Thomas Kibble Hervey.

The book of Christmas; descriptive of the customs, ceremonies, traditions, superstitions, fun, feeling, and festivities of the Christmas season online

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wards Lord Chancellor of England, witli four masters of the
revels, a variety of other officers, and fourscore persons forming a
guard. Gerard Leigh, who was so fortunate as to obtain the dig-
nity of a knight of Pegasus, describes, as an eye-witness, in his
" Accidence of Armorie," the solemn fooleries which were
enacted on the occasion, by these worthies of the sword and of the

Of course, it was not to be expected that such shrewd courtiers
as lawyers commonly are, if they had ever kept Christmas at all,
should fail to do so, during the reign of this virgin queen, — when
its celebration offered them such admirable opportunities for the
administration of that flattery w^hich was so agreeable to her ma-
jesty, and might, possibly, be so profitable to themselves. We
have great pleasure in recording a speech made by her majesty,
on one of these occasions, nearly so much as two centuries and a
half ago, but which, for its great excellence, has come down to
our days. The gentlemen of Gray's Inn (their wits, probably,
a little sharpened by the mistake which they had made in her
father's time) had ventured upon a dramatic performance again;
and, in the course of a masque which they represented before the


queen's majesty, had administered to her copious draughts of that
nectar on which her majesty's vanity was known to thrive so mar-
vellously. They appear, however, with a very nice tact, to have
given no more of it on this occasion, than was sufficient to put
her majesty into spirits, without intoxicating her ; — for by this
period of her life, it took a great deal of that sort of thing to
intoxicate the queen's majesty ; and the effect was of the plea-
santest kind, and could not fail to be most satisfactory to the
gentlemen of Gray's Inn. For, after the masque was finished
(in which we presume there had been a little dancing, by the
lawyers — who would, as in duty bound, have stood on their wigs
to please her majesty), and on the courtiers attempting, in ilieir
turn, to execute a dance, her majesty was most graciously
pleased to exclaim, " What ! shall we have bread and cheese
after a banquet V — meaning thereby, we presume, to imply that
the courtiers could not hope to leap as high, or, in any respect,
to cut such capers, as the lawyers had done. Now, this speech
of the virgin queen we have reported here, less for the sake of
any intrinsic greatness in the thought, or elegance in the form,
than because, out of a variety of speeches by her majesty,
which have been carefully preserved, we think this is about
as good as any other ; and has the additional recommendation
(which so few of the others have) of exhibiting the virgin
queen in a good humor. And further, because, having recorded
the disgrace into which the gentlemen of Gray's Inn danced
themselves, in the lifetime of her illustrious father, — it is but
right that we should, likewise, record the ample indemnification
which they must have considered themselves to have received,
at the lips of his virgin daughter.

The celebrations at the inns of court were, from time to time,
continued — down to the period of the civil troubles which dark-
ened the reign of Charles I. ; and so lately as the year 1641,
when they had already commenced, we find it recorded by
Evelyn, in his Memoirs, that he was elected one of the comp-
trollers of the Middle Temple revellers, " as the fashion of the
young students and gentlemen was, the Christmas being kept
this yeare with greate solemnity." During this reign, we dis-
cover the several societies lessening their expenses by a very


wise compromise of their disputes for supremacy : — for in the
eighth year thereof, the four Inns of Court provided a Christ-
mas masque in conjunction, for the entertainment of the court,
which cost the startling sum of £24,000, of the money of that
day ; and in return, King Charles invited one hundred and
twenty gentlemen of the four Inns to a masque at Whitehall, on
the Shrove Tuesday following.

That our readers may form some idea of the kind of sports
which furnished entertainment to men of no less pretension than
Hatton, and Coke, and Crewe, we will extract for them a few
more of the ceremonies usually observed at the grand Christ-
mases of the ^ Inner Temple, — before quitting this part of the

