ANCIENT AND MODERN;
THE MOST POPULAR IN THE WEST OF ENGLAND,
AND THE AIRS TO WHICH THEY ARE SUNG.
ALSO SPECIMENS OF
French Provincial Carols.
WITH AN INTRODUCTION AND NOTES
William Sandys, F.S.A.
RICHARD BECKLEY, 42, PICCADILLY.
This introduction contained no chapters or subdivisions of any sort. In an attempt to bring a slight degree of order, I have inserted some headings. Such headings are not a part of the original text, and should not be cited or deemed definitive of the following text. Suggestions for improvement are welcome.
This text was scanned and processed through Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software. While I have carefully attempted to locate and correct all errors, some have almost certainly escaped my notice. Again, your assistance in making corrections is appreciated. The kind correction will be met with the warmest response.
No changes have been made to bring the text into modern rules of spelling or punctuation (with the exception of removing a space between the last letter of a word and the punctuation mark, as was the former practice). Mr. Sandys often quoted original material. While the rules of spelling had been mostly standardized by the time of his writing in 1833, some of those older quotations contain decidedly original spelling. They have not been corrected, so as to retain the flavor (flavour) of the original.
All notes, which originally appeared at the base of each page, have been moved to the bottom of this webpage, with hyperlinks to and from each footnote.
The original text consumed 126 printed pages (on a 5" by 8" sheet); some paragraphs consumed an entire page (or longer). I have not subdivided paragraphs (although having do so would have increased readability).
Links to pages or sites outside of this document are my own.
On rare occasions, I have enclosed explanatory material. These materials will be in square brackets [square brackets]. For example, if there is a reference to St. Thomas' Day, I will add: [December 21], so that the reader will be reminded of the saint's day. While many erudite readers will already know this fact, I add it so that younger readers may enhance their knowledge.
On very rare occasions, I will insert explanatory information, indented and in italics, where mere brackets would too severely interfere with the flow of the text. They will be preceded with:
Editor's Note: (blah-blah-blah)
As I have no God-given facility with languages, I will not provide any translations of phrases in Middle English, French, Latin, Greek, nor any other language, which may be quoted by the learned Mr. Sandys. Any requests will be met with an apologic response.
Mr. Sandys wrote this introduction over 170 years ago (this webpage was created in September, 2005). It is a remarkable examination, by a learned individual, of his perception of the history and contemporary celebration of Christmas at the time of that writing (1833). In 1852, he published a subsequent work: Christmas-tide. I would recommend that you also consult that work, by way of comparison (includes his updated introduction).
For the contents, see: Table of Contents
Douglas D. Anderson
The Hymns and Carols of Christmas
The study of Popular Antiquities, as connected with the early history of mankind, is one, of deep interest, involving researches into the different ancient systems of religion, and is a subject of too serious a nature to be enlarged on in the following pages. The sacred rites and ceremonies of the various Heathen nations, however different the details may appear, had a common origin. For some few years after the Flood, mankind had one religion; the worship of the true God. But so prone is man to err, when unassisted by the Divine grace, that a century had scarcely elapsed before a perverted system was introduced, and the Tower of Babel was built, which caused the dispersion of nations. As the respective migrations receded from the common centre, which was the seat of true religion, so did the forms of worship adopted by them get gradually more corrupted; and in lapse of time, the allegories and symbols with which their ceremonies were burthened, confused all authentic traditions of their origin, unless, as has been supposed, they were preserved to a certain extent by some of the chief and chosen of the priesthood. Traces of such origin might, however, be found in every quarter of the world, however disguised; as, in the allusions to the deluge; the fall of man, his punishment, his forgiveness, and existence in a future state; vicarious sacrifice, debased into the immolation of human victims, and many others.
Festivals of the Ancients
The various customs to commemorate the return of the seasons, appear also to have been similar to a great extent throughout the world, though to these would occasionally be superadded festivals arising from local circumstances. These commemorations were held as religious festivals, and so deep rooted had become the attachment of the Heathens to them, that some of the early Christians, instead of endeavouring to abolish, made them subservient to Christianity, first modifying and cleansing them from their grosser ceremonies, a practice, however, reprobated by the Apostles. Gregory Thaumaturgus, bishop of Neocæsarea, who died in 265, instituted annual festivals to the saints and martyrs, which succeeded those of the Heathens, in order to facilitate their conversion; and the keeping of Christmas with joy and feasting, playing and sports, replaced the Bacchanalia and Saturnalia. Papal Rome preserved many relics of Heathen Rome; and ancient statues were preserved as objects of adoration, being changed but in name. Pagan temples also were converted into Christian churches. When Pope Gregory sent St. Austin over in the end of the sixth century to convert the Anglo-Saxons, he directed him to accommodate the ceremonies of the Christian worship, as much as possible, to those of the Heathen, that the people might not be much startled at the change; and, in particular, he advised him to allow the Christian converts, on certain festivals, to kill and eat a great number of oxen to the glory of God, as they had formerly done to the honour of the devil.1 In after times the clergy endeavoured to connect the remnants of Pagan idolatry with Christianity, in consequence of the difficulty they found in suppressing them. On the introduction of the Protestant religion, some Catholic observances were in like manner connived at, in order to humour the uneducated part of the community, and the festivals handed down, though with various alterations, from our Pagan ancestors, were preserved. Thus we may account for the superstitious customs that still attend the observance of many of our popular feasts and holidays, and that may be traced in some of our games and amusements, and indeed in several of the common occurrences of life.
Among the most celebrated of the festivals of the ancients was that in honour of the return of the sun, which at the winter solstice begins gradually to regain power, and to ascend apparently in the horizon. Previously to this the year was drawing to a close, and the world was typically considered to be in the same state. The promised restoration of light and commencement of a new æra were therefore hailed with rejoicings and thanksgivings.
The Saxon and other northern nations kept a festival at this time of the year in honour of Thor, in which they mingled feasting, drinking, and dancing, with sacrifices and religious rites. It was called Yule, or Jule, a term of which the derivation has caused dispute amongst antiquaries; some considering it to mean a festival, and others stating that Iol, or Iul, (spelt in various ways,) is a primitive word, conveying the idea of Revolution or Wheel, and applicable therefore to the return of the sun. Persons anxious to indulge in verbal disquisitions may find much learned information on the subject in the voluminous works of Gebelin, Hickes, Junius, &c. The name Yule still continues to be applied to the Christian festival in Scotland, and in parts of England; having been retained when Paganism gave place to Christianity.
The Saturnalia of the Romans had apparently the same object as the Yule-tide, or feast of the Northern nations, and were probably adopted from some more ancient nations, as the Greeks, Mexicans, Persians, Chinese, &c. had all something similar. In the course of them, as is well known, masters and slaves were supposed to be on an equality; indeed, the former waited on the Tatter. Presents were mutually given and received, as Christmas presents in these days. Towards the end of the feast, when the sun was on its return, and the world was considered to be renovated, a king or ruler was chosen, with considerable powers granted to him during his ephemeral reign, whence may have sprung some of the Twelfth Night revels, mingled with those in honour of the Manifestation and Adoration of the Magi. Our sacred feast of Christmas happens at the same time of the year as the Yule of the Northern nations, and the other feasts before alluded to, and has preserved vestiges of some of their observances: as decking with greens, the use of misletoe, and, perhaps, even the wassail bowl.
According to Brady,2 the Christian epocha was first introduced into chronology in the year 523, and was established in this country by Bede; but the observance of the feast in honour of the Nativity was of much earlier date. It is not certain whether it was kept by the Apostles, although by no means improbable. Clement, who flourished in the first century, says, “Brethren, keep diligently feast-daies, and truly in the first place the day of Christ’s birth.”3 In the second century it was ordained, according to Telesphorus, in his Decretall Epistle, “that in the holy night of the Nativity of our Lord and Saviour, they do celebrate publique Church services, and in them solemnly sing the Angells Hymne, because also the same night he was declared unto the shepherds by an Angell, as the truth itself doth witnesse.” In the same age Theophilus, bishop of Cæsarea, recommends the celebration of the birth-day of our Lord, on what day soever the 25th of December shall happen. In the following century Cyprian begins his Treatise on the Nativity thus: “The much wished-for and long-expected Nativity of Christ is come, the famous solemnity is come.” Gregory Nazianzen, who died in 389, and other Christian writers of the same age, mention the feast, and in particular he cautions against feasting to excess, dancing, and crowning the doors (practices derived from the Heathens) ; urging the celebration after an heavenly, and not an earthly manner. From this caution it would seem as if the religious part of the festival, as in the present times, was not sufficiently attended to, and that the spiritual thanksgiving was in danger of being absorbed in the temporal rejoicing. Gregory’s observation, however, might have been intended as much for a warning as a rebuke, because in the same age there is on record, connected with the religious celebration of this day, one of those acts of ferocity of which the annals of human nature unfortunately afford too many examples. A multitude of Christians of all ages had assembled to commemorate the Nativity in the temple at Nicomedia, in Bithynia, when Dioclesian the tyrant had it enclosed and set on fire, and about 20,000 persons perished on the occasion.4
After the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity, Christmas was observed as a solemn festival, and the ordinary meetings of the Wittenagemots were then held, as well as at Easter and Whitsuntide, wherever the court happened to be. At these times the Anglo-Saxon kings, and afterwards the Danish kings of England, lived in great state, wore their crowns, and were surrounded by all the great men of their kingdoms (with strangers of rank), who were sumptuously entertained, and the most important affairs of church and state were brought under consideration.
Dancing, Plays, Masques & Mysteries
In these, as in more polished ages, the love of dancing appears to have been extended to a fault, for William of Malmsbury relates a story of fifteen young women and eighteen young men dancing and singing (A.D. 1012) in the church-yard of a church dedicated to St. Magnus on the day before Christmas, and thereby disturbing one Robert a priest, who was performing mass in the church. In consequence of his prayers to that effect, they continued to dance and sing for a whole year without intermission, feeling neither heat, cold, hunger, thirst, weariness, or wear of apparel, and wore away the earth till they were sunk up to the middle.5
The Anglo-Norman kings celebrated these festivals with increased splendour, when all the prelates and nobles of the kingdom were, by their tenures, obliged to attend their sovereign to assist in the administration of justice, and in deliberating on the great affairs of the kingdom. On these occasions the king wore his crown, and feasted his nobles in the great hall of his palace, and made them presents of robes, &c. as marks of his royal favour; after which they proceeded to business.6
Polydore Virgil says,7 that it was the custom of the English, as early as the reign of Henry the Second (about 1170) to celebrate their Christmas with plays, masques, and magnificent spectacles, together with games at dice and dancing; he derives many of the particulars from the Roman Saturnalia, and considers the Christmas Prince, or Lord of Misrule, a personage almost peculiar to this country. From this time mummeries8 and disguisings, with plays and pageants, appear to have been introduced among the diversions of the king and nobles at Christmas; but they were probably in vogue among the inferior orders at an earlier period, though of a description rude as their habits and poor as their means. They are supposed to have been derived from the custom of the Heathens during some of their festivals, on the Kalends of January, to go about in disguises as wild beasts and cattle, and the sexes also exchanging apparel: a practice productive of many abuses, and much opposed by the clergy, when they found many of the early Christians endeavoured to intermingle it with their own observances during the Christmas holidays, although the more devout celebrated the Nativity by prayer, thanksgiving, and psalm-singing.
In the council, generally called Concilium Africanum, held A.D. 408, “Stage-playes and spectacles are forbidden on the Lord’s-day, and other solemne Christian festivalls.” Theodosius the younger, in his laws de Spectaculis, in 425, forbade shows or games on the Nativity, and some other feasts. In the council of Auxerre in Burgundy, in 578, disguisings are again forbidden; but these canons were not duly attended to, for at another council in 614 it was found necessary to repeat them in stronger terms, declaring it to be unlawful to make any filthy plays upon the Kalends of January.
