The Stagyrite discovered that our nature delights in imitation, and perhaps in nothing more than in representing personages different from ourselves in mockery of them; in fact, there is a passion for masquerade in human nature. Children discover this propensity; and the populace, who are the children of society, through all ages have been humoured by their governors with festivals and recreations, which are made up of this malicious transformation of persons and things; and the humble orders of society have been privileged by the higher, to please themselves by burlesquing and ridiculing the great, at short seasons, as some consolation for the rest of the year.
The Saturnalia of the Romans is a remarkable instance of this characteristic of mankind. Macrobius could not trace the origin of this institution, and seems to derive it from the Grecians; so that it might have arisen in some rude period of antiquity, and among another people. This conjecture seems supported by a passage in Gibbon’s Miscellanies,1 who discovers traces of this institution among the more ancient nations; and Huet imagined that he saw in the jubilee of the Hebrews some similar usages. It is to be regretted, that Gibbon does not afford us any new light on the cause in which originated the institution itself. The jubilee of the Hebrews was the solemn festival of an agricultural people, but bears none of the ludicrous characteristics of the Roman Saturnalia.
It would have been satisfactory to have discovered the occasion of the inconceivable licentiousness which was thus sanctioned by the legislator — this overturning of the principles of society, and this public ridicule of its laws, its customs, and its feelings. We are told, these festivals, dedicated to Saturn, were designed to represent the natural equality which prevailed in his golden age; and for this purpose the slaves were allowed to change places with the masters. This was, however, giving the people a false notion of the equality of men; for, while the slave was converted into the master, the pretended equality was as much violated as in the usual situation of the parties. The political misconception of this term of natural equality seems, however, to have been carried on through all ages; and the political Saturnalia had lately nearly thrown Europe into a state of that worse than slavery, where slaves are masters.
The Roman Saturnalia were latterly prolonged to a week’s debauchery and folly; and a diary of that week’s words and deeds would have furnished a copious chronicle of Facetiæ. Some notions we acquire from the laws of the Saturnalia of Lucian, an Epistle of Seneca’s,2 and from Horace, who from his love of quiet, retired from the city during this noisy season.
It was towards the close of December, that all the town was in an unusual motion, and the children everywhere invoking Saturn; nothing now to be seen but tables spread out for feasting, and nothing heard but shouts of merriment: all business was dismissed, and none at work but cooks and confectioners; no account of expenses was to be kept, and it appears that one-tenth part of a man’s income was to be appropriated to this jollity. All exertion of mind and body was forbidden, except for the purposes of recreation; nothing to be read or recited which did not provoke mirth, adapted to the season and the place. The slaves were allowed the utmost freedom of raillery and truth, with their masters;3 sitting with them at the table, dressed in their clothes, playing all sorts of tricks, telling them of their faults to their faces, while they smutted them. The slaves were imaginary kings, as indeed a lottery determined their rank; and as their masters attended them, whenever it happened that these performed their offices clumsily, doubtless with some recollections of their own similar misdemeanors, the slave made the master leap into the water head-foremost. No one was allowed to be angry, and he who was played on, if he loved his own comfort, would be the first to laugh. Glasses of all sizes were to be ready, and all were to drink when and what they chose; none but the most skilful musicians and tumblers were allowed to perform, for those people are worth nothing unless exquisite, as the Saturnalian laws decreed. Dancing, singing, and shouting, and carrying a female musician thrice round on their shoulders, accompanied by every grotesque humour they imagined, were indulged in that short week, which was to repay the many in which the masters had their revenge for the reign of this pretended equality. Another custom prevailed at this season: the priests performed their sacrifices to Saturn bare-headed, which Pitiscus explains in the spirit of this extraordinary institution, as designed to show that time discovers, or, as in the present case of the bare-headed priests, uncovers, all things.