In the first place, it appears that on Christmas-Eve there was a
banquet in the hall, at which three masters of the revels were
present ; the oldest of whom, after dinner and supper, was to sing
a carol, and to command other gentlemen to sing with him ; — and
in all this we see nothing which is not perfectly worthy of all
imitation now. Then on each of the twelve nights, before and
after supper, were revels and dancing ; — and if any of these
revels and dancing were performed in company with the fair sex
(which, on the face of the evidence, doth not appear), then we
have none of the objections to urge against them which we have
ventured to insinuate against the solemn buffooneries, to which the
bar was fined for refusing to surrender itself, in the time of James
I. Neither do we find anything repugnant to our modern tastes,
in the announcement that the breakfasts of the following mornings
were very substantial ones, consisting of brawn, mustard, malm-
sey, — which the exhaustion of the previous night's dancing might
render necessary ; nor that all the courses were served with mu-
sic — which we intend that some of our own shall be, this coming
Christmas. But against most of that which follows we enter our
decided protest, — as not only very absurd in itself, but eminently
calculated to spoil a good dinner.

On St. Stephen's day, we learn that, after the first course was
served in, the constable marshal was wont to enter the hall (and
we think ho had much better have come in, and said all he had
to say beforehand), bravely arrayed, with "a fair rich compleat


barneys, white and bright and gilt, with a nest of fethers, of all
colors, upon his crest or lielm, and a gilt pole ax in his hand," —
and, no doubt, thinking himself a prodigiously fine fellow. He
was accompanied by the lieutenant of the Tower, " armed with a
fair white armour," also wearing " fethers," and " whh a like
pole ax in his hand," — and of course also thinking himself a very
line fellow. With them came sixteen trumpeters, preceded by
four drums and fifes, and attended by four men clad in white
"barneys," from the middle upwards, having halberds in their
hands, and bearing on their shoulders a model of the tower, — and
each and every one of these latter personages, in his degree, hav-
ing a t onsciousness that he, too, was a fine fellow. Then, all
these fine fellows, with the drums and music, and with all their
'• fethers" and finery, went, three times, round the fire, — whereas
considering that the boar's head was cooling all the time, we think
once might have sufficed. Then the constable marshal, after
three curtesies, knelt down before the lord chancellor, with the
lieutenant doing the same behind him, and then and there delibe-
rately proceeded to deliver himself of an "oration of a quarter of
an hour's length," the purport of which was to tender his ser-
vices to the lord chancellor ; — which we think, at such a time, he
might have contrived to do in fewer words. To this the chancel-
lor was unwise enough to reply that he would " take further advice
therein ;" — when it would have been much better for him to settle
the matter at once, and proceed to eat his dinner. However, this
part of the ceremony ended, at last, by the constable marshal and
the lieutenant obtaining seats at the chancellor's table, upon the
former giving up his sword ; — and then enter, for a similar pur-
pose, the master of the game, apparelled in green velvet, and the
ranger of the forest, in a green suit of "satten," bearing in his
hand a green bow, and " divers" arrows, " with either of them a
hunting-horn about their necks, blowing together three blasts of
venery." These worthies, also, thought it necessary to parade
their finery three times round the fire ; and having then made
similar obeisances, and offered up a similar petition, in a similar
posture, they were finally inducted into a similar privilege.

But though seated at the chancellor's table, and no doubt suffi-
ciently aroused by the steam of its good things, they were far


enough, as yet, from getting anything to eat, as a consequence :
— and the next ceremony is one which strikingly marks the rude-
ness of the times. "A huntsman cometh into the hall, with a
fox, and a purse net with a cat, both bound at the end of a staff,
and with them nine or ten couple of hounds, with the blowing of
hunting-horns. And the fox and the cat are set upon by the
hounds, and killed beneath the fire." " What this 'merry dis-
port' signified (if practised) before the Reformation," says a
writer in Mr. Hone's Year-Book, " I know not. In ' Ane com-
pendiouse boke of godly and spiritual songs, Edinburgh, 1621,
printed from an old copy,' are the following lines, seemingly re-
ferring to some such pageant : —

' The hunter is Christ that hunts in haist,
The hunds are Peter and Pawle,
The paip is the fox, Rome is the Rox
That rubbis us on the gall.' "

After these ceremonies, the welcome permission to betake them-
selves to the far more interesting one of an attack upon the good
things of the feast, appears to have been, at length, given ; but at
the close of the second course, the subject of receiving the officers
who had tendered their Christmas service, was renewed. Whether
the gentlemen of the law were burlesquing their own profession,
intentionally, or whether it was only an awkward hit, like that
which befell their brethren of Gray's Inn, does not appear. How-
ever, the common serjeant made what is called " a plausible
speech ;" insisting on the necessity of these officers, " for the
better reputation of the Commonwealth:" and he was followed, to
the same effect, by the king's serjeant-at-law ; till the lord chan-
cellor silenced them, by desiring a respite of further advice, —
which it is greatly to be marvelled he had not done sooner ; —
and thereupon he called upon the " ancientest of the masters of
the revels" for a song, a proceeding to which we give our un-
qualified approbation.