The ecclesiastics are said to have introduced miracle-plays and scripture histories about the end of the eleventh century, and they were become common in the time of Henry the Second. The secular plays, which they were intended to replace, were of a comic nature, with coarse jests introduced, accompanied by music, dancing, mimicry, &c. and principally performed by strolling minstrels. The clergy, now adding instruction to amusement, found the representation of their plays very effective in withdrawing the populace from the licentiousness of the secular performances, and consequently endeavoured to render the construction of them more interesting and the machinery more imposing. They were at first of a very homely nature, and in many instances the effect is ludicrous to our modernized taste. Thus, in the Chester Mysteries,9 Noah’s wife refuses to go into the ark without her “gossepes everich one,” and swears by “Saint John” and “Christ;” when she is at last forced in by her sons, she salutes Noah, on his welcoming her, with a hearty box on the ear. In the Cornish mystery of the Creation of the World, by Jordan, published by Mr. Davies Gilbert, the lady is rather more courteous, as she says on being hastened —
‘Tis fit to save what is,
I must not cast it away,
They cost store of money
The things yt we here,
Dear Noah, you know.
It is however not unlikely that some comic passages were purposely inserted, in order to relieve the tediousness of the performances, which sometimes lasted for days. Dr. Dibdin mentions one called “La Vēgeance et destruction de Hierusalem,” acted in 1437, which occupied four days in the performance, and required one hundred and seventy-eight actors.10
The pilgrims and crusaders, on their return from the Holy Land, brought with them new subjects for theatrical representation, founded on the objects of their devotions and of their labours; and many allusions to these will be found in the early mysteries; as the introduction of Mahound for instance. The Christmas-play of St. George and the Dragon, still preserved in the western and northern parts of the kingdom, with the King of Egypt, and fair Sabra his daughter, now generally enacted by a “great lubberly boy,” may also derive its origin from this period. [Compare: Christmas Play of St. George and the Dragon, which is from Sandys' 1852 Christmas-tide; they are substantially the same.]
Certain religious fraternities and schools at different times claimed an exclusive privilege of performing these plays or mysteries; the parish clerks in particular were famed for their representations. In the year 1378 the scholars of St. Paul’s School presented a petition to Richard the Second, praying him “to prohibit some unexpert people from presenting the History of the Old Testament, to the great prejudice of the said clergy, who have been at great expense in order to represent it publickly at Christmas.” Different guilds, or trades, also had their respective pageants, of which several instances are mentioned in Brand’s History of Newcastle; the Chester and Coventry, and other similar sets of mysteries, were also performed by them.
Disguisings and pageants with these plays speedily became some of the principal diversions at court during Christmas, when any persons were admitted who were competent to add to the amusement of the guests.
In 1348, Edward the Third held his Christmas at Guildford, and there is an account in the wardrobe rolls of dresses, ad faciendum Ludos domini regis ad festum natalis Domini celebratos apud Guldeford. In 1391 (temp. Richard the Second) the sages of the law were made subjects for disguisements; as in the rolls of his wardrobe is this entry — “Pro xxi coifs de tela linea pro hominibus de lege contrafactis pro Ludo regis tempore natalis Domini anno xii.” That is, for twenty-one linen coifs for counterfeiting men of the law in the king’s play at Christmas.11 Ten years after this, the Emperor of Constantinople, as he is called, being here, the king (Henry the Fourth) held his Christmas at Eltham,12 and men of London made a “gret mummyng to him of xii Aldermen & here sones, for whiche they had gret thanke.” The citizens were in favour at this time, the king having two years previously escaped a dangerous conspiracy through the timely notice of the Lord Mayor.13 The Earls of Huntingdon and Kent, (then recently degraded from the dukedoms of Exeter and Surrey,) together with the Earl of Salisbury and others, in order to effect the restoration of Richard the Second, and the recovery of their own titles and possessions, had proposed, under colour of a Christmas mumming, to gain access to Windsor Castle, and kill the king and princes. In such esteem was this feast held, that it even hushed the voice of war. During the siege of Orleans in 1428, “the solemnities and festivities of Christmas gave a short interval of repose. The English lords requested of the French commanders, that they might have a night of minstrelsy, with trumpets and clarions. This was granted, and the horrors of war were suspended by melodies, that were felt to be delightful.”14
About the middle of the fifteenth century, Moralities were introduced, consisting of allegorical personifications; and these may also be included in the list of Christmas amusements. At this period, indeed, these public diversions were in general confined to certain great feasts, (of which Christmas was the principal,) when entertainments of all kinds were resorted to with avidity, to compensate for the previous want of them. A case somewhat parallel may be observed in the eagerness with which country people flock in to their central or market town, during fair-time. Nor is the character of the entertainments provided for them in the present age, of a much higher class than those of the time now under notice. Jugglers, inferior in skill if we may judge from old drawings, to those who amused our ancestors; learned animals; rope-dancers; itinerant singers stage-plays, in the literal sense of the word; and on the Continent, scripture pieces are yet performed,15 as they were in this country, (though perhaps in the shape of a puppet-show,) during the last Century.16 Of Mr. Punch, I beg to speak with due respect, whether he be the descendant of the Vice of the Moralities with his wooden lath, or not (though Harlequin may better answer this description); he still maintains his ground, and has been the cause of laughter to most of us; long and late therefore may it be before he is compelled by the “march of intellect” to squeak out his adieus, and favour us with his reminiscences.
During the destructive wars of York and Lancaster, the observances and festivities at Christmas time must have been liable to frequent interruption, but during the latter part of the reign of Edward the Fourth, and especially upon the establishment of Henry the Seventh, they were attended to with increasing zest. By the ordinances for governing the household of George Duke of Clarence in the 8th of Edward the Fourth, it appears that games at dice, cards, or any other hazard for money, were forbidden except during the twelve days at Christmas. In a book much esteemed at that time, and well-known at present to bibliomaniacs,17 it is stated, “For to represente in playnge at Crystmasse herodes and the thre kynges and other processes of the gospelles both than and at Ester and other tymes also it is lefull and cōmendable.” Leland, speaking of 1489, says, “This Cristmas I saw no disgysyngs, and but right few plays. But ther was an Abbot of Misrule, that made much sport and did right well his office.” In the following year, however, “on neweres day at nyght, there was a goodly disgysyng,” and “many and dyvers pleyes.” The Household Book of Henry the Seventh, in the Chapter-house at Westminster, contains numerous disbursements connected with Christmas diversions, which prove them to have been much encouraged at Court during this reign. In his seventh year is a payment to Wat Alyn (Walter Alwyn) in full payment for the disguysing made at Christmas, £14. 13s. 4d. and payments for similar purposes occur in the following years, varying occasionally in amount. Another book, also in the Chapter-house, called “The Kyng’s boke of paymentis,” contains various payments to players and others who assisted to amuse the king at Christmas; and among the rest, to the Lord of Misrule (or Abbot as he is sometimes called), for several years, “in rewarde for his besynes in Crestenmes holydays, £6. 13s. 4d.”
The plays at this festival seem to have been acted by the “gentelmen of the King’s Chapell,” as there are several liberal payments to certain of them for playing on Twelfth Night: for instance, an entry on January 7th, 28 Henry VII. of a reward to five of them of £6. 18s. 4d. for acting before the King on the previous night; but he had a distinct set of players for acting interludes at other times.
In the reign of Henry the Eighth, masques, pageants, and other similar diversions were very much in vogue, and the King himself was a frequent performer as well as spectator. The books of account at the Chapter-house afford numerous examples of payments for various purposes at Christmas time during this reign; and many interesting extracts may be found in Collier’s History of Dramatic Poetry. The payments to the Lord of Misrule, which in Henry the Seventh’s time never exceeded £6. 13s. 4d. were raised by Henry the Eighth in his first year to £8. 6s. 8d. and subsequently to £15. 6s. 5d.
Some of the entertainments were of a sumptuous nature: in the 1st year is a payment to “Rob. Amadas vpon his bill for certen plate of gold stuf bought of him for the disguisings,” £451. 12s. 2d.; and another to “Willm Buttry vpon his bill for certen sylks bought of him for the disguysings,” £133. 7s. 5d.
In the 6th year are charges “To Leonard Friscobald for diverse velvets, and other sylks, for the disguysing,” £247. 12s. 7d.; and “To Richard Gybson for certen apparell, &c. for the disguysing at the fest of Cristemes last,” £137. 14s. ½d. Considerable payments are made to the same Gybson in after years for the same purpose, particularly in the 11th, for the revells, called a Maskelyn.
In the 10th year large rewards were given to the gentlemen and children of the King’s Chapel; the former having £13. 6s. 8d. for their good attendance in Xtemas; and “Mr. Cornisse for playing affore the king opon newyeres day at nyght with the children,” £6. 13s. 4d.
In the 17th year of this reign (1525) there was a great sickness and mortality in London, and the King therefore kept his Christmas quietly at Eltham, whence it was called the “still Christmas.” This however did not satisfy the haughty Cardinal Wolsey, who “laye at the Manor of Richemond, and there kept open housholde, to lordes, ladies, and all other that would come, with plaies and disguisyng in most royall maner; whiche sore greued the people, and in especiall the kynges seruauntes, to se hym kepe an open Court, and the kyng a secret Court.”18
The King made himself amends for this cessation by the festivities of subsequent years, and Greenwich was frequently resorted to during this season. In 1527 there was a “solemne Christmas” held there “with revels, maskes, disguisings, and banquets; and the thirtieth of December, and third of January were solemne Justs holden, when at night the King and fifteen other with him, came to Bridewel, and there putting on masking apparell, took his barge, and rowed to the Cardinalls (Woolsey) place, where were at supper many Lords and Ladyes, who danced with the maskers, and after the dancing was made a great Banquet.”19
Celebrations by the People
The lower classes still practising the ceremonies and superstitions of their forefathers, added to them some imitations of the revelries of their superiors, but, as may be supposed, of a grosser description; and many abuses were committed. It was therefore found necessary by an Act passed in the 3d year of Henry VIII. to order that no persons should appear abroad like mummers, covering their faces with vizors, and in disguised apparel, under pain of three months’ imprisonment: and a penalty of 20s. was declared against such as kept vizors in their houses for the purpose of mumming. It was not intended, however, to debar people from proper recreations during this season, but on the contrary we have reason to believe that many indulgences were afforded to them, and that landlords and masters assisted them with the means of enjoying the customary festivities; listening to their tales of legendary lore, round the yule-block, when weary of more boisterous sports, and encouraging them by their presence, as is yet the case in some parts of the country, though the practice is unfortunately gradually wearing out.
The working classes at this period were professedly allowed greater privileges at Christmas than at any other part of the year.20 The Act of II Hen. VII. c. 2, against unlawful games, expressly forbids Artificers, Labourers, Servants, or Apprentices, to play at any such, but in Christmas; and then only in their masters’ houses by the latter; and a penalty of 6s. 8d. was incurred by any householder allowing such games, except during those holidays; which, according to Stow, extended from All-hallows evening to the day after Candlemasday. The Act of 33 Henry VIII. c. 9, enacts more particularly, “That no manner of Artificer or Craftsman of any handicraft or occupation, Husbandman, Apprentice, Labourer, Servant at husbandry, Journeyman, or Servant of artificer, Mariners, Fishermen, Watermen, or any Serving-man, shall from the said feast of the Nativity of St. John Baptist, play at the Tables, Tennis, Dice, Cards, Bowls, Clash, Coyting, Logating, or any other unlawful Game, out of Christmas, under the pain of xxs. to be forfeit for every time; and in Christmas to play at any of the said Games in their Masters’ houses, or in their Masters’ presence.”