Such was the Roman Saturnalia, the favourite popular recreations of Paganism; and as the sports and games of the people outlast the date of their empires, and are carried with them, however they may change their name and their place on the globe, the grosser pleasures of the Saturnalia were too well adapted to their tastes to be forgotten. The Saturnalia, therefore, long generated the most extraordinary institutions among the nations of modern Europe; and what seems more extraordinary than the unknown origin of the parent absurdity itself, the Saturnalia crept into the services and offices of the Christian church. Strange it is to observe at the altar the rites of religion burlesqued, and all its offices performed with the utmost buffoonery. It is only by tracing them to the Roman Saturnalia that we can at all account for these grotesque sports — that extraordinary mixture of libertinism and profaneness, so long continued under Christianity.
Such were the feasts of the ass, the feast of fools or madmen, fête des fous — the feast of the bull — of the Innocents — and that of the soudiacres, which, perhaps, in its original term, meant only sub-deacons, but their conduct was expressed by the conversion of a pun into saoudiacres or diacres saouls, drunken deacons. Institutions of this nature, even more numerous than the historian has usually recorded, and varied in their mode, seem to surpass each other in their utter extravagance.4
These profane festivals were universally practised in the middle ages, and, as I shall show, comparatively even in modern times. The ignorant and the careless clergy then imagined it was the securest means to retain the populace, who were always inclined to these pagan revelries.
These grotesque festivals have sometimes amused the pens of foreign and domestic antiquaries: for our own country has participated as keenly in these irreligious fooleries. In the feast of asses, an ass covered with sacerdotal robes was gravely conducted to the choir, where service was performed before the ass, and a hymn chanted in as discordant a manner as they could contrive; the office was a medley of all that had been sung in the course of the year; pails of water were flung at the head of the chanters; the ass was supplied with drink and provender at every division of the service; and the asinines were drinking, dancing, and braying for two days. The hymn to the ass has been preserved; each stanza ends with the burthen “Hez! Sire Ane, hez!” “Huzza! Seignior Ass, Huzza!” On other occasions, they put burnt old shoes to fume in the censers; ran about the church, leaping, singing, and dancing obscenely; scattering ordure among the audience; playing at dice upon the altar! while a boy-bishop, or a pope of fools, burlesqued the divine service. Sometimes they disguised themselves in the skins of animals, and pretending to be transformed into the animal they represented, it became dangerous, or worse, to meet these abandoned fools. There was a precentor of fools, who was shaved in public, during which he entertained the populace with all the balderdash his genius could invent. We had in Leicester, in 1415, what was called a glutton-mass, during the five days of the festival of the Virgin Mary. The people rose early to mass, during which they practised eating and drinking with the most zealous velocity, and, as in France, drew from the corners of the altar the rich puddings placed there.
So late as in 1645, a pupil of Gassendi, writing to his master, what he himself witnessed at Aix on the feast of the Innocents, says, “I have seen, in some monasteries in this province, extravagances solemnised, which the pagans would not have practised. Neither the clergy, nor the guardians, indeed, go to the choir on this day, but all is given up to the lay brethren, the cabbage-cutters, the errand-boys, the cooks and scullions, the gardeners; in a word, all the menials fill their places in the church, and insist that they perform the offices proper for the day. They dress themselves with all the sacerdotal ornaments, but torn to rags, or wear them inside out; they hold in their hands the books reversed or sideways, which they pretend to read with large spectacles without glasses, and to which they fix the shells of scooped oranges, which renders them so hideous, that one must have seen these madmen to form a notion of their appearance; particularly while dangling the censers, they keep shaking them in derision, and letting the ashes fly about their heads and faces one against the other. In this equipage they neither sing hymns, nor psalms, nor masses; but mumble a certain gibberish, as shrill and squeaking as a herd of pigs whipped on to market. The nonsense verses they chant are singularly barbarous:—
Hæc est clara dies, clararum clara dierum,
Hæc est festa dies, festarum festa dierum.5
These are scenes which equal any which the humour of the Italian burlesque poets have invented, and which might have entered with effect into the “Malmantile racquistato” of Lippi; but that they should have been endured amidst the solemn offices of religion, and have been performed in cathedrals, while it excites our astonishment, can only be accounted for by perceiving that they were, in truth, the Saturnalia of the Romans. Mr. Turner observes, without perhaps having a precise notion that they were copied from the Saturnalia, that “It could be only by rivalling the pagan revelries, that the Christian ceremonies could gain the ascendancy.” Our historian further observes, that these “licentious festivities were called the December liberties, and seem to have begun at one of the most solemn seasons of the Christian year, and to have lasted through the chief part of January.” This very term, as well as the time, agrees with that of the ancient Saturnalia:—
Age, libertate Decembri,
Quando ita majores voluerunt, utere: narra.
