord of myssrule cummyng from Grenwyche and (he) landyd at Toure warff, and with hym yonge knyghts and gentyllmen a gret nombur on hosse bake sum in gownes and cotes and chaynes abowt ther nekes, and on the Toure hyll ther they went in order, furst a standard of yelow and grene sylke with Saint George, and then gounes and skuybes (squibs) and trompets and bagespypes, and drousselars and flutes, and then a gret company all in yelow and gren, and docturs declaryng my lord grett, and then the mores danse, dansyng with a tabret," etc.

But so popular were these Lords of Misrule that every nobleman and person of position had one. Henry Percy, fifth Earl of Northumberland, had one certainly in 1512, whose fee was 30s. Nor did Sir Thomas More, when attached to the household of Cardinal Morton, object to "stepp in among the players." That they were usual adjuncts to great houses is evidenced by an extract from Churchyard's Lamentacion of Freyndshypp, a ballad printed about 1565:—

Men are so used these dayes wyth wordes, They take them but for jestes and boordes, That Christmas Lordes were wont to speke.

Stow tells us that, by an Act of Common Council, 12, Philip and Mary, for retrenching expenses, among other things it was ordered that the Lord Mayor or Sheriffs shall not keep any Lord of Misrule in any of their houses. But it still seems to have been customary for Sheriffs, at least, to have them, for Richard Evelyn, Esq. (father of the diarist), who kept his Shrievalty of Surrey and Sussex in 1634, in a most splendid manner, did not forego his Lord of Misrule, as the following shows:—

"Articles made and appoynted by the Right Wo^{ll} Richard Evelyn Esq., High Sheriffe and Deputie Leavetenaunt to the Kinge's Ma^{tie} for the Counties of Surrey and Sussex.

"IMPRIMIS. I give free leave to Owen Flood my Trumpeter, gent. to be Lo^{d} of Misrule of all good Orders during the twelve dayes. And also I give free leave to the said Owen Flood to comand all and every person whatsoev^{r}, as well servants as others, to be at his comand whensoev^{r} he shall sound his Trumpett or Musick, and to do him good service as though I were present my selfe at their perills.

"His Lo^{pp} commaunds every person or persons whatsoev^{r} to appeare at the Hall at seaven of the Clocke in the morninge, to be at prayers, and afterwards to be at his Lo^{pps} commaunds, upon paine of punishment, accordinge as his Lo^{pp} shall thinke fitt.

"If any person shall sware any oath w^{th}in the precinct of the ... shall suffer punishment at his Lo^{pps} pleasure.

"If any man shall come into the Hall, and sett at dinner or supper more than once, he shall endure punishment at his Lo^{pps} pleasure.

"If any man shal bee drunke, or drinke more than is fitt, or offer to sleepe during the time abovesaid, or do not drinke up his bowle of beere, but flings away his snuffe (that is to say) the second draught, he shall drinke two, and afterwards be excluded.

"If any man shall quarrell, or give any ill language to any person duringe the abovesaid twelve dayes w^{th}in the gates or precinct thereof, he is in danger of his Lo^{pps} displeasure.

"If any person shall come into the kitchen whiles meate is a dressinge, to molest the cookes, he shall suffer the rigor of his Lo^{pps} law.

"If any man shall kisse any maid, widdow or wife, except to bid welcome or farewell, w^{th}out his Lo^{pps} consent, he shall have punishment as his Lo^{pp} shall thinke convenient.

"The last article: I give full power and authoritie to his Lo^{pp} to breake up all lockes, bolts, barres, doores, and latches, and to flinge up all doores out of hendges to come at those whoe presume to disobey his Lo^{pps} commaunds.

"God save the King."

These somewhat whimsical articles of agreement were evidently intended to prevent mirth relapsing into licence, which, unfortunately, was too often the case, especially with the Lord of Misrule or Prince of Love, who directed the revels of the law students. Gerard Legh, in The Accidens of Armory, 1562, says that Christmas was inaugurated with "the shot of double cannon, in so great a number, and so terrible, that it darkened the whole air," and meeting "an honest citizen, clothed in a long garment," he asked him its meaning, "who friendly answered, 'It is,' quoth he, 'a warning to the Constable Marshall of the Inner Temple to prepare the dinner.'"

Sir William Dugdale, in Origines Juridiciales (ed. 1666, p. 163, etc.), gives us the following account of a grand Christmas in the Inner Temple, "extracted out of the Accompts of the House":—

"First, it hath been the duty of the Steward to provide five fat Brawns, Vessells, Wood, and other necessaries belonging to the Kitchin: As also all manner of Spices, Flesh, Fowl, and other Cates for the Kitchin.

"The Office of the Chief Butler to provide a rich Cupboard of Plate, Silver and Parcel gilt; Seaven dozen of Silver and gilt Spoons; Twelve fair Salt-cellars, likewise Silver and gilt; Twenty Candlesticks of the like.

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