The Minor Nobility
Many of the nobility imitated the royal splendour in the arrangement of their domestic establishments, maintaining such numerous retinues as to constitute a miniature court. The various household books that still exist shew the state in which they lived; among these, that of the Northumberland family is the best known, having been printed, and frequently quoted. It appears from the regulations here laid down, (1512,) that the “Almonar” was frequently “a maker of Interludys;” and if so, “than he to have a servaunt to the intent for writynge of the Parts; and ells to have non.” The persons on the establishment of the chapel performed plays from some sacred subject during Christmas; as “My lorde usith and accustomyth to gyf yerely, if his lordship kepe a chapell and be at home, them of his lordschipes chapell, if they doo play the Play of the NATIVITE uppon cristynmes day in the mornnynge in my lords chapell befor his lordship, xxs.” Other players were however permitted and encouraged, and a Master of the Revells appointed to superintend. And “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 a volume of accounts of the Earl of Northumberland at the Chapter-house, quoted by Collier,21 18s. 4d. is the price paid to his chaplain, William Peres, in the 17th Henry VIII. “ for makyng an Enterlued to be playd this next Cristenmas.” The Princess (afterwards Queen) Mary was indulged from her childhood with the usual ceremonies and festivities in her own household, although as she grew up, and her temper got soured, she probably lost all enjoyment of such scenes. Before she had completed her sixth year, Christmas revels were exhibited for her entertainment, and she was accustomed to give presents to the King’s players, the children of the chapel, and others. Ellis, in his “Original Letters,”22 gives the following curious application from the council for the household of the Lady Mary, to the all powerful Cardinal Wolsey about 1525, to obtain his directions and leave to celebrate the ensuing Christmas; so necessary was his sanction then to every public transaction.
“Please it youre grace for the great repaire of straungers supposed unto the Pryncesse honorable householde this solempne fest of Cristmas, We humbly beseche the same to let us knowe youre gracious pleasure concernyng aswell a ship of silver for the almes disshe requysite for her high estate, and spice plats, as also for trumpetts and a rebek to be sent, and whither we shall appoynte any Lord of Mysrule for the said honorable householde, provide for enterluds, disgysyngs, or pleyes in the said fest, or for banket on twelf nyght. And in likewise whither the Pryncesse shall sende any newe yeres gifts to the Kinge, the Quene, your Grace, and the Frensshe quene, and of the value and devise of the same. Besechyng youre grace also to pardon oure busy and importunate suts to the same in suche behalf made. Thus oure right syngler good lorde, We pray the holy Trynyte have you in his holy preservacion. At Teoxbury, the xxvij day of November.
Your humble orators,
the most reverent
The Inns Of Court
About this time the Christmasses at the Inns of Court became celebrated, especially those at Lincoln’s Inn, which had kept them as early as the 9th of Henry VI. The Temples and Gray’s Inn afterwards disputed the palm with it. The first particular account of any regulations for conducting one of these grand Christmasses is in the 9th of Henry VIII.; 23 when, besides the King for Christmas-day, the Marshal and the Master of the Revels, it is ordered that the King of Cockneys, on Childermas-day, should sit and have due service, and “that Jack Straw, and all his adherents, should be thenceforth utterly banished, and no more to be used in this house, upon pain to forfeit for every time five pounds, to be levied on every fellow hapning to offend against this rule.”
Of Jack Straw and his offences, I confess my ignorance; perhaps something in the nature of an anti-masque, or suspected of treasonable practices against the King of the Cockneys, and unpopular with the aristocratic or elder part of the community, from the amount of the fine imposed. The Society of Gray’s Inn, however, in 1527, got into a worse scrape than permitting Jack Straw and his adherents, for they acted a play (the first on record at the Inns of Court) during this Christmas, the effect whereof was, that Lord Governance was ruled by Dissipation and Negligence, by whose evil order Lady Public Weal was put from Governance.24 Cardinal Wolsey, conscience-smitten, thought this to be a reflection on himself, deprived the author, Serjeant Roe, of his coif, arid committed him to the Fleet, together with Thomas Moyle, one of the actors, until it was satisfactorily explained to him.
It was found necessary from time to time to make regulations to limit the extent of these revels and plays, and to provide for the expences, which were considerable, and they were therefore not performed every year. In 1531 the Lincoln’s Inn Society agreed that if the two Temples kept Christmas, they would also, not liking to be outdone. In 1550 an order was made in Gray’s Inn that no Comedies, commonly called Interludes, should be acted in the refectory in the intervals of vacation, except at the celebration of Christmas; and that then the whole body of students should jointly contribute towards the dresses, scenes, and decorations.
During the short reign of the youthful monarch Edward the Sixth, the splendour of the royal Christmasses somewhat abated, though they were still continued; and the King being much grieved at the condemnation of the Duke of Somerset, it was thought expedient to divert his mind by additional pastimes at the following Christmas (1553). George Ferrers of Lincoln’s Inn, a gentleman of some rank, was therefore appointed Lord of Misrule, or Master of the King’s pastimes, arid acquitted himself so well as to afford great delight and satisfaction. The expences on the occasion were more than £700.
The troubled reign of Mary was not congenial to these sports, though they were still kept up with spirit in different parts of the country; but in the first Christmas after the accession of Queen Elizabeth there were plays and entertainments before her; the former however unfortunately contained some offensive, and probably indecent matter, as the actors were commanded to leave off. Elizabeth, like her father, was fond of pomp and show, and particularly encouraged theatrical exhibitions. Complaints however having been made of the expence of these entertainments, she determined to control them, and directed an estimate to be made in the second year of her reign for the masks and pastimes to be shewn before her at Christmas and Shroveide, Sir Thomas Cawarden being then, as he had for some time previous been, Master of the Revells. The estimate amounted to £227. 11s. 2d. being nearly £200 less than the expences in former years.25 This control over the expences, however, must soon have ceased, for soon afterwards the sums were much increased. She had plays performed before her at Christmas during the greater part of her reign, and tile drama assumed a more regular form. “Ferrex and Porrex,” the first regular tragedy, and “Gammer Gurton’s Needle,” were both produced in the commencement of her reign, and in the after part the unrivalled Shakspeare caused a new era in dramatic literature.
Amongst other performances, Collier26 mentions one by the boys of the “grammer skolle” of Westminster, in January 1564—5; and in 1573 the children of Westminster, upon New Yeares Daye at night, performed one called “Truth, Faithfulnesse, and Mercye.” This custom of acting plays at or near Christmas, is preserved at Westminster School still, by the representation of one of Terence’s plays in the beginning of December. Masques and pageants were in great request as well as plays; and the Inns of Court vied with each other in the magnificence of their revels.
In the 4th of Elizabeth, there was a splendid Christmas kept at the Inner Temple, wherein Lord Robert Dudley (afterwards Earl of Leicester) was the chief person, Constable and Marshal, under the name of Palaphilos, and Christopher Hatton (afterwards Chancellor) was Master of the Game. Previous to this, a sort of parliament was held on St. Thomas’s eve [December 20], to decide whether they should keep it, and if so, to publish the officers’ names, and then “in token of joy and good liking, the bench and company pass beneath the hearth and sing a carol, and so to boyer.”
At these grand Christmasses there were revels and dancing during the twelve days of Christmas. It was about this time that “Ferrex and Porrex” was acted before the Queen by the gentlemen of the Inner Temple; the printer stating it to be “for furniture of part of the grand Christmasse in the Inner Temple.” The order of the usual Christmas amusements at the inns of court at this period, would cause some curious scenes if carried into effect in the present day. Barristers singing and dancing before the judges, serjeants, and benchers, would “draw a house,” if spectators were admitted. Of so serious import was this dancing considered, that by an order in Lincoln’s Inn, of February, 7th James I. the under barristers were by decimation put out of commons, because the whole bar offended by not dancing on Candlemas day preceding, according to the ancient order of the society, when the judges were present; with a threat that if the fault were 21.repeated, they should be fined or disbarred. Dugdale27 gives the following description of the Inner Temple revels, the three grand days being All-hallown, Candlemass, and Ascension day.
Editor's Note: All-Hallows Eve is October 31 - commonly celebrated as "Halloween". Candlemass is celebrated on February 2. Ascension day is celebrated 40 days after Easter.
“First, the solemn Revells (after dinner, and the play ended,) are begun by the whole House, Judges, Sergeants at Law, Benchers; the Utter and Inner Barr; and they led by the Master of the Revells: and one of the Gentlemen of the Utter Barr are chosen to sing a Song to the Judges, Serjeants, or Masters of the Bench; which is usually performed; and in default thereof, there may be an amerciament. Then the Judges and Benchers take their places, and sit down at the upper end of the Hall. Which done, the Utter-Barristers, and Inner-Barristers, perform a second solemn Revell before them. Which ended, the Utter-Barristers take their places and sit down. Some of the Gentlemen of the Inner-Barr, do present the House with dancing, which is called the Post Revells, and continue their Dances, till the Judges or Bench think meet to rise and depart.”
In 1594 there was a celebrated Christmas at Gray’s Inn, of which an account was published under the title of “Gesta Grayorum,” so called in consequence of the great popularity at that time of the Gesta Romanorum. The entertainments appear to have been heavy and pedantic in their nature, though suited to the style of the age. The concluding performance was a Masque before the Queen at Shrovetide, containing much of that flattery which prevailed in all exhibitions before her, being always expected by her. She was so much pleased with the performance, that on the courtiers dancing a measure after the Masque was ended, she exclaimed, “What! shall we have bread and cheese after a banquet?” Mr. Henry Helmes was the prince chosen, who assumed the following style, and had a numerous court to support him.
“The High and Mighty Prince, HENRY Prince of Purpoole, Arch-duke of Stapulia and Bernardia, Duke of High and Nether Holborn, Marquis of St. Giles and Tottenham, Count Palatine of Bloomsbury and Clerkenwell, Great Lord of the Cantons of Islington, Kentish- Town, Paddington and Knightsbridge, Knight of the most Heroical Order of the Helmet, and Sovereign of the same.”
These royal and public pageants allured many country gentlemen to the metropolis, who neglecting the comforts of their dependants in the country at this season, dissipated in town part of their means for assisting them, and incapacitated themselves from continuing that hospitality for which the country had been so long noted. In order to check this practice, the gentlemen of Norfolk and Suffolk were in 1589 commanded to depart from London before Christmas; and to repair to their countries, and there to keep hospitality amongst their neighbours. The presence of the higher classes would have controlled the tendency to drinking and riotous sports among the country people, which the resort of minstrels and other strollers at this time to taverns and ale-houses encouraged; while their real enjoyments would have been increased through the assistance and fostering care of their superiors, bearing in mind the recommendation of a quaint and well-known writer of this age, Thomas Tusser, in his “Hundreth good pointes of Husbandrie.”
“At Christmas be mery, and thanke god of all:
And feast thy pore neighbours, the great with the small.
Yea al the yere long haue an eie to the poore:
And god shall sende luck, to kepe open thy doore.”
Masques and plays, with other Christmas festivities, continued throughout the reign of James the First, and the Prince (Charles) himself occasionally performed, and in particular gained great applause in Ben Jonson’s Mask, “‘The Vision of Delight, or Prince’s Mask,”28 performed on Twelfth-night in 1617—18, when the Muscovy Ambassadors were feasted at court; and £750 were issued for the necessary preparations. A Masque of ladies had been prepared for the same occasion, which for some reason was not allowed by the King and Queen.
In 1607 there was a grand exhibition of the Christmas Prince at St. John’s College, Oxford, of which a description was printed. It was conducted with the accustomed ceremonies, but with more than usual pomp. A very numerous court was appointed, and pageants and dramatic performances were from time to time exhibited, the Prince (Mr. Thomas Tucker) occasionally issuing orders for the good conduct of the common weal, and for raising the supplies, which, as may be supposed, were principally in the nature of benevolences. The Prince did not resign his office until Shrove Tuesday [the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent], and on the following Saturday the sports were concluded with a play, which there had not previously been time for. In the course of it some disturbances arose, caused by the numerous persons who were unable to find room within the building, but they were fortunately quelled without any serious mischief. This account was reprinted in 1816, and is therefore within reach of the curious in these matters.