HOR. lib. ii. sat. 7.
The Roman Saturnalia, thus transplanted into Christian churches, had for its singular principle, that of inferiors, whimsically and in mockery, personifying their superiors, with a licensed licentiousness. This forms a distinct characteristic from those other popular customs and pastimes which the learned have also traced to the Roman, and even more ancient nations. Our present inquiry is, to illustrate that proneness in man, of delighting to reverse the order of society, and ridiculing its decencies.
Here we had our boy-bishop, a legitimate descendant of this family of foolery. On St. Nicholas’s day, a saint who was the patron of children, the boy-bishop with his mitra parva and a long crosier, attended by his school-mates as his diminutive prebendaries, assumed the title and state of a bishop. The child-bishop preached a sermon, and afterwards, accompanied by his attendants, went about singing and collecting his pence: to such theatrical processions in collegiate bodies, Warton attributes the custom, still existing at Eton, of going ad montem.6 But this was a tame mummery, compared with the grossness elsewhere allowed in burlesquing religious ceremonies. The English, more particularly after the Reformation, seem not to have polluted the churches with such abuses. The relish for the Saturnalia was not, however, less lively here than on the Continent; but it took a more innocent direction, and was allowed to turn itself into civil life: and since the people would be gratified by mock dignities, and claimed the privilege of ridiculing their masters, it was allowed them by our kings and nobles; and a troop of grotesque characters, frolicsome great men, delighting in merry mischief, are recorded in our domestic annals.
The most learned Selden, with parsimonious phrase and copious sense, has thus compressed the result of an historical dissertation: he derives our ancient Christmas sports at once from the true, though remote, source. “Christmas succeeds the Saturnalia; the same time, the same number of holy-days; then the master waited upon the servant, like the lord of misrule.“7 Such is the title of a facetious potentate, who, in this notice of Selden’s, is not further indicated, for this personage was familiar in his day, but of whom the accounts are so scattered, that his offices and his glory are now equally obscure. The race of this nobility of drollery, and this legitimate king of all hoaxing and quizzing, like mightier dynasties, has ceased to exist.
In England our festivities at Christmas appear to have been more entertaining than in other countries. We were once famed for merry Christmases and their pies; witness the Italian proverb, ”Ha piu di fare che i forni di Natale in Inghilterra:” “He has more business than English ovens at Christmas.” Wherever the king resided, there was created for that merry season a Christmas prince, usually called “the Lord of Misrule;” and whom the Scotch once knew under the significant title of “the Abbot of Unreason.“ His office, according to Stowe, was “to make the rarest pastimes to delight the beholder.” Every nobleman, and every great family, surrendered their houses, during this season, to the Christmas prince, who found rivals or usurpers in almost every parish; and more particularly, as we shall see, among the grave students in our inns of court.
The Italian Polydore Vergil, who, residing here, had clearer notions of this facetious personage, considered the Christmas Prince as peculiar to our country. Without venturing to ascend in his genealogy, we must admit his relationship to that ancient family of foolery we have noticed, whether he be legitimate or not. If this whimsical personage, at his creation, was designed to regulate “misrule,” his lordship, invested with plenary power, came himself, at length, to delight too much in his “merry disports.” Stubbes, a morose puritan in the days of Elizabeth, denominates him “a grand captaine of mischiefe,” and has preserved a minute description of all his wild doings in the country; but as Strutt has anticipated me in this amusing extract, I must refer to his “Sports and Pastimes of the People of England,” p. 254.8 I prepare another scene of unparalleled Saturnalia, among the grave judges and serjeants of the law, where the Lord of Misrule is viewed amidst his frolicsome courtiers, with the humour of hunting the fox and the cat with ten couple of hounds round their great hall, among the other merry disports of those joyous days when sages could play like boys.
