Page images

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 hounds, and killed beneath the fire." 6 What this

“merry disport' signified (if practised) before the Reformation,” says a writer in Mr. Hone's Year-Book, “I know not. In · Ane compendiouse boke of godly and spiritual songs, Edinburgh, 1621, printed from an old copy,' are the following lines, seemingly referring to some such pageant :

pon by the


[ocr errors][merged small]

After these ceremonies, the welcome permission to betake themselves 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. However, 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 chancellor 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 unqualified 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 scaffold borne by four men. After again going thrice round the

hearth, he dismounted 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 Christmasnames, 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 Buckingham."

“Sir Randle Rackabite, of Rascall Hall, in the county of Rabchell."

“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 chancellor 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 any body else, could well do.

So important were these Christmas celebrations deemed by our ancestors, and such was the earnestness bestowed upon


preparation, that a special officer was appointed for that purpose, and to preside over the festival, with large privileges, very considerable appointments, and a retinue which in course of time came to be no insignificant imitation of a prince's. We are,


course, speaking at present of the officer who was appointed to the superintendence 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 temporary “ 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 arrangements 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 caus yerly, xxs.In the Inns of Court, where this officer formed no part of a household, but was a member elected out of their own body, for his ingenuity, he was commonly 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 “Christmas 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 “ Abbé de la Malgourverné," who ruled the sports in certain provinces of that kingdom. In a note to Ellis's edition of “ Brand's Popular Antiquities,” we find a quotation from Mr. Warton (whose “ History of English Poetry” we have not at hand), in which mention is made of an “Abbé de Liesse," and a reference given to Carpentier's Supplement to Du Cange, for the title "Abbas Lætitiæ.” We mention these, to enable the antiquarian portion of our readers to make the reference for themselves. Writing in the country, 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 who, of course, asserts the resemblance for the purpose of making it a matter of reproach.

[ocr errors]


The notorious Prynne, in his Histrio-Mastix, affirms (and quotes Polydore Virgil to the same effect) that “our Christmas lords of Misrule, together with dancing, masques, mummeries, stageplayers, 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 derived 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 the 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 which 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 Sheriffs 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, we 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 something 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, Leland 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. 138. 4d. 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 subsequent reign, the yearly payments to the Lord of Misrule had already been raised as high as £15. 6s. 8d.; and the entertainments 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 highest dignities; and during the subsequent reign we find him playing just such a part as might be expected from one whose business 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 condemnation 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

« PreviousContinue »