The winter amusements in vogue at this period may be seen by the following extract from Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy.29
"The ordinary recreations which we have in winter, and in most solitary times busie our minds with, are Cardes, Tables and Dice, Shovelboard, Chesse-play, the Philosopher’s game, small trunkes, shuttle-cocke, billiards, musicke, masks, singing, dancing, ulegames, frolicks, jests, riddles, catches, purposes, questions and commands, merry tales of errant Knights, Queenes, Lovers, Lords, Ladies, Giants, Dwarfes, Theeves, Cheaters, Witches, Fayries, Goblins, Friers," &c.
During the reign of Charles the First, until the year 1641, or thereabouts, when the national troubles interfered with all similar amusements, and the spirit of fanaticism endeavoured to abolish any commemoration of the Nativity of our Saviour, masks and pageants were continued at court during Christmas, and frequently with great splendour. In 1630-1, the Queen and her ladies presented a mask called “Love’s Triumph through Callipolis,” and the King, with certain lords and gentlemen, one called “Chloridia,” both written by Ben Jonson. In 1632-3 the Queen got up a Pastoral in Somerset House, in which it would seem she herself took a part. There were masks at the same time, independently of this performance, the cost of which considerably exceeded £2000, besides that portion of the charge which was borne by the office of the Revels, and charged to the accounts of that department.30
On 23d Dec. 1632, a grant of £450 was made to George Kirke, Esq. Gentleman of the Robes, for the masking attire of the King and his party. The King and Queen, with many of the courtiers, were in the habit of joining in these amusements,—a practice of early date also in France. Margaret de Valois, Queen of Navarre, wrote Moralities in 1540, which she called Pastorals, to he acted by the ladies of her court31 On the 13th Dec. 1637, a warrant under Privy Seal was issued to the same George Kirke for £150 to provide masking apparel for the King; and on the 1st of the same month Edmund Taverner had a warrant for £1400 towards the charge of a mask to be presented at Whitehall the next Twelfth Night. A similar sum for a similar purpose was granted to Michael Oldisworth on 3rd January 1639-40. Many interesting particulars connected with the royal masks will be found in Nichols’s “Progresses of Elizabeth and James the First.”
The Inns of Court continued to maintain their celebrity for these entertainments.32 In 1635, in particular, there was a splendid one at the Middle Temple, when Mr. Francis Vivian, a gentleman of Cornwall, son of Sir Francis Vivian, was elected the Christmas Prince, and expended £2000 out of his own pocket to support his character with becoming state. But their revels were not confined to Christmas, for in February 1633 there was a celebrated mask called “The Triumph of Peace,” presented jointly by the two Temples, Lincoln’s Inn and Gray’s Inn, which cost the Societies above £20,000. Evelyn in his Memoirs relates, that on 15th December, 1641, he was elected one of the Comptrollers of the Middle Temple revellers, “as the fashion of ye young Students and Gentlemen was, the Christmas being kept this yeare with greate solemnity;” but he got excused from serving.
An order still existed directing the nobility and gentry who had mansion-houses in the country “to repair to them to keep hospitality meet to their degrees;” as Sir J. Astley, on 20th of March, 1637-8, in consequence of ill health, obtained a licence to reside in London, or where he pleased, at Christmas, or at any other times:33 which proves such a licence to have been requisite.
The noblemen and gentlemen of fortune lived when in the country like petty princes, and in the arrangement of their households copied that of their sovereigns, having officers of the same name and import, and even heralds wearing their coat of arms at Christmas, and other solemn feasts, crying largesse thrice at the proper times. They feasted in their halls, where many of the Christmas sports were performed. When coals began to be introduced, the hearth was commonly in the middle, whence, according to Aubrey, is the saying, “Round about our coal-fire.” Christmas was considered as the commemoration of a holy festival, to be observed with cheerfulness as well as devotion. The comforts and personal gratification of their dependants were provided for by the landlords, their merriment encouraged, and their sports joined. The working man looked forward to Christmas as the portion of the year which repaid his former toils; and gratitude for the worldly comforts then received would occasion him to reflect on the eternal blessings bestowed on mankind by the event then commemorated.
Herrick, a writer of the former part of the 17th Century, in “A New Yeares Gift sent to Sir Simeon Steward" included in his “Hesperides,” sings
Of Christmas sports, the wassel—boule,
That tost up after Fox-i’-th’-hole;
Of Blind-man-buffe, and of the care
That young men have to shooe the Mare;
Of twelf-tide cakes, of pease and beanes,
Wherewith ye make those merry sceanes,
When as ye chose your king and queen,
And cry out, ‘Hey for our town green.’
Of ash-heapes, in the which ye use
Husbands and wives by streakes to chuse;
Of crackling laurell, which fore-sounds
A plentious harvest to your grounds;
Of these, and suchlike things, for shift,
We send in stead of New-yeares gift.”
He finishes with
“And thus, throughout, with Christmas playes
Frolick the full twelve holy—dayes.”34
The Suppression of Christmas
The Carol, by George Withers, printed in the following collection, contains many allusions to the customs attending the feast. [See: So, Now Is Come Our Joyfulst Feast] But now a cessation was about to take place in these sports. In 1642 the first ordinances were issued to suppress the performance of plays, and hesitation was expressed as to the manner of keeping Christmas. Some shops in London were even opened on Christmas-day 1643, part of the people being fearful of a Popish observance of the day. The Puritans gradually prevailed, and in 1647 some parish officers were committed for permitting ministers to preach upon Christmas-day, and for adorning the Church.35
On the 3rd of June in the same year, it was ordained by the Lords and Commons in Parliament, that the feast of the Nativity of Christ, with other holidays, should be no longer observed, and that all scholars, apprentices, and other servants, with the leave and approbation of their masters, should have such relaxation from labour on the second Tuesday in every month as they used to have from such Festivalls and Holy dayes: and in Canterbury, on the 22nd of December following, the crier went round by direction of the Mayor, and proclaimed that Christmas-day and all other superstitious festivals should be put down, and a market kept upon that day.
After the defeat of the royalists, and the execution of the monarch, the ruling manners of the age were marked by austerity, sometimes accompanied by hypocrisy, little favourable therefore to festive amusements, however innocent. The Parliament, by an order dated the 24th of December 1652, directed, “ That no observation shall be had of the five and twentieth day of December, commonly called Christmas Day; nor any solemnity used or exercised in churches upon that day in respect thereof.” And Evelyn states in his Memoirs,36 that as he and his wife, with others, were taking the sacrament on Christmas-day 1657, the chapel was surrounded by soldiers, and the assembly taken into custody and examined for celebrating the Nativity against the ordinance of the Commonwealth; but were let off. Still the Christmas customs and festivities could not be abolished by the harsh measures of the republicans, though banished from high places (if any such could then be so called), and practised by stealth or in privacy, and without ostentation. The motto of No. 37, of “Mercurius Democritus,” from December 16th to December 22nd 1652, begins,
Old Christmas now is come to town,
Though few do him regard,
He laughs to see them going down
That have put down his Lord.
In “The Vindication of Christmas,” 4to. 1653, a mock complaint in the character of Father Christmas, he laments the treatment he had received for the last twelve years, and that he was even then but coolly received, adding, “But welcome, or not welcome, I am come;” he says, his “best and freest welcome with some kinde of countrey farmers was in Devonshire,” (in which we may fairly include Cornwall, where the customs are still so zealously preserved,) thus describing his entertainment among them (pp. 7—8).
“After dinner we arose from the boord, and sate by the fire, where the harth was imbrodered all over with roasted apples, piping hot, expecting a bole of ale for a cooler, which immediately was transformed into warm lambwool. After which, we discoursed merily, without either prophaness or obscenity; some went to cards; others sung carols, and pleasant songs (suitable to the times); then the poor laboring Hinds, and Maid-servants, with the plow-boys, went nimbly to dancing; the poor toyling wretches being glad of my company, because they had little or no sport at all till I came amongst them; and therefore they skipped and leaped for joy, singing a carol to the tune of hey,
“Let’s dance and sing, and make good chear,
For Christmas comes but once a year:
Draw hogsheads dry, let flagons fly,
For now the bells shall ring;
Whilst we endeavor to make good
The title ‘gainst a King.
“Thus at active games, and gambols of hotcockles, shooing the wild mare, and the like harmless sports, some part of the tedious night was spent.”
After the Restoration an effort was made to revive the Christmas amusements at Court at Whitehall, but they do not appear ever to have recovered their former splendour. The habits of Charles the Second were of too sensual a nature to induce him to interest himself in such pursuits besides which the manners of the country had been changed during the sway of the Puritan party. A pastoral however, called “CALISTO,” written by Crowne, was acted by the daughters of the Duke of York and the young nobility. About the same time the Lady Anne, afterwards Queen, acted the part of Semandra, in Lee’s Mithridates. Betterton and his wife instructed the performers: in remembrance of which, when Anne came to the throne, she gave the latter a pension of £100 a-year.
The Inns of Court also had their Christmas feasts but the conduct of them was probably not so much coveted as in former times, as there is an entry in the records of Gray’s Inn, on 3rd November 1682, “That Mr. Richard Gipps, on his promise to perform the office of Master of the Revels, this and the next Term, be called to the Bar of Grace,” i.e. without payment of the usual fees: thus holding out a reward for his services, instead of allowing him, as in former times, to spend a large portion of his private fortune, unrequited, except by the honour of the temporary office.
The Rev. Henry Teonge, chaplain of one of our ships of war, gives in his Diary (1825, p. 127—8.) a description of the manner in which the Christmas was spent on board in 1675.
“Dec. 25, 1675.—Crismas day wee keepe thus. At 4 in the morning our trumpeters all doe flatt their trumpetts, and begin at our Captain’s cabin, and thence to all the officers’ and gentlemen’s cabins; playing a levite at each cabine door, and bidding good morrow, wishing a merry Crismas. After they goe to their station, viz, on the poope, and sound 3 levitts in honour of the morning. At 10 wee goe to prayers and sermon; text, Zacc. ix. 9. Our Captaine had all his officers and gentlemen to dinner with him, where wee had excellent good fayre: a ribb of beife, plumb-puddings, minct pyes, &c. and plenty of good wines of severall sorts; dranke healths to the King, to our wives and friends, and ended the day with much civill myrth.”
The spirit of the Christmas festivities had abated during the Commonwealth in many parts of the country, particularly where great establishments had become extinct; and on the restoration of Monarchy it required some time to revive them properly again. Many of the popular songs of the day complain of this, and contrast them with former times,—a species of grumbling, however, as ancient as ballad writing, or Homer himself. Nedham, in his History of the Rebellion (1661), bewails the decline of Christmas, in consequence of Puritanism, and says,
Gone are those golden days of yore,
When Christmass was a high day:
Whose sports we now shall see no more;
‘Tis turn’d into Good Friday.
In a ballad called “The old and young Courtier,” printed in 1670, comparing the times of Queen Elizabeth with those of her successors, the 5th and 12th verses contain the following parallel respecting Christmas :—
With a good old fashion, when Christmasse was come
To call in all his old neighbours with bagpipe and drum,
With good chear enough to furnish every old room
And old liquor, able to make a cat speak, and man dumb.
Like an old courtier of the Queen's,
And the Queen’s old courtier.
With a new fashion, when Christmas is drawing on,
On a new journey to London straight we all must begone,
And leave none to keep house, but our new porter John,
Who relieves the poor with a thump on the back with a stone;
Like a young courtier of the King’s,
And the King’s young courtier.37
Another called “Time’s Alteration; or, the Old Man’s Rehearsal, what brave dayes he knew a great while agone, when his old cap was new,” sings,
A man might then behold,
At Christmas, in each hall,
Good fires to curb the cold,
And meat for great and small:
The neighbours were friendly bidden,
And all had welcome true,
The poor from the gates were not chidden,
When this old cap was new.