For those who can throw themselves back amidst the grotesque humours and clumsy pastimes of our ancestors, who, without what we think to be taste, had whim and merriment — there has been fortunately preserved a curious history of the manner in which “A grand Christmas” was kept at our Inns of Court, by the grave and learned Dugdale, in his “Origines Juridicales:” it is a complete festival of foolery, acted by the students and law-officers. They held for that season everything in mockery: they had a mock parliament, a Prince of Sophie, or Wisdom, an honourable order of Pegasus, a high constable, a marshal, a master of the game, a ranger of the forest, lieutenant of the Tower, which was a temporary prison for Christmas delinquents, all the paraphernalia of a court, burlesqued by these youthful sages before the boyish judges.
The characters personified were in the costume of their assumed offices. On Christmas-day, the constable-marshal, accoutred with a complete gilded “harness,” showed that everything was to be chivalrously ordered; while the lieutenant of the Tower, in “a fair white armour,” attended with his troop of halberdiers; and the Tower was then placed beneath the fire. After this opening followed the costly feasting; and then, nothing less than a hunt with a pack of hounds in their hall!
The master of the game dressed in green velvet, and the ranger of the forest in green satin, bearing a green bow and arrows, each with a hunting horn about their necks, blowing together three blasts of venery (or hunting), they pace round about the fire three times. The master of the game kneels to be admitted into the service of the high-constable. A huntsman comes into the hall, with nine or ten couple of hounds, bearing on the end of his staff a pursenet, which holds a fox and a cat: these were let loose and hunted by the hounds, and killed beneath the fire.
These extraordinary amusements took place after their repast; for these grotesque Saturnalia appeared after that graver part of their grand Christmas. Supper ended, the constable-marshal presented himself with drums playing, mounted on a stage borne by four men, and carried round; at length he cries out, “a lord! a lord!” &c., and then calls his mock court every one by name.
Sir Francis Flatterer, of Fowlshurt.
Sir Randall Rackabite, of Rascal-hall, in the county of Rakehell.
Sir Morgan Mumchance, of Much Monkery, in the county of Mad Mopery.
Sir Bartholomew Bald-breech, of Buttock-bury, in the county of Break-neck.9
They had also their mock arraignments. The king’s -serjeant, after dinner or supper, “oratour-like,” complained that the constable-marshal had suffered great disorders to prevail; the complaint was answered by the common-serjeant, who was to show his talent at defending the cause. The king’s -serjeant replies; they rejoin, &c.: till one at length is committed to the Tower, for being found most deficient. If any offender contrived to escape from the lieutenant of the Tower into the buttery and brought into the hall a manchet (or small loaf) upon the point of a knife, he was pardoned; for the buttery in this jovial season was considered as a sanctuary. Then began the revels. Blount derives this term from the French reveiller, to awake from sleep. These were sports of dancing, masking comedies, &c. (for some were called solemn revels,) used in great houses, and were so denominated because they were performed by night; and these various pastimes were regulated by a master of the revels.
Amidst “the grand Christmass,” a personage of no small importance was “the Lord of Misrule.” His lordship was abroad early in the morning, and if he lacked any of his officers, he entered their chambers to drag forth the loiterers; but after breakfast his lordship’s power ended, and it was in suspense till night, when his personal presence was paramount, or, as Dugdale expresses it, “and then his power is most potent.”
Such were then the pastimes of the whole learned bench; and when once it happened that the under-barristers did not dance on Candlemas day, according to the ancient order of the society, when the judges were present, the whole bar was offended, and at Lincoln’s -Inn were by decimation put out of commons, for example sake; and should 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,” I cannot furnish a detailed notice of these pastimes; for Dugdale, whenever he indicates them, spares his gravity from recording the evanescent frolics, by a provoking &c. &c. &c.