So much for the dinner. After supper, the constable marshal
again presented himself, if possible finer than before ; preceded
by drums, — as so fine a man ought to be, — and mounted on a
scaflbld borne by four men. After again going thrice round the


hearth, he dis.iiounted from his elevation, and having set a good
example, by first playing the figurant himself, for the edification
of the court, called upon the nobles, by their respective Christmas-
names, to do the same. Of the styles and titles which it was
considered humorous to assume on such occasions, and by which
he called up his courtiers to dance, our readers may take the
following for specimens : —

" Sir Francis Flatterer, of Fowlehurst, in the county of Buck-

" Sir Randle Rackabite, of Rascall Hall, in the county of

" Sir Morgan Mumchance, of Much Monkery, in the county of
Mad Popery;" —

And so on, with much more of the same kind, which we are
sure our readers will spare us, — or rather thank us for sparing
them. The ceremonies of the St. John's day were, if possible,
more absurd than those, by which St. Stephen was honored : but,
that we may take leave of the lawyers, on good terms, and with
a word of commendation, we will simply add, that the concluding
one is stated to be, that, on the Thursday following, " the chan-
cellor and company partook of a dinner of roast beef and venison
pasties, and at supper of mutton and hens roasted ;" which we
take to have been not only the most sensible proceeding of the
whole series, but about as sensible a thing as they, or anybody
else, could well do.

So important were these Christmas celebrations deemed by our
ancestors, and such was the earnestness bestowed upon their pre-
paration, that a special officer was appointed for that purpose, and
to preside over the festival, with large privileges, very consider-
able appointments, and a retinue which in course of time came to
be no insignificant imitation of a prince's. We are, of course,
speaking at present of the officer who was appointed to the super-
intendence of the Christmas ceremonials at court. The title by
which this potentate was usually distinguished in England,
was that of" Lord of Misrule," " Abbott of Misrule," or " Master
of Merry Disports ;" and his office was, in fact, that of a tempo-
rary " Master of the Revels" (which latter title was formerly that
of a permanent and distinguished officer attached to the household


of our kings). Accordingly we find that, amongst those of the more
powerful nobles who affected an imitation of the royal arrange-
ments in their Christmas establishments, this Christmas officer
(when they appointed one to preside over their private Christmas
celebrations) was occasionally nominated as their " Master of the
Revels." In the Household-Book of the Northumberland family,
amongst the directions given for the order of the establishment, it is
stated that " My lorde useth and accustomyth yerly to gyf hym
which is ordynede to be the Master of the Revells yerly in my
lordis hous in cristmas for the overseyinge and orderinge of his
lordschips Playes, Interludes, and Dresinge that is plaid befor his
lordship in his hous in the xijth dayes of Cristenmas, and they to
have in rewarde for that cans yerly, xx5." In the Inns of Court,
where this officer formed no part of a household, but was a mem-
ber elected out of their own body, for his ingenuity, he was com-
monly dignified by a title more appropriate to the extensive
authority with which he was invested, and the state with which
he was furnished for its due maintenance, viz., that of " Christ-
mas prince," or sometimes, " King of Christmas." He is the same
officer who was known in Scotland as the " Abbot of Unreason,"
and bears a close resemblance to the " Abbas Stultorum," who
presided over the feast of fools, in France, and the " Abbe de la
Malgourverne," who ruled the sports in certain provinces of that
kingdom. In a note to Ellis's edition of" Brand's Popular Anti-
quities," we find a quotation from Mr. Warton (whose " History
of English Poetry" we have not at hand), in which mention is
made of an " Abbe de Liesse," and a reference given to Carpen-
tier's Supplement to Du Cange, for the title "Abbas Lastitice."
We mention these, to enable the antiquarian portion of our read-
ers to make the reference for themselves. Writing in the coun-
try, we have not access to the works in question, and could not,
in these pages, go further into the matter if we had.