Black jacks to every man
Were fill’d with wine and beer;
No pewter pot nor can
In those days did appear:
Good cheer in a nobleman’s house
Was counted a seemly shew;
We wanted no brawn nor souse,
When this old cap was new38
Another of a somewhat similar, though of a less querulous nature, and rejoicing at the renewal of Christmas customs, after they had ceased for a time, is printed at length in the ensuing collection (p. 53: Old Christmas Returned, or All You That To Feasting and Mirth Are Inclin'd). Poor Robin for 1695, mentions Christmas with equal zest, when he seems to feast in idea on the good things of the season, in the Christmas song or carol from which the following lines are taken.39
Now thrice welcome, Christmas,
Winds brings us good cheer,
Minc’d-pies and plumb-porridge,
Good ale and strong beer;
With pig, goose, and capon,
The best that may be,
So well doth the weather
And our stomachs agree.
Observe how the chimneys
Do smoak all about,
The cooks are providing
For dinner, no doubt;
But those on whose tables
No victuals appear,
O may they keep Lent
All the rest of the year!
* * * * *
* * * * *
But as for curmudgeons,
Who will not be free,
I wish they may die
On the three-legged tree.
The masques and pageants at court gradually declined, and at first were succeeded by feasts and entertainments, until these in turn were omitted. The New Year’s Ode of the Poet Laureate in process of time was itself forgotten, and even that lingering relic of royal Christmasses, plum-porridge, of which, until lately, a tureen was served up to the chaplains at St. James’s, is now discarded: the only ceremony now left being, if I am not mistaken, the offering at the altar on Twelfth-day.
The Christmas feasts in the establishments of noblemen and gentlemen of wealth abated in splendour and hospitality more gradually than those of the royal household, and are still kept up in parts of the country, but each succeeding festival finds them fewer in number.
An amusing little book, called “Round about our Coal-Fire, or Christmas Entertainments,” gives an account of the manner of observing this festival among the middling classes towards the beginning of last century, and as the writer draws a contrast between his and former times, in the like spirit of grumbling, he may be supposed to give some insight into the amusements of a century preceding himself. He says, that “the manner of celebrating this great course of holydays is vastly different now to what it was in former days There was once upon a time Hospitality in the Land; an English Gentleman at the opening of the great day, had all his Tenants and Neighbours enter’d his hall by day-break, the strong-beer was broach’d, and the black-jacks went plentifully about with toast, sugar, nutmeg, and good Cheshire cheese; the rooms were embower’d with holly, ivy, cypress, bays, laurel, and missleto, and a bouncing Christmas log in the chimney glowing like the cheeks of a country milk-maid; then was the pewter as bright as Clarinda, and every bit of brass as polished as the most refined Gentleman; the Servants were then running here and there, with merry hearts and jolly countenances; every one was busy in welcoming of Guests, and look’d as snug as new-lick’d puppies; the Lasses were as blithe and buxom as the maids in good Queen Bess’s days, when they eat sirloins of roast beef for breakfast; Peg would scuttle about to make a toast for John, while Tom run harum scarum to draw a jug of ale for Margery.” And afterwards, “This great festival was in former times kept with so much freedom and openness of heart, that every one in the country where a Gentleman resided, possessed at least a day of pleasure in the Christmas holydays; the tables were all spread from the first to the last, the sir-loyns of beef, the minc’d-pies, the plumb-porridge, the capons, turkeys, geese, and plumb-puddings, were all brought upon the board; and all those who had sharp stomachs and sharp knives, eat heartily and were welcome, which gave rise to the proverb,
Merry in the Hall, when beards wag all.
There were then turnspits employed, who by the time dinner was over, would look as black and as greasy as a Welch porridge-pot, but the Jacks have since turned them all out of doors. The geese, which used to be fatted for the honest neighbours, have been of late sent to London, and the quills made into pens to convey away the Landlord’s estate; the sheep are drove away to raise money to answer the loss at a game at dice or cards, and their skins made into parchment for deeds and indentures; nay, even the poor innocent bee, who was used to pay its tribute to the Lord once a year at least in good metheglin, for the entertainment of the guests, and its wax converted into beneficial plaisters for sick neighbours, is now used for the sealing of deeds to his disadvantage.”
He gives a ridiculous instance of the influence of the Squire in former times, that if he happened to ask a neighbour what it was o’ clock, he returned with a low scrape, “It is what your Worship pleases.” He adds, “The spirit of hospitality has not quite forsaken us; several of the gentry are gone down to their respective seats in the country, in order to keep their Christmas in the old way, and entertain their tenants and trades-folks as their ancestors used to do, and I wish them a merry Christmas accordingly.”
Among the amusements of his own time, he mentions “Mumming, or Masquerading, when the ‘Squire’s wardrobe is ransacked for dresses of all kinds, and the coal-hole searched around, or corks burnt to black the faces of the fair, or make deputy-mustaches, and every one in the family, except the ‘Squire himself, must be transformed from what they were.” Blind-man’s buff, puss in the corner, questions and commands, hoop and hide, and story-telling, were also resorted to for variety, but cards and dice were seldom set on foot, “unless a lawyer is at hand to breed some dispute for him to decide, or at least have some party in.” Dancing was also in great vogue, and here the writer takes an opportunity of saying, “The dancing and singing of the Benchers in the great Inns of Court in Christmas, is in some sort founded upon interest; for they hold, as I am informed, some priviledge by dancing about the fire in the middle of their Hall, and singing the song of Round about our Coal Fire,” &c.
In Major Pearson’s collection, in the library of the late Duke of Roxburghe, vol. i. p. 48. in bl. let., is a ballad of older date than this book, called “Christmas Lamentation for the losse of his acquaintance, showing how he is forst to leave the country and come to London. To the tune of Now Spring is come,”—which contains similar complaints of the degeneracy of the times, the decay of good fellowship, and the neglect of Christmas by the wealthy: the poet laments, that,
Since Pride came up with yellow starch,
Pride and luxury they doe devoure
And beggary they doth beget
In many a knight.
Madam, forsooth, in her coach shee must wheell,
Although she weare her hose out at the heele;
And on her back weare that for a weed,
Which me and all my fellowes would feed, &c.
It begins thus
Christmas is my name; farre have I gone,
Have I gone, have I gone, have I gone,
Whereas great men by flocks there be flowne,
There be flowne, there be flowne, there be flowne,
To London ward;
Where they in pomp and pleasure doe waste
That which Christmas was wonted to feast,
Houses where musicke was wont for to ring,
Nothing but bats and howlets doe sing,
Welladay, welladay, welladay!
Where should I stay
Christmas beefe and bread is turned to stones, &c.
And silken rags;
And ladie Money sleeps, arid makes moanes, &c.
In misers bags.
Houses where pleasure once did abound,
Nought but a dogge and a shepheard is found,
Places where Christmas revels did keep,
Is now become habitations for sheepe,
Pan, shepheards’ god, doth deface, &c.
Lady Ceres’ crowne,
And tillage that doth goe to decay, &c.
In every towne.
Landlords their rents so highly enhance,
That Pierce the plowman barefoot may dance;
And farmers, that Christmas would entertain,
Have scarce wherewith themselves to maintain, &c,40
In many parts of the kingdom, especially in the northern and western parts, this festival is still kept up with spirit among the middling and lower classes, though its influence is on the wane even with them; the genius of the present age requires work and not play, and since the commencement of this century a great change may be traced. The modern instructors of mankind do not think it necessary to provide for popular amusements, considering mental improvement the one thing needful: and to a great extent they may be right; the exercise of the mind among the working classes serving as a relaxation to bodily labour; as bodily exercise or athletic games serve to relieve from great mental exertion. Conferring on the labouring classes the power of mental recreation, of which they were in general incapable but a few years since, is like bestowing on them an additional sense, and of the highest value if properly directed. Still a cheerful observance of the great festivals of the year may well combine with this popular rage for reading, and the “Schoolmaster” might allow his Christmas holidays to be something more than a mere cessation from labour for a day or two. They might he observed with hospitality and innocent revelry, joined to the religious observances by which as Christians we are bound to shew our gratitude for the unbounded mercy vouchsafed us: for the fulfilment of a promise pronounced in the earliest ages of the world, which was to release us from the dominion of Satan; a promise which even the Pagans in their traditions never lost sight of, although they confused its import with their own superstitious ceremonies, through the da’rkness of which its glimmering may be traced.
Yule Logs and Yule-Cakes
The commencement of this feast is on the eve preceding the Nativity, having been announced by the waits for several nights previous. The first ceremony, after having properly decked the house with evergreens, including the misseltoe with its pearly berries, is, or should be, to light the Christmas block, or Yule log, a custom of very ancient date. This is a massy piece of wood, frequently the rugged root of a tree, grotesquely marked, and which should burn throughout the holidays, reserving a small piece to light the fire for the Christmas in the ensuing year. According to Drake (Shakspeare and his Times), this was placed “in the centre of the great hall, each of the family in turn sate down upon it, sung a Yule-Song, and drank to a merry Christmas and a happy new year. The family and their friends were feasted with Yule-Dough or Yule-Cakes, on which were impressed the figure of the child Jesus; and with bowls of frumenty, made from wheat cakes or creed wheat, boiled in milk, with sugar, nutmeg, &c. To these succeeded tankards of spiced ale, while preparations were usually going on among the domestics for the hospitalities of the succeeding day.” That cheerful writer, Herrick, thus mentions it in his “Ceremonies for Christmasse.”
Come, bring with a noise,
My merrie merrie boyes,
The Christmas log to the firing;
While my good dame, she
Bids ye all be free,
And drink to your hearts desiring.
With the last yeeres brand
Light the new block, and
For good successe in his spending,
On your psaltries play,
That sweet luck may
Come while the log is a teending.
Drink now the strong laere,
Cut the white loafe here,
The while the meat is a shredding;
For the rare mince-pie,
And the plums stand by,
To fill the paste that’s a kneading.41
Froissart42 mentions a Christmas log of a novel description, at a great feast held by Earl Foix on Christmas day, according to his custom. After dinner he went up into a gallery, ascending a staircase of twenty-four steps. It being cold, he complained that the fire was not large enough, on which a person “named Ervalton of Spayne, went down stairs, and seeing in the court a great many asses laden with wood for the house, took up one of the largest of them, with the woode, and laid him on his back, carried him up stairs, and threw him with the wood on the fire, feet upwards, to the marvel of the beholders.”
Lamb's Wool and Wassail
The Yule-Dough, according to Brand, was a little image of paste, intended for the infant Saviour with the Virgin, formerly presented by the bakers to their customers. Presents of sweetmeats and confectionery in the shape of infants, crosses, &c. used to be offered to the holy fathers at Rome. Hone, in his “Every Day Book,” mentions a custom at Venice, to eat a kind of pottage, called torta de lasagne, composed of oil, onions, paste, parsley, pine nuts, raisins, currants, and candied orange peel; and in some parts of the North of Europe, the peasants make bread in the shape of a boar-pig, and keep it on the table throughout the holidays. In the Noei Borguignon (1720, pp. 236-7), a species of Christmas bread is mentioned, called Foisse, or Fouace, “sorte de pain blanc que les Boulangers cuisent à Dijon la veille de Noël, & dont ils font un très grand débit, parce qu’il n’est pas jusqu’aux plus pauvres geris qui, a l’honneur de la fête, ne veuillent manger de la fouace.” These viands, with mince-pies and other Christmas dainties, had probably somewhat the same origin, and that of considerable antiquity. The Wassail Bowl, or Lamb’s Wool, is another joyous accompaniment of this eve, a composition of ale, nutmeg, sugar, toast, and roasted crabs or apples, still preserved in many parts.43 According to Vallancey,44 the term Lamb’s Wool is a corruption from La Mas Ubhal, the day of the apple fruit, pronounced Lanmasool. The term Wassail, or Wassel, is generally derived from the salutation of Rowena, daughter of the Saxon Hengist to the British King Vortigern, in the early part of the 5th century, when she presented him with a bowl of some favourite liquor, welcoming him with the words “Louerd king wass-heil,” to which he answered as he was directed, “Drinc heile.” She appears, however, only to have made use of a form of speech already known. The term wasseling has at any rate, from a very early period, been used for jovial revelry and carousing45 and the wassel-bowl has been particularly appropriated to this time of the year.