The dance “round about the coal-fire” is taken off in the Rehearsal. These revels have also been ridiculed by Donne in his Satires, Prior in his Alma, and Pope in his Dunciad. “The judge to dance, his brother serjeants calls.”10
“The Lord of Misrule,” in the inns of court, latterly did not conduct himself with any recollection of ”Medio tutissimus ibis,“ being unreasonable; but the “sparks of the Temple,” as a contemporary calls them, had gradually, in the early part of Charles the First’s reign, yielded themselves up to excessive disorders. Sir Symonds D’Ewes, in his MS. diary in 1620, has noticed their choice of a lieutenant, or lord of misrule, who seems to have practised all the mischief he invented; and the festival days, when “a standing table was kept,” were accompanied by dicing, and much gaming, oaths, execrations, and quarrels: being of a serious turn of mind, he regrets this, for he adds, “the sport, of itself, I conceive to be lawful.”
I suspect that the last memorable act of a Lord of Misrule of the inns of court occurred in 1627, when the Christmas game became serious. The Lord of Misrule then issued an edict to his officers to go out at Twelfth-night to collect his rents in the neighbourhood of the Temple, at the rate of five shillings a house; and on those who were in their beds, or would not pay, he levied a distress. An unexpected resistance at length occurred in a memorable battle with the Lord Mayor in person:— and I shall tell how the Lord of Misrule for some time stood victor, with his gunner, and his trumpeter, and his martial array: and how heavily and fearfully stood my Lord Mayor amidst his “watch and ward:” and how their lordships agreed to meet half way, each to preserve his independent dignity, till one knocked down the other: and how the long halberds clashed with the short swords: how my Lord Mayor valorously took the Lord of Misrule prisoner with his own civic hand: and how the Christmas prince was immured in the Counter; and how the learned Templars insisted on their privilege, and the unlearned of Ram’s -alley and Fleet-street asserted their right of saving their crown-pieces: and finally how this combat of mockery and earnestness was settled, not without the introduction of “a god,” as Horace allows on great occasions, in the interposition of the king and the attorney-general — altogether the tale had been well told in some comic epic; but the wits of that day let it pass out of their hands.
I find this event, which seems to record the last desperate effort of a “Lord of Misrule,” in a manuscript letter of the learned Mede to Sir Martin Stuteville; and some particulars are collected from Hammond L’Estrange’s Life of Charles the First.
Jan. 12, 1627-8.
“On Saturday the Templars chose one Mr. Palmer their Lord of Misrule, who, on Twelfth-eve, late 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 summons they within opened not the door, then the Lord of Misrule cried out, ‘Give fire, gunner!’ His gunner was a robustious Vulcan, 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 indignation; 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 lordship 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 gentlemen 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.”
Thus it appears, that although the grave citizens did well and rightly protect themselves, yet, by the attorney-general taking the Lord of Misrule in his coach, and the king giving his royal interference between the parties, that they considered that this Lord of Foolery had certain ancient privileges; and it was, perhaps, a doubt with them, whether this interference of the Lord Mayor might not be considered as severe and unseasonable. It is probable, however, that the arm of the civil power brought all future Lords of Misrule to their senses. Perhaps this dynasty in the empire of foolery closed with this Christmas prince, who fell a victim to the arbitrary taxation he levied. I find after this orders made for the Inner Temple, for “preventing of that general scandal and obloquie, which the House hath heretofore incurred in time of Christmas:” and that “there be not any going abroad out of the gates of this House, by any lord or others, to break open any house, or take anything in the name of rent or a distress.”
