Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Lord of Misrule

I'm not certain if I would like one someone with this name and charge in my home today but there are some fun aspects of this English tradition I thought I'd share with you today. This info comes from "The Christmas Book" ©1845

"We are come over the moor and the moss;
We dance an hobby horse;
A dragon you shall see,
And a wild worm for to flee.
Still we are all bravejovial boys,
And take delight in Christmas toys."—Ploughman's Play.

Eoreign writers have expressed great astonishment at the curious customs which formerly prevailed in England in connection with Christmas, but the "Lord of Misrule" or the "Abbot of Unreason," as he was called in Scotland, seems to have astonished them more than any other. They always speak of his existence as peculiar to England, but, as Strutt correctly observes, this frolicsome monarch was known upon the continent before any acquaintance was made with him in England. His office was that of a Master and Lord of the Christmas revels. He was appointed some weeks before the arrival of the feast in order that he might be able to make proper provision in the way of jokes and sports, and from the Christmas Eve down to Twelfth Day, he was the absolute master of all in the house where he was. It rested with him to command the carol singers, the mummers, the jugglers, and players; he provided them, and produced them in such order as he thought best. So that all the sport depended upon having a good "Lord of Misrule," for the fuller of mirth he was, the more sport was made for the Christmas party.
Holingshed when speaking of Yule, calls it the time "there is "alwayes one appointed to make sport at courte, called commonly "Lord of Misrule, whose office is not unknown to such as have been "brought up in noblemen's houses and among great housekeepers, "which use liberal feasting during the Christmas.'" Stow, who is more communicative upon the nature of his office, says, "At the feast of "Christmas, there was in the king's house, wheresoever he was lodged, "a Lord of Misrule, or Master of merry disports, and the like had ye in "the house of honour or good worship, were he spiritual or temporal. "Amongst the which the mayor of London, and either of the sheriffs, "had their several Lords of Misrule, ever contending, without quarrel "or offence, who should make the rarest pastimes todelight the beholders. "These lords beginning their rule on Alhollon eve, continued the same "till the morrow after the Eeast of the Purification; commonly called "Candlemas day. In all which space there were fine and subtle disguis"ings, masks, and mummeries, with playing at cards for counters, nails, "and points, in every house, more for■ pastime than for gain."* The time named by Stow during which the sports continued, is longer than that generally- allotted, but probably not longer than was the custom in instances with which he was acquainted.
Illustrations abound in history, shewing how the games were carried on, and who were appointed to the office. In the reign of Edward VI., and in order probably to prevent him. from dwelling too much upon the recent execution of Somerset, the Christmas sports were conducted without regard to cost. A gentleman, named George Eerrars, who was a lawyer, a poet, and an historian, was appointed by the council to bear this office; "and he," says Holingshed, "being of "better calling than commonly his predecessors had been before, "received all his commissions and warrauntes by the name of master of "the kinge's pastimes; which gentleman so well supplied his office, both "of show of sundry sights, and devises of rare invention, and in act of "divers interludes, and matters of pastime, played by persons, as not only "satisfied the common sorte, but also were verie well liked and allowed "by the council, and others of skill in lyke pastimes; but best by the "young king himselfe, as appeared by his princely liberalitie in reward"ing that service." Eerrars was certainly well qualified for his task, and well supplied with the means of making sport. He complained to * "Stow's Survey," p. 37, ed. of 1842.
Sir Thomas Cawarden that the dresses provided for his assistants were not sufficient, and immediately an order was given for better provision. He provided clowns, jugglers, tumblers, men to dance the fool's dance, besides being assisted by the "Court fool '■' of the time— John Smyth. This man was newly supplied for the occasion, having a long fool's coat of yellow cloth of gold, fringed all over with white, red, and green velvet, containing 7| yards at £2 per yard, guarded with plain yellow cloth of gold, four yards at 33s. 4d. per yard; with a hood and a pair of buskins of the same figured gold containing 1\ yards at £5, and a girdle of yellow sarsenet containing one quarter 16d. The whole value of "the fools dress" being £26. 14s. 8d. Ferrars as the "Lord of Misrule" wore a robe of rich stuff made of silk and golden thread containing nine yards at 16s. a yard, guarded with embroidered cloth of gold, wrought in knots, fourteen yards at lis. 4d. a yard; having fur of red feathers, with a cape of camlet thrum. A coat of flat silver, fine with works, 5 yards at 50s. with an embroidered garb of leaves of gold and coloured silk, containing 15 yards at 20s. a yard. He wore a cap of maintenance, hose buskins, panticles of Bruges satin, a girdle of yellow sarsenet with various decorations, the cost of his dress being £52. 8s. 8d., which, considering the relative value of money, must be considered a very costly dress.
The titles assumed by the Lords of Misrule were occasionally very ridiculous. In 1607, there was a grand celebration of the Christmas festivity at St. John's College, Oxford, and the elected lord issued proclamations, in which he styled himself the most magnificent and renowned Thomas, by the favour of Fortune, Prince of Alba Fortunata, Lord of St. John's, High Eegent of the Hall, Duke of St. Giles's, Marquis of Magdalen's, Landgrave of the Grove, Count Palatine of the Cloysters, Chief Bailiff of Beaumont, High Ruler of Bbme (Rome is a piece of land, so called, near to the end of the walk called Non Ultra, on the North side of Oxon), Master of the Manor of Walton, Governor of Gloucester Green, sole Commander of all Titles, Tournaments, and Triumphs, Superintendent in all Solemnities whatever. A record of the sports and pastimes on this occasion has been preserved and printed* under the title of "A true and faithful relation of the rising and fall of "Thomas Tucker, &c," and contains a very full picture of what Christmas was in the old times.