Among the ordinances for Henry the Seventh’s household, the steward, when he enters with the Wassel, is directed “to cry three times, Wassell, Wassell, Wassell, to which the chappell (probably gentlemen of the chapel) to answere with a good song.” There were regular Wassail-songs, of which some ancient specimens may be found in the Harleian MSS. (275 and 541 [Harleian Wassail] for instance,) but of no great merit or curiosity, sometimes containing a mixture of Latin and English, not unusual in the monkish times, as thus,
Joy we all now yn this feste
For verbum caro factum est.
[Compare: Make We Merry In This Feast]
The following is, perhaps, one of the most amusing.46
Bryng vs home good ale, s’, bryng vs home good ale;
And for our der lady love, brynge vs home good ale.
Brynge home no beff, s’, for that ys full of bonys,
But brynge home good ale Inowgh, for I love wyle yt.
Brynge vs home no wetyn brede, for that ys full of braund,
Nothyr no ry brede, for yt ys of yt same.
Brynge vs home no porke, s’, for yt ys very fat,
Nethyr no barly brede, for nethyr lovys I yt,
But bryngvs home good ale.
Bryng vs home no muttun, s’, for yt ys togh and lene,
Nethyr no trypys, for they be seldyn clene.
But, bryng, &c.
Bryng vs home no vele, s’, for yt will not dur
But bryng vs home good ale Inogh to drynke by the fyr.
Bryng vs home no sydyr, nor no palde wyne,
For and yu do thow shalt have crysts curse and myne.
In the 17th century the wassel bowl was carried round to the houses of the gentry and others with songs, the bearers expecting a gratuity wherever they proffered it: a custom still preserved in some counties. Most of the great houses also had a wassel-bowl, or cup, frequently of massy silver.47 As the hour of twelve approaches, the carol-singers prepare, and the bell-ringers place themselves at their post to usher in the morning of the Nativity with due rejoicing, and bands of music parade the towns. In some of the parishes in the West of England (and perhaps elsewhere) the carol-singers adjourn to the church to sing in Christmas-day, a remnant probably of popery, as in Catholic countries there was church-service frequently at this time, sometimes interspersed with a species of dramatic interlude; the peasantry flocking in to pay their adoration to our Saviour and the Virgin in the course of the holidays.
According to popular superstition, it is not man only that recognizes the sanctity of this morning; for the bees are heard to sing, and the labouring oxen may be seen to kneel, in memory of the oxen at the holy manger. Howison, in his “Sketches of Upper Canada,” relates the circumstance of his meeting an Indian at midnight on Christmas eve (during a beautiful moonlight) cautiously creeping along, who beckoned him to silence in vain, and in answer to his inquiries said, “Me watch to see the deer kneel; this is Christmas night, and all the deer fall upon their knees to the Great Spirit, and look up.” Supposing the Indian to have been converted, but perhaps imperfectly instructed in Christianity, this is a pleasing instance of unaffected adoration.
The first duty of a Christian on Christmas-day is to repair to his church, to return thanks for the benefit conferred on man; he may then with greater satisfaction partake of the subsequent feasting and rejoicing, bearing in mind that he should, as far as in his power, or consistent with his station in life, assist at this time his poorer brethren and dependants.
The Britons and Saxons were famed for their hospitality and feasting, and Christmas was probably their principal feast. Thus does Whistlecraft (alias Frere), in his most amusing national work, describe the dainties at King Arthur’s Christmas
They served up salmon, venison, and wild boars,
By hundreds, and by dozens, and by scores.
Hogsheads of honey, kilderkins of mustard,
Muttons, and fatted beeves, and bacon swine;
Herons and bitterns, peacocks, swan, and bustard,
Teal, mallard, pigeons, widgeons, and in fine,
Plum-puddings, pancakes, apple-pies, and custard.
And therewithal they drank good Gascon wine,
With mead, and ale, and cider of our own;
For porter, punch, and negus were not known.
After the introduction of the Normans, the manners were still unchanged in this respect, although the style of the entertainments, and nature of the dishes, might from time to time vary. Some of their dainties would rather astonish a party of experimental gourmands, or gourmets, at present. Imagine a bill of fare, containing diligrout, maupigyrnun, or karumpie, all favourite dishes in the 12th century.48 King Edward the Third endeavoured to restrain his subjects from over luxury at their meals; and an act was passed at Nottingham in the 10th year of his reign (1336,) to prohibit more than two courses and two sorts of meat in each to any person, “forspris le plus grantz festes del an, cest assavoir la veile & le jour de Noel, le jour de Seint Estiephue, le jour del an renoef,49 les jours de la Tiphaynei & de la Purification de nostre Dame,” &c. Probably this act, like most other sumptuary laws, was not much attended to; and within a few years after, Chaucer thus describes the Cook, in the prologue to his Canterbury Tales, (l. 381-9.)
A COKE they hadden with hem for the nones,
To boile the chikenes and the marie bones,
And poudre marchant, tart and galingale.
Wel coude he knowe a draught of London ale.
He coude roste, and sethe, and broile, and frie,
Maken mortrewes,50 and wel bake a pie.
But gret harm was it, as it thoughte me,
That on his shinne a mormal had he.
For blanc manger that made he with the best.
In his description of the Prioresse51 he gives a curious specimen of the manners in his times, as we may presume from his statement that the little mistakes which she, who appears as a highly educated woman, contrived to avoid, were not uncommon then, even in good female society.
At mete was she wel ytaughte withalle;
She lette no morsel from hire lippes falle,
Ne wette hire fingres in hire sauce depe.
Wel coude she carie a morsel, and wel kepe,
Thatte no drope ne fell upon hire brest.
In curtesie was sette ful moche hire lest.
Hire over lippe wiped she so clene,
That in hire cuppe was no ferthing sene
Of grese, whan she dronken hadde hire draught.52
In the 16th century Tusser prescribes for Christmas, good drink, a good fire in the hail, brawn, pudding, and mustard withall, capon, or turkey, cheese, apples, and nuts, with jolly carols. Some few years after this the feeding must have been of a more scientific description, though something of the richest, for Massinger, in the City Madam, (act ii. sc. 1.) says,
Men may talk of Country Christmasses—
Their thirty-pound butter'd eggs, their pies of carps tongues,
Their pheasants drench’d with ambergris, the carcases
Of three fat wethers bruised for gravy, to
Make sauce for a single peacock; yet their feasts
Were fasts compared with the City’s.
Heath,53 in the middle of the last century, states that formerly the Christmas feasts were observed with greater magnificence in Cornwall than in any other part of England, but that the clergy had rather discountenanced them, as partaking too much of a celebration of Ceres and Bacchus. However this may be, true Christmas hospitality and many of the good old customs are still preserved in the country, and long may they there flourish.
No one who has not joined actively in these strenuæ inertiæ can properly judge of the grateful relaxation they afford from the constant and necessary labours and anxieties of life; or what satisfaction there is now and then, when out of school, in making a useful fool of one’s-self.
The Boar's Head
The Boar’s head was a celebrated dish at Christmas, and ushered in with great pomp and ceremony. Some writers have stated it to have been introduced at this feast in abhorrence of Judaisrn, but there is no sufficient proof, as it was introduced also at other great feasts. Holinshed relates that in the year 1170, King Henry the Second, on the day when his son was crowned, served him at table himself as sewer, bringing up the boar’s head, with trumpets before it, “according to the manner.”54 During the reign of Queen Elizabeth, at the revels of the Inner Temple, “At the first course (on Christmas day) is served in, a fair and large bore’s head, upon a silver platter, with minstralsye.”
At the time of the celebrated Christmas Prince, at St. John’s, Oxford, in 1607, “The first messe was a boar’s head, wch was carried by ye tallest and lustiest of all ye guard, before whom (as attendants) wente first, one attired in a horseman’s coate, wth a boar’s speare in his hande, next to him an other huntsman in greene, wth a bloody faucion drawne; next to him 2 pages in tafatye sarcenet, each of yem wth a messe of mustard; next to whome came hee yt carried ye boares-head crost wth a greene silke scarfe, by wch hunge ye empty scabbard of ye faulcion, wch was carried before him. As yei entred ye hall, he sange this Christmas Caroll, ye three last verses of euerie staffe being repeated after him by ye whole companye.”55 [See: The Boar Is Dead]
Queen’s College, Oxford, is famed for its Boar’s Head Carol, “Caput apri defero,” &c. and the accompanying ceremony on introducing the head. [See The Boar's Head In Hand Bear I] The boar’s head, with a lemon in his mouth, continued long after this to be the first dish at Christmas in great houses, nor is the practice yet entirely obsolete, though in most cases brawn is now substituted for it, the former being rather an expensive dainty, for a dainty it is, experto crede. Brawn is a dish of great antiquity, and may be found in most of the old bills of fare, for coronation, and other great feasts. It appears in that for the coronation of Henry the Fourth; and in that of Henry the Seventh, there is a distinction made between “brawne royall” and “brawne;”56 the former being probably for the king’s table. The begging frere in Chaucer’s Sompnoure’s Tale (v. 7328-32) applies for brawn, amongst other articles, from which it would appear then not to have been a great rarity.
Yeve us a bushel whete, or malt, or reye,
A Goddes kichel, or a trippe of chese,
Or elles what you list, we may not chese;
A Goddes halfpeny, or a masse peny;
Or yeve us of your braun, if ye have any.
Brawn, mustard, and malmsey, were directed for breakfast at Christmas during Queen Elizabeth’s reign; and Dugdale, in his account of the Inner Temple revels of the same age, states the same directions for that Society.
The French do not appear to have been so well acquainted with it, for on the capture of Calais by them, they found a large quantity, which they guessed to be some dainty, and tried every means of preparing it; in vain did they roast it, bake it, and boil it, it was impracticable and impenetrable to their culinary arts. Its merits, however, being at length discovered, “ Ha !“ said the monks, “what delightful fish,” and immediately added it to their stock of fast-day viands. The Jews, again, could not believe it was procured from that impure beast the hog, and included it in their list of clean animals.
Minced or Mince-Pies
Minced or mince-pies, form another dish of considerable antiquity, and still remain in great request, as an essential article in Christmas dinners; and the stock of mince-meat is frequently not exhausted until Easter. It is also, I believe, customary in London to introduce them on Lord Mayor’s Day (November 9th); and in a modern bill of fare for this feast (1832), there are no less than one hundred and eleven dishes of mince-pies included. This savoury article is said to have reference, in the variety of its ingredients, to the offerings of the Wise Men, and the coffin or case of them should be oblong, in imitation of the crache (rack or manger) where our Saviour was laid.
After the Restoration, these pies, with other observances of the same nature, as decorating with evergreens, &c. almost served as a test of a person’s opinions; the presbyterian party looking on them as superstitious abominations. They would even refuse to eat them when in distress for a comfortable meal, as is related at first of Bunyan when in confinement. They should have eaten them with a protest, as lawyers would have done in a similar case.
Misson, in his “Travels in England,” (p. 322.) in the beginning of the last century, gives the following as the ingredients of a mince-pie. Neats’ tongues, chicken, eggs, sugar, currants, lemon and orange peel, with various sorts of spices. The receipts in the present day contain the same leading features, but vary a little in the minutiæ. I have been told by the cognoscenti in mince-pies, that the best receipts for mince-meat contain little or no meat, and it consequently keeps fresher, and eats lighter. The following is a valued receipt that has been handed down in a Cornish family for many generations, and the hand-writing of the receipt book will vouch for its antiquity. “A pound of beef-suet chopped fine; a pound of raisins do. stoned. A pound of currants cleaned dry. A pound of apples chopped fine. Two or three eggs. Allspice beat very fine, and sugar to your taste. A little salt, and as much brandy and wine as you like. An ancient Cornish custom at Christmas.” A small piece of citron in each pie is an improvement.