These “Lords of Misrule,” and their mock court and royalty, appear to have been only extinguished with the English sovereignty itself, at the time of our republican government. Edmund Gayton tells a story, to show the strange impressions of strong fancies: as his work is of great rarity, I shall transcribe the story in his own words, both to give a conclusion to this inquiry, and a specimen of his style of narrating this sort of little things. “A gentleman was importuned, at a fire-night in the public-hall, to accept the high and mighty place of a mock-emperor, which was duly conferred upon him by seven mock-electors. At the same time, with much wit and ceremony, the emperor accepted his chair of state, which was placed in the highest table in the hall; and at his instalment all pomp, reverence, and signs of homage were used by the whole company; insomuch that our emperor, having a spice of self-conceit before, was soundly peppered now, for he was instantly metamorphosed into the stateliest, gravest, and commanding soul that ever eye beheld. Taylor acting Arbaces, or Swanston D’Amboise, were shadows to him: his pace, his look, his voice, and all his garb, was altered. Alexander upon his elephant, nay, upon the castle upon that elephant, was not so high; and so close did this imaginary honour stick to his fancy, that for many years he could not shake off this one night’s assumed deportments, until the times came that drove all monarchical imaginations not only out of his head, but every one’s .”11 This mock “emperor” was unquestionably one of these “Lords of Misrule,” or “a Christmas Prince.” The “public hall” was that of the Temple, or Lincoln’s Inn, or Gray’s Inn.12 And it was natural enough, when the levelling equality of our theatrical and practical commonwealths-men were come into vogue, that even the shadowy regality of mockery startled them by reviving the recollections of ceremonies and titles, which some might incline, as they afterwards did, seriously to restore. The “Prince of Christmas” did not, however, attend the Restoration of Charles the Second.
The Saturnalian spirit has not been extinct even in our days. The Mayor of Garrat, with the mock addresses and burlesque election, was an image of such satirical exhibitions of their superiors, so delightful to the people.13 France, at the close of Louis the Fourteenth’s reign, first saw her imaginary “Regiment de la Calotte,” which was the terror of the sinners of the day, and the blockheads of all times. This “regiment of the skull-caps” originated in an officer and a wit, who, suffering from violent headaches, was recommended the use of a skull-cap of lead; and his companions, as great wits, formed themselves into a regiment, to be composed only of persons distinguished by their extravagances in words or in deeds. They elected a general, they had their arms blazoned, and struck medals, and issued “brevets,” and “lettres patentes,” and granted pensions to certain individuals, stating their claims to be enrolled in the regiment for some egregious extravagance. The wits versified these army commissions; and the idlers, like pioneers, were busied in clearing their way, by picking up the omissions and commissions of the most noted characters. Those who were favoured with its “brevets” intrigued against the regiment; but at length they found it easier to wear their “calotte,” and say nothing. This society began in raillery and playfulness, seasoned by a spice of malice. It produced a great number of ingenious and satirical little things. That the privileges of the “calotte” were afterwards abused, and calumny too often took the place of poignant satire, is the history of human nature as well as of “the calotins.”14
Another society in the same spirit has been discovered in one of the lordships of Poland. It was called “The Republic of Baboonery.” The society was a burlesque model of their own government: a king, chancellor, councillors, archbishops, judges, &c. If a member would engross the conversation, he was immediately appointed orator of the republic. If he spoke with impropriety, the absurdity of his conversation usually led to some suitable office created to perpetuate his folly. A man talking too much of dogs, would be made a master of the buck-hounds; or vaunting his courage, perhaps a field-marshal; and if bigoted on disputable matters and speculative opinions in religion, he was considered to be nothing less than an inquisitor. This was a pleasant and useful project to reform the manners of the Polish youth; and one of the Polish kings good-humourdly observed, that he considered himself “as much King of Baboonery as King of Poland.” We have had in our own country some attempts at similar Saturnalia; but their success has been so equivocal that they hardly afford materials for our domestic history.
1 Miscellaneous Works, vol. v. 504.
2 Seneca, Ep. 18.
3 Horace, in his dialogue with his slave Davus, exhibits a lively picture of this circumstance. Lib. ii. Sat. 7.
4 A large volume might be composed on these grotesque, profane, and licentious feasts. Du Cange notices several under different terms in his Glossary — Festum Asinorum, Kaleudæ, Cervula. A curious collection has been made by the Abbé Artigny, in the fourth and seventh volumes of his “Mémoires d’Histoire,” &c. Du Radier, in his “Récréations Historiques,” vol. i. p. 109, has noticed several writers on the subject, and preserves one on the hunting of a man, called Adam, from Ash-Wednesday to Holy-Thursday, and treating him with a good supper at night, peculiar to a town in Saxony. See “Ancillon’s Mélange Critique,” &c., i. 39, where the passage from Raphael de Volterra is found at length. In my learned friend Mr. Turner’s second volume of his “History of England,” p. 367, will be found a copious and a curious note on this subject.