The lawyers were very regular in their election of a Christmas lord. And they had the usual shows performed in their several Inns of Court. Their lord was up early in the morning hunting out his officers, and "pulling all the loiterers out of bed to make their early sport, but after "breakfast the fun was suspended until the evening, when it was opened "again day after day with great spirit until the holidays ended. The "Judges attended every evening, and the 'under barristers' were bound "to dance before their lordships. On one occasion, when this was "omitted, the whole bar was offended, and at Lincoln's Inn, the offenders "were by decimation put out of commons for example sake; and should * "Miscellanea Antiqua Anglicana," vol. i.
"the same omission be repeated, they were to be fined or disbarred; for "these dancings were thought necessary 'as much conducing to the "making of gentlemen more fit for their books at other times/ "*
At a Christmas celebrated in the Hall of the Middle Temple in the year 1635, the jurisdiction, privileges, and parade of this mock monarch are thus circumstantially described. "He was attended by his lord "keeper, lord treasurer, with eight white staves, a captain of his band '• of pensioners, and of his guardj and with two chaplains, who were so "seriously impressed with an idea of his regal dignity, that when they "preached before him on the preceding Sunday in the Temple Church, "on ascending the pulpit they saluted him with three low bows. He "dined both in the Hall and in his privy chamber, under a cloth of "estate. Tho poleaxes for his gentlemen pensioners were borrowed of "Lord Salisbury. Lord Holland, his temporary justice in eyre, supplied "him with venison, on demand; and the Lord Mayor and sheriffs of "London, with wine. On Twelfth Day, at going to church, he received "many petitions, which he gave to his master of requests: and, like "other kings, he had a favourite, whom with others, gentlemen of high "quality, he knighted at returning from church. His expenses, all from "his own purse, amounted to two thousand pounds." After he was deposed, the king knighted him at "Whitehall, f
But it occasionally happened that when My Lord went forth with his band of merry men, they got into trouble. An instance of this, which occurred in 1627, is recorded in one of Mede's letters to Sir Martin Stuteville. The letter is worth reprinting as an illustration of the manners of the age, and as relating to what was probably the last Lord of Misrule elected by the barristers. Mede writes, "On Saturday "the Templars chose one Mr. Palmer their Lord of Misrule, ,who, on "Twelfth-eve, rate in the night, sent out to gather up his rents at five "shillings a house in Ram-alley and Fleet street. At every door they "came they winded the Temple-horn, and if at the second blast or sum"mons they within opened not the door, then the Lord of Misrule cried "out, 'Give fire, gunner!' His gunner was a robustious Yulcan, and "the gun or petard itself was a huge overgrown smith's hammer. This "being complained of to my Lord Mayor, he said he would be with them "about eleven o'clock on Sunday night last; willing that all that ward "should attend him with their halberds, and that himself, besides those "that came out of his house, should bring the Watches along with him. "His lordship, thus attended, advanced as high as Ram-alley in martial "equipage: when forth came the Lord of Misrule, attended by his "gallants, out of the Temple-gate, with their swords, all armed in cuerpo. "A halberdier bade the Lord of Misrule come to my Lord Mayor. He "answered, No! let the Lord Mayor come to me! At length they "agreed to meet half way: and, as the interview of rival princes is never "without danger of some ill accident, so it happened in this: for first, "Mr. Palmer being quarrelled with for not pulling off his hat to my "Lord Mayor, and giving cross answers, the halberds began to fly about his ears, and he and his company to brandish their swords. At last 'being beaten to the ground, and the Lord of Misrule sore wounded, "they were fain to yield to the longer and more numerous weapon. My "Lord Mayor taking Mr. Palmer by the shoulder, led him to the "Compter, and thrust him in at the prison-gate with a kind of indigna"tion; and so, notwithstanding his hurts, he was forced to lie among the "common prisoners for two nights. On Tuesday the king's attorney "became a suitor to my Lord Mayor for their liberty; which his lord"ship granted, upon condition that they should repay the gathered rents, "and do reparations upon broken doors. Thus the game ended. Mr. "Attorney-General, being of the same house, fetched them in his own "coach, and carried them to the court, where the King himself reconciled "my Lord Mayor and them together with joining all hands; the gentle"men of the Temple being this shrovetide to present a Mask to their "majesties, over and besides the king's own great Mask, to be performed "at the Banqueting-house by an hundred actors."
The inhabitants of our cities and even villages had also their Lord of Misrule. He was elected by the common voice, and clothed at the cost of the voters. Having no particular place in which to exhibit, he chose a party of young fellows to go with him from house to house, where they sang and danced, and then moved off to others, until every large house had been visited. In this case, however, the Lord of Misrule and his party became the mummers of the season—the two ideas were confused, but as mumming was an important part of the sport, we shall consider it in the following section.

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