There is a superstition existing in some places, that in as many different houses as you eat mince-pies during Christmas, so many happy months will you have in the ensuing year. Something like this is mentioned in “ Dives and Pauper,” by W. de Worde (1496), where a custom is reprobated of judging of the weather of the ensuing twelve months, by that of the twelve days at Christmas. If Christmas-day fell on a Sunday, it was also thought fortunate. In the “Golden Legend,” of the same printer, (folio vi.) is a more laudable prejudice, “That what persone beynge in clene lyfe: desyre on thys daye a boone of God; as ferre as it is ryghtfull & good for hym; our lorde at reuerēce of thys blessid & hye feste of his natiuite wol graūt it to hym.”
The North of England is celebrated for Christmas pies of a different description, composed of birds and game, and frequently of great size. Hone in his “Table Book,” (vol. ii. p. 506.) gives the following extract front the “ Newcastle Chronicle” of 6th January 1770, describing a giant of this race. “Monday last was brought from Howick to Berwick, to be shipp’d for London, for Sir Hen. Grey, Bart. a pie, the contents whereof are as follows: viz. 2 bushels of flour, 20lbs. of butter, 4 geese, 2 turkies, 2 rabbits, 4 wild ducks, 2 woodcocks, 6 snipes, and 4 partridges; 2 neat’s tongues, 2 curlews, 7 blackbirds, and 6 pigeons: it is supposed a very great curiosity, was made by Mrs. Dorothy Patterson, housekeeper at Howick. It was near nine feet in circumference at bottom, weighs about twelve stones, will take two men to present it to table; it is neatly fitted with a case, and four small wheels to facilitate its use to every guest that inclines to partake of its contents at table.” Turkies and geese are also common at Christmas, the latter being the dish in the western counties, while the turkey prevails in London.
In Spain it was customary for patients to send their medical attendants presents of turkeys, so that doctors in large practice had to open a kind of trade in them. Capons were formerly used at this time, probably because many landlords then received them from their tenants. Gascoigne, in 1575, says,
And when the tenauntes come to paie their quarter’s rent,
They bring some fowle at Midsummer, a dish of fish in Lent,
At Christmasse a capon, at Michaelmasse a goose;
And somewhat else at New-yeres tide, for feare their lease flie loose.
The liquors drunk at this time were the same as at any other great feast. The Anglo-Saxons, and other northern nations, who in times of paganism drank in honour of Odin, Thor, and their other fabulous deities, afterwards, when converted to Christianity, being unwilling to resign their potations, drank large draughts of liquor in honour of Christ, the Virgin Mary, the Apostles, and other Saints. Edward the Confessor drank wine, mead, ale, pigment, morat, and cyder, and so did his successors for some centuries, with the addition perhaps of clarré or claret, garhiofilac, and hypocras.57 But good Christmas ale is indispensable,
The nut-brown ale, the nut-brown ale,
Puts downe all drinke when it is stale,
The toast, the nut-meg, and the ginger,
Wilt make a sighing man a singer.
Ale giues a buffet in the head,
But ginger vnder proppes the brayne;
When ale would strike a strong man dead,
Then nut-megge tempers it againe,
The nut-brown ale, the nut-brown ale,
Puts downe all drinke when it is stale. 58
Croker, in his “Researches in the South of Ireland,” (p. 233,) mentions a custom on St. Stephen’s Day for the young villagers to carry about from house to house a holly bush adorned with ribbons, having many wrens depending from it, the “Wren boys” chaunting several verses, the burthen of which may be collected from the following lines of their song
The Wren, the Wren, the king of all birds,
St. Stephen’s day was caught in the furze.
Although he is little, his family’s great,
I pray you, good landlady, give us a treat.
My box would speak if it had but a tongue,
And two or three shillings would do it no wrong,
Sing holly, sing ivy—sing ivy, sing holly,
A drop just to drink, it would drown melancholy.
And if you draw it of the best,
I hope in heaven your soul may rest;
But if you draw it of the small,
It won’t agree with the Wren boys at all, &c. &c.
A small piece of money is usually bestowed on them, and the evening concludes with merrymaking. [See: Hymns to St Stephen]
Childermas, or Innocents’ Day [December 28; See: The Hymns Of The Holy Innocents] as is well known, is in commemoration of the slaughter of the children at Bethlehem by command of Herod, and therefore considered a day of unlucky omen; and the day of the week on which it fell was thought unpropitious throughout the year. Brand mentions a custom in Catholic countries on this day, “to run through all the rooms of a house, making a pretended search in and under the beds, in memory of the search made by Herod for the discovery and destruction of the child Jesus, and his having been imposed upon and deceived by the Wise Men, who, contrary to his orders and expectation, ‘ returned to their own country another way.’”59
New Year's Eve
New Year’s Eve was observed as a convivial and cordial meeting, as it still continues in some places, and the wassail-bowl was again brought into requisition, and occasionally carried about by young women from door to door with an appropriate song. The following is given in Hone’s “Every-day Book,” vol. ii. p. 14, as a Wassail Song, sung in Gloucestershire on New Year’s Eve, in which I have taken the liberty of introducing the names of the horses, instead of cutting them out into little stars as Juliet wished Romeo to be.
Wassail Wassail ! all over the town,
Our toast it is white, our ale it is brown
Our bowl it is made of a maplin tree,
We be good fellows all; I drink to thee.
Here ‘s to Smiler, and to his right ear,
God send our Maister a happy new year;
A happy new year as e’er he did see—
‘With my wassailing bowl I drink to thee.
Here ‘s to Dobbin, and to his right eye,
God send our Mistress a good Christmas pye:
A good Christmas pye as e’er I did see—
With my wassailing bowl I drink to thee.
Here ‘s to Filpail, and to her long tail,
God send our Measter us never may fail.
Of a cup of good beer, I pray you draw near,
And then you shall hear our jolly wassail.
Be here any maids, I suppose here be some;
Sure they will not let young men stand on the cold stone,
Sing hey O maids, come trole back the pin,
And the fairest maid in the house let us all in.
Come, butler, come bring us a bowl of the best:
I hope your soul in Heaven will rest:
But if you do bring us a bowl of the small,
Then down fall butler, bowl and all.
Croker, in his “Researches,” (p. 233.) states a custom in the South of Ireland on this night of a cake being thrown against the outside door of each house by the head of the family, to keep out hunger during the ensuing year. The New Year is rung, in, and bands of music parade the towns as on Christmas morn, and in some places (though getting nearly obsolete) the bellman goes round with a copy of verses wishing a merry Christmas and happy New Year.
New Year’s Day, or the first of January, was kept by the Romans as a feast in honour of Janus; and according to Brady,60 the first mention of it as a Christian festival was in 487, under Pope Felix the Third, who called it the octave of Christmas; it having been originally kept by the more zealous primitive Christians as a fast, to distinguish it from the customs of the heathens. Under the title of the Circumcision, it is only to be traced from the end of the 11th century; and it was not generally so observed, until it was included in our Liturgy in the year 1550. It was, however, a day of feasting for some centuries before this, and, with Christmas-day and Twelfth-day, one of the most marked days throughout the holidays. After Edward the Third had fought incognito in a severe battle at Calais, under the banners of Sir Walter de Manny, and overcome the French on the 31st day of Dec. 1348, he entertained the captive knights on the following day, to celebrate the New Year. Henry the Eighth, in the early part of his reign, (before the uncontrolled indulgence of his passions had demoralized a disposition naturally impetuous,) was fond of Christmas revellings, as before mentioned; and New Year’s day, or night, was frequently fixed on for some imposing pageant, according to the style of that age ; of which one instance may be selected from Hall’s Chronicle in the Christmas of 1513-14. “And against Newieres night, was made in the halle a castle, gates, towers, and dungion, garnished wyth artilerie, and weapon after the most warlike fashion: and on the frount of the castle was written, Le Fortresse dangerus, and within the castle were vi ladies clothed in russet satin laide all ouer with leues of golde, and every owde knit with laces of blewe silke and golde. On their heddes, coyfes and cappes all of golde. After this castle had been caried about the hal, and the Queue had behelde it, in came the Kyng, with fiue other appareled in coates, the one halfe of russet satyn, spangled with spagles of fine gold, the other halfe riche clothe of gold, on ther heddes cappes of russet satin, embroudered with workes of fine gold bulliō. These vi assaulted the castle; the ladies seyng them so lustie & coragious, were content to solace with them, and upon farther communicacion, to yeld the castle, and so thei came doune and daunced a long space. And after the ladies led the knightes into the castle, and then the castle sodoinly vanished out of their sightes.”
At present the commencement of the year is treated as a feast, and frequently as a sort of meeting or re-union among families, where they can conveniently join at the same table; and in many cases the servants and labourers are entertained by their employers, and many of the Christmas sports repeated. Stewart mentions a singular custom in vogue in Strathdown, and its neighbourhood, formerly common to all the Highlands on this day. “Piles of juniper wood are collected and set on fire, each door, window, and crevice being first closely stopped up; the fumes and smoke of the burning wood cause to the inmates violent sneezing, coughing, &c. till they are nearly exhausted, producing expectoration, and thereby, as they fancy, driving off disease; a cordial is afterwards administered around. The horses, cattle, and other bestial stock are treated in the same way.” 61
New year’s gifts are not yet obsolete, although the practice is losing ground, which is a pity, as it served to strengthen and cement that kind feeling in society, which so many circumstances concur to jar and interrupt. It is now very much confined to interchange of gifts in families, at least in this country. For on the Continent the mutual exchange of presents, in the shape of jewellery, fancy articles, bon-bons, sweetmeats, &c. is very considerable: the expenditure in Paris alone for them (étrennes, as they are called, and hence le jour d’étrennes) has been reckoned at upwards of £20,000. Visits are made throughout the circle of a person’s acquaintance, and the customary gifts left, which, if not intrinsically valuable, are at least fanciful and pretty. In Spain a similar custom formerly existed, tables being prepared in the house-squares, or entrance halls, for the reception of the visiting cards and presents.
According to Chardin, the Persians on this day exchange gilded eggs, painted and ornamented, a custom of great antiquity, the egg typifying the commencement of things, whence the mundane egg, so essential in much of the Oriental Mythology. In the Celtic countries the Druids presented misletoe to the people about the time of the new year, for which they no doubt obtained some good equivalent. Boulanger62 says, “ that the second day of the sigillaria (the four latter days of the Saturnalia) which fell on the 21st of December, was the fête of the goddess Angeronia, or Ageronia, the goddess of silence or mysteries, sometimes called Strenua, then signifying courage. At this time of the feast the fear of the close of the world was supposed to cease, and people mutually gave presents, saying strenue, or courage; hence the word étrennes. The practice, like all others which could be traced at all to the Pagans, was forbidden by many councils, but, as in other cases, with no lasting effect. Amongst others, the Concilium Autisiodorense, A.D. 614, in France, decreed, that “It is not lawfull in the Kalends of January to make any bonefires or filthy playes; or to observe any diabolical New Yeares gifts.”63
The New Year's Gift
The difference between New-year’s gifts and Christmas boxes appears to be, that the former were mutually exchanged, or, indeed, were some times in the nature of an offering from an inferior to a superior, who made some acknowledgment in return, while the latter were in the nature of gratuities from superiors to their dependants. The practice is of considerable antiquity in this country, and formerly it was customary for the nobility and persons connected with the court to make presents to the King, who gave gifts generally of money or plate in return. The servants or officers who carried the gifts also had handsome fees or presents made them; and it became at last almost a matter of regulation what the amount of them was to be, depending on the rank of the person by whom they were sent, on which the rank of the messenger would also depend: as for instance, in the Northumberland household-book it appears, that his lordship used to give to the King’s servant bringing a new-year’s gift, if a special friend of his own, £6. 13s. 4d.; if only a servant of the King, £5. To the Queen’s servant £3. 6s. 8d. and to the servant (probably a domestic) bringing a gift from his son and heir, Lord Percy, only 12d. The noblemen also had similar customs in their own households.