5 Thiers. Traite des Jeux, p. 449. The fête Dieu in this city of Aix, established by the famous Rene d’Anjou, the Troubadour king, was re markable for the absurd mixture of the sacred and profane. There is a curious little volume devoted to an explanation of those grotesque ceremonies, with engravings. It was printed at Aix in 1777.
6 The custom is now abolished.
7 Selden’s “Table Talk.”
8 It may save the trouble of a reference to give here a condensation of Stubbes’ narrative. He says that the Lord of Misrule, on being selected takes twenty to sixty others “lyke hymself” to act as his guard, who are decorated with ribbons, scarfs, and bells on their legs. “Thus, all things set in order, they have their hobby-horses, their dragons, and other antiques, together with their gaudie pipers, and thunderyng drummers, to strike up the devill’s dance withal.” So they march to the church, invading it, even though service be performing, “with such a confused noyse that no man can heare his own voice.” Then they adjourn to the churchyard, where booths are set up, and the rest of the day spent in dancing and drinking. The followers of “My Lord” go about to collect money for this, giving in return “badges and cognizances” to wear in the hat; and do not scruple to insult, or even “duck,” such as will not contribute. But, adds Stubbes, “another sort of fantasticall fooles” are well pleased to bring all sorts of food and drink to furnish out the feast.
9 A rare quarto tract seems to give an authentic narrative of one of these grand Christmas keepings, exhibiting all their whimsicality and burlesque humour: it is entitled “Gesta Grayorum; or the History of the high and mighty Prince Henry, Prince of Purpoole, Arch-duke of Stapulia and Bernardia (Staple’s and Bernard’s Inns), Duke of High and Nether-Holborn, Marquess of St. Giles and Tottenham, Count Palatine of Bloomsbury and Clerkenwell, Great Lord of the Cantons of Islington, Kentish Town, &c., Knight and Sovereign of the most heroical Order of the Helmet, who reigned and died A.D. 1594.” It is full of burlesque speeches and addresses. As it was printed in 1688, I suppose it was from some manuscript of the times; the preface gives no information. Hone, in his “Year-Book,” has reprinted this tract, which abounds with curious details of the mock-dignity assumed by this pseudo-potentate, who was ultimately invited, with all his followers, to the court of Queen Elizabeth, and treated by her as nobly as if he had been a real sovereign.
10 On the last Revels held, see Gent. Mag. 1774, p. 273.
11 Pleasant Notes upon Don Quixote, by Edmund Gayton, Esq., folio, 1654, p. 24.
12 The universities indulged in similar festivities. An account of the Christmas Prince, elected by the University of Oxford in 1607, was published in 1816, from a manuscript preserved in St. John’s College, where his court was held. His rule commenced by the issuing of, “an act for taxes and subsidies” toward the defrayment of expenses, and the appointment of a staff of officers. After this the revels opened with a banquet and a play. The whole of his brief reign was conducted in “right royal” style. His mandates were constructed in the manner of a king; he was entitled “Prince of Alba Fortunata, Lord of St. John’s, Duke of St. Giles’, Marquess of Magdalen’s,” &c. &c.; and his affairs were similarly dignified with burlesque honours. “His privy chamber was provided and furnished with a chair of state placed upon a carpet, with a cloth of state hang’d over it, newly made for the same purpose.” At banquetings and all public occasions he was attended by his whole court. The whole of the sports occupied from the 21st of December until Shrove Tuesday, when the entertainments closed with a play, being one of eight performed at stated times during the festivities, which were paid for by the contributions of the collegians and heads of the house.
13 Foote’s amusing farce has immortalised this popular piece of folly; but those who desire to know more of the peculiarities and eccentricities of the election, will find an excellent account in Hone’s “Every-Day Book,” vol. ii., with some engravings illustrative of the same, drawn by an artist who attended the great mock election of 1781.
14 Their “brevets,” &c., are collected in a little volume, “Recueil des Pièces du Regiment de la Calotte; à Paris, chez Jaques Colombat, Imprimeur privilégié du Regiment. L’an de l’Ere Calotine 7726.” From the date, we infer that the true calotine is as old as the creation.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:49