We have already stated, that the " Lord of Misrule" appears
to bear a considerable resemblance to that ruler or king who was
anciently appointed to preside over the sports of the Roman
Saturnalia ; and we find on looking further into the subject, that
we are corroborated in this view by one wlio, of course, asserts
the resemblance for the purpose of making it a matter of reproach.

48 THE COO.: Ox^ C:iRI3TiMA3.

The notorious Prynne, in bis Histrio-Mastix, affirms (and quotes
Polydore Virgil to the same effect) that " our Christmas lords of
Misrule, together with dancing, masques, mummeries, stage-
players, and such other Christmas disorders, now in use with
Christians, were derived from these Roman Saturnalia and
Bacchanalian festivals ; — which," adds he, " should cause all
pious Christians eternally to abominate them." We should not,
however, omit to mention that by some this officer has been de-
rived from the ancient ceremony of the Boy-Bishop. Faber
speaks of him as originating in an old Persico-gothic festival, in
honor of Budha ; and Purchas, in his Pilgrimage, as quoted in
the Aubrey MSS., says, that the custom is deduced from the
" Feast in Babylon, kept in honor of the goddess Dorcetha, for
five dayes together ; during which time tlie masters were under
the dominion of their servants, one of which is usually sett over
the rest, and royally cloathed, and was called Sogan, that is,
Great Prince."

The title, however, by wliicli this officer is most generally
known is that of Lord of Misrule. " There was," says Stow,
" in the feast of Christmas, in the king's house, wheresoever he
was lodged, a Lord of Misrule, or Master of merry Disports; and
the like had ye for the house of every nobleman of honor, or good
worship, were he spiritual or temporal. Among the which the
Mayor of London and either of the SheriflTs had their several
Lords of Misrule, ever contending, without quarrel or offence,
which should make the rarest pastimes, to delight the beholders."

On the antiquity of this officer in England, w^e have not been
able to find any satisfactory account ; but we discover traces of
him, almost as early as we have any positive records of the vari-
ous sports by which the festival of this season was supported.
Polydore Virgil speaks of the splendid spectacles, the masques,'
dancings, &c., by which it was illustrated as far back as the close
of the twelfth century ; and it is reasonable to suppose that some-
thing in the shape of a master of these public ceremonies must
have existed then, to preserve order, as well as furnish devices, —
particularly as the hints for the one and the other seem to have
been taken from the celebrations of the heathens. As early as
the year 1489, Ldand speaks of an Abbot of Misrule, "that


made much sport, and did right well his office." Henry the
Seventh's " boke of paymentis," preserved in the Chapter-house,
is stated by Sandys, to contain several items of disbursement to
the Lord of Misrule (or Abbot, as he is therein sometimes called),
for different years, " in rewarde for his besynes in Christenmes
holydays," none of which exceeded the sum of £6. 135. Ad. This
sum (multiplied, as we imagine it ought to be, by something like
fifteen, to give the value thereof in our days), certainly affords no
very liberal remuneration to an officer whose duties were of any
extent ; and we mention it that our readers may contrast it with
the lavish appointments of the same functionary in after times.
Henry, however, was a frugal monarch, though it was a part of
his policy to promote the amusements of the people ; and from the
treasures which that frugality created, his immediate successors
felt themselves at liberty to assume a greater show. In the sub-
sequent reign, the yearly payments to the Lord of Misrule had
already been raised as high as £15. 6s. Sd.; and the entertain-
ments over which he presided were furnished at a proportionably
increased cost.

It is not, however, until the reign of the young monarch, Ed-
ward the Sixth, that this officer appears to have attained his high-
est dignities ; and during the subsequent reign we find him play-
ing just such a part as might be expected from one whose busi-
ness it was to take the lead in revels such as we have had occa-
sion to describe, — viz. that of arch-buffoon.

In Hollinshed's Chronicle, honorable mention is made of a
certain George Ferrers, therein described as a " lawyer, a poet,
and an historian," who supplied the office well, in the fifth year
of Edward VI.; and who was rewarded by the young king with
princely liberality. This George Ferrers was the principal
author of that well-known work, the " Mirror for Magistrates;"
and Mr. Kempe, the editor of the recently published " Loseley
Manuscripts," mentions his having been likewise distinguished by
military services in the reign of Henry VIII. It appears that
the young king having fallen into a state of melancholy, after
the condenmation of his uncle, the Protector, it was determined
to celebrate the approaching Christmas festival with more than
usual splendor, for the purpose of diverting his mind ; and this


distinguished individual was selected to preside over the arrange-

The publication of the Loseley Manuscripts enables us to pre-
sent our readers with some very curious particulars, illustrative
at once of the nature of those arrangements, and of the heavy
cost at which they were furnished. By an order in council, dated
the 81st of September, 1552, and addressed to Sir Thomas Ca war-
den, at that time master of the King's Revels, after reciting the
appointment of the said George Ferrers, the said Sir Thomas is
informed that it is his Majesty's pleasure " that you se hym
furneshed for hym and his bande, as well in apparell as all other
necessaries, of such stuff as remayneth in your office. And
whatsoever wanteth in the same, to take order that it be provided
accordinglie by yo"" discretion."

For the manner in which the Lord of Misrule availed himself
of this unlimited order, we recommend to such of our readers as
the subject may interest, a perusal of the various estimates and
accounts published by Mr. Kempe, from the MSS. in question.
Were it not that they would occupy too much of our space, we
should have been glad to introduce some of them here, for the
purpose of conveying to the reader a lively notion of the
gorgeousness of apparel and appointment exhibited on this occa-
sion. We must, however, present them with some idea of the
train for Avhom these costly preparations are made, and of the
kind of mock court with which the Lord of Misrule surrounded

Amongst these we find mention made of a chancellor, treasurer,
comptroller, vice chamberlain, lords-councillors, divine, philoso-
pher, astronomer, poet, physician, apothecary, master of requests,
civilian, disard (an old word for clown), gentleman-ushers, pages
of honor, sergeants-at-arms, provost-marshal, footmen, messen-
gers, trumpeter, herald, orator ; besides hunters, jugglers, tum-
blers, band, fools, friars (a curious juxtaposition, which Mr. Kempe
thinks might intend a satire), and a variety of others. None
seem, in fact, to have been omitted who were usually included in
the retinue of a prince ; and over this mock court the mock
monarch appears to have presided with a sway as absolute, as far
as regarded the purposes of his appointment, as the actual


monarch himself over the weightier matters of the state. But
the most curious part of the arrangements is, that by which (as
appears from one of the lists printed from one of these MSS),
he seems to have been accompanied in his procession by an heir-
at law, and three other children, besides two base sons. These
two base sons, we presume, are bastards ; and that the establish-
ment of a potentate could not be considered complete without
them. The editor also mentions that he was attended by an
almoner, who scattered amongst the crowd, during his progresses,
certain coins made by the wire-drawers; and remarks that, if
these bore the portrait and superscription of the Lord of Misrule,
they would be rare pieces in the eye of a numismatist.

The following very curious letter, which we will give entire,
will furnifeh our readers with a lively picture of the pageantries
of that ti'-je, and of the zeal with which full-grown men set about
amusements of a kind which are now usually left to children of
a smaller growth. Playing at kings is, in our day, one of the sports
of most juvenile actors. The letter is addressed by Master
George Ferrers to Sir Thomas Cawarden ; and gives some
account of his intended entry at the court at Christmas, and of
his devices for furnishing entertainment during the festival.

'f Sir,

" Whereas you required me to write, for that y'' busynes is great,
I have in as few wordes as I rnaie signefied to you such things
as I thinke moste nccessarie for my purpose.

" ffirst, as towching my Introduction. Whereas the laste yeare
my devise was to cum of oute of the mone (moon), this yeare I
imagine to cum oute of a place called vastum vacuum, the great
waste, as moche to sale as a place voide or emptie w"'out the
worlde, where is neither fier, ayre, nor earth ; and that I have
bene remayning there sins the last yeare. And, because of cer-
tains devises which I have towching this matter, I wold, yf it were
possyble, have all myne apparell blewe, the first daie that I p'sent
my self to the King's Ma''' ; and even as I shewe my self that

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Online LibraryThomas Kibble HerveyThe book of Christmas; descriptive of the customs, ceremonies, traditions, superstitions, fun, feeling, and festivities of the Christmas season → online text (page 5 of 20)