An account has recently been published of New Year’s Gifts, presented by Henry VI. in 1437,64 taken from Cott. MS. Cleop. F. iv. fol. 108,. consisting principally of articles of jewellery, of which one of the chief is the following:— “Fyrste, delivered by youre graciouse comaundemt and appointemt to send to Quene Kaζine for her yerisgifte on New yeris day, she beyng at Bermondesey, j tabulett of golde with a crucifixe garnized with sapħ and pt weyng aboute xiiij unc of gold, and was bought of John Patteslee, goldesmyth, for the some of xlii.”
Henry VII. in 1495, as appears from his privy purse expences, gave away £120 in New-year’s gifts. It must be recollected that he was an avaricious monarch; or this sum might have been given in rewards to those who brought him New-year’s gifts.
In the accounts of the Duke of Richmond and Somerset, natural son of Henry VIII. in the 17th year of that monarch’s reign, are the following entries connected with New-year’s gifts.65 “ Item, paied for certayrie newe yeres giftes, £6. 9s. 5d. Item, rewardes yeven to diverse parsons for newe yeres giftes presented unto the saied Duke upon newe-yeres daye last, £9. 6s. 8d.”
Among those presented to the Lady Mary in the 34th of Henry VIII. are a little chain, and a pair of hose wrought in gold and silk from the Princess Elizabeth; a gown of carnation satin of the Venice fashion, from my Lady Margaret; a wrought smock from Lady Frances Dorset; a fair steel-glass from three Venetians; a bat from Dr. Augustine; and a pair of silver snuffers from Mr. Hobbs. Rewards in money to a considerable amount were given to the servants who brought them.66
In Nichols’s “Progresses” and Nichols’s “Illustrations of Manners and Expences,” numerous instances are given of gifts to royal personages, especially to Queen Elizabeth, who expected valuable ones. They seem to have been much of the same description every year. The peers spiritual and temporal, ladies, gentlewomen, and officers of the household, &c. gave presents according to their rank and means, of money, rich dresses, jewels, &c.; the physicians and apothecary, boxes of ginger and candy; the cook and other domestics, or officers, similar gifts to those hereafter mentioned. A few examples will suffice, as Nichols can be resorted to for fuller information. In a list of them given to Queen Mary, 1st January, in the 4th year of her reign, the following occur
“By the Ladie Elizabeth her grace, the fore part of a kyrtell, and a peire of sleves of cloth of silv’, richly enbraudered all ouer with Venice silver, and rayzed with silu’ and blake silke.
“By the Duches of Somerset, a smoke, wrought all ou’ with silke, and color and ruffes of damaske golde, purle, and siluer.
“By the Lady Yorke, divers frutes, as 6 suger loues, sixe tapnetts of figges, foure barrelles of sucketts and oringe water, &c.
“By Mrs. Levyna Terling, a smale picture of the Trynite.
“By Mrs. Preston, a fatte goose and a capon.
“By Gent, two Gynny-cokks scalded.
“By Mr. Mychaell Wentworth, two fat oxen.
“By Smalwodde Crosser, in a boxe, nutmeggs and gynger, and long stawlke of cinamon electe.”
In 1561-2 Queen Elizabeth received several gifts of sums of money, from £40 by the Archbishop of Canterbury (Matthew Parker) in a red silk purse in demy sovereigns, to £4 by the Lady Cheeke, in a russett silk purse. Also a great number of articles of dress, most of them richly wrought; and miscellaneous presents of various value, from handsome pieces of jewellery, to one pye of quinces, by John Betts, “servaunte of the Pastrye.” The total amount of the money given, is £1262. 11s. 8d. In return for these presents, the Queen gave presents of plate gilt. John Betts received “ twoo guilt spoones.”
In 1577—8, amongst others of various descriptions, are the following: the smocks so often mentioned, were not precisely the same article of dress as that now so called.
“By Sir Gawen Garewe, a smock of camerick, wrought with black silke in the collor and sleves, the square and ruffs wrought with Venice golde, and edged with a small bone lace of Venice golde.” Also,
“By Phillip Sydney, a smock of camerick, the sleves and collor wrought with blac worke, and edged with a small bone lace of golde and silver; and a sute of ruffs cutworke, floreshed with golde and silver, and set with spangills, containing 4 oz.
“By Doctor Maister, a pot of grene gynger, and other of orenge flowers.
“By Smythsonne, Master Cooke, a feyer marchpane.
“By Dudley, Sergeant of the Pastry, a greate pye of quynses and wardyns guilte.
“By Christofer Gyles, a Cutler, a meate knyf with a feyer hafte of white bone; a conceyte in it.
“By Morgan, Apotticary, thre boxes, one of gynger candy, another of grene gynger, and the thirde orenge candit.
“By Smyth, Dustman, two boltes of cameryck.
All persons who made her these gifts, had in general gifts in “guilte plate” of different value in return.
In 1578—9 is the following :—“ By Morrys Watkins, eighteen larkes in a cage :“ in reward for these Watkins had 20s.
In 1581—2, “Item, a juell of golde, being a catt, and myce playing with her, garnished with smale dyamondes and perle. Geven by the Lady Howarde.
“Item, a flower of golde, garnished with sparcks of diamonds, rubyes, and ophales, with an agathe of her Majestis phisnamy, and a perle pendante, with devices painted in it. Geven by Eight Maskers in Christmas-weeke.”
I have understood that the practice was continued up to the time of George III.; and Brand mentions that in his time the nobility used to send the King a purse with gold in it. And until these few years past there was a remnant left, in a custom of putting a crown-piece under the plates of the chaplains in waiting at dinner; but the crown-pieces have latterly gone after the plum-porridge.
Formerly, tenants used to make presents at this time to their landlords, frequently a capon, or something of similar value, and the custom still partially exists. Richard Evelyn, Esq. High Sheriff of Surrey and Sussex in 1634, held a splendid Christmas at his mansion at Wotton, having a regular Lord of Misrule for the occasion; and it appears it was then the custom for the neighbours to send presents of eatables to provide for the great consumption consequent upon such entertainments; the following is a list of those sent on this occasion: two sides of venison, two half brawns, three pigs, ninety capons, five geese, six turkeys, four rabbits, eight partridges, two pullets, five sugar loaves, half a pound of nutmegs, one basket of apples and eggs, three baskets of apples, two baskets of pears.67
Suitors also presented gifts to the Chancellor, for the purpose of influencing his judgment. Sir Thomas More always returned these, and it is related of him, that being presented by “one Mrs. Goaker” with a pair of gloves and forty pounds of angels put into them, he said to her, “Mistresse, since it were against good manners to refuse your New-year’s gift, I am content to take your gloves, but as for the lining I utterly refuse it.”68
The officers of his court also gave New-year’s gifts to the Chancellor; and the first judge that distinguished himself by refusing them was Lord Cowper, who came into office in 1705.69 The Marshal of the King’s Bench likewise formerly presented the judges with a piece of plate as a New-year’s gift. Sir Matthew Hale wished to decline it, but finding such a precedent might injure his successors, he received the value of it in money, and applied it to the relief of the poor prisoners.
The Feast Of Epiphany
The Epiphany, or Twelfth-day, is a feast of very high antiquity. During the Saturnalia a king was elected, who was invested with full power over the assembled guests, and the custom of electing a Twelfth-day king may have been modified from this, although the office of Lord of Misrule appears also to be similar. The various customs on this day are to commemorate the manifestation of our Saviour to tile Gentiles, and have numerous references to the Magi, Wise Men of the East, or Three Kings as they are commonly tailed. According to Picart,70 the feast was established in the church in the 4th century. It was an early usage to elect a King, though he does not appear among the revels of the old English court or nobility, not being mentioned in the accounts we have of them, or distinguished from the Lord of Misrule. It was not necessary that he should be chosen by lot (although most customary), for Brand says that in France, up to the end of last century, when the revolution destroyed for a time every thing of the sort, and when “La fête de Rois” was by order of the council transformed into “La fête de Sans-culottes,” it was the custom at the court to choose one of the courtiers for King, who was waited on by the other nobles. In Germany also the students and citizens in the various cities and universities used to choose one of their companions for King.
The custom however to decide on a King by lot, usually a bean, whence he was called King of the Bean, is of considerable antiquity. In “Les Crieries de Paris,” composed by Guillaume de Villeneuve in the end of the 13th century,71 is this line: “Gastel à feve orroiz crier,” which a note describes as “gateaux pour le jour de la fête des Rois,” evidently alluding to the bean which marked the fortunate possessor as king. The method was to inclose a bean in the cake, as is still the case in French twelfth-cakes, and divide it into portions, when, as before mentioned, the bean denoted the royal personage. The King or Queen thus elected chose his or her consort, and in subsequent times appointed officers of their household; and in France when the King or Queen drank, the company, on pain of forfeit, were to exclaim le Roi ou la Reine boit.
There was a King of the Bean in the time of Edward the Third; as in an account of the eighth year of his reign it appears that sixty shillings were given upon the day of the Epiphany to Regan the trumpeter and his associates, the court minstrels, in the name of the King of the Bean, (in nomine Regis de Fabâ.)72
In some countries a coin was inserted instead of a bean, and portions of the cake were assigned to our Saviour, the Virgin Mary, and the three Kings, which were given to the poor, and if the bean should happen to be in any of those portions the King was then chosen by pulling straws.
The ingredients of the bean-cake, about two hundred years ago, were flour, honey, ginger, and pepper what they are at present, Monsieur Jarrin can inform us, as his shop abounds with them on this feast. They cannot however compete with that beautiful frosted, festooned, bedizened, and ornamented piece of confectionery called, par eminence, Twelfth-cake, with its splendid waxen or plaster of Paris kings and queens, the delight and admiration of school-boys and girls. Besides the bean, a pea was sometimes put in for the queen, a custom which is referred to in Herrick’s song for Twelfth-day, printed in the subsequent collection. Baby-cake, in Ben Jonson’s Masque of “Christmas,” is attended by “an usher bearing a great cake with a bean and a pease.” [See: Christmas, His Masque]
Henry Teonge, who has been before quoted, gives a quaint description of Twelfth-day on board ship.73— "January 6, 1676. Very ruff weather all the last night, and all this day. Wee are now paste Zante: had wee beene there this day, wee had seene a greate solemnity; for this day being 12 day, the Greeke Bishop of Zante doth (as they call it) baptise the sea, with a great deale of ceremony; sprinkling their gallys and fishing-tackle with holy water. But wee had much myrth on board, for wee had a greate kake made, in which was put a beane for the king, a pease for the queen, a cloave for the knave, a forked stick for the coockold, a ragg for the slutt. The kake was cut into severall peices in the great cabin, and all put into a napkin, out of which every on took his peice, as out of a lottery; then each peice is broaken to see what was in it, which caused much laughter, to see our leiuetenant prove the coockold, and more to see us tumble on over the other in the cabin, by reason of the ruff weather."
"The custom at present is to draw from a bowl tickets, or painted characters, including among them a king and queen, the remainder being according to the genius of the composer, and generally not displaying much fancy or taste but containing some caco-logy of the fictitious character, as
Sir Habakkuk Hzsty.
It is not right I should be left the last,
You cut so slow, you make your guests all fast.
Safely returned from perils of the C's,
Myself and comrades come as brisk as B's,
Like gentlemen to live at home at E's,
To drink your T, your great Twelfth-cake to T's.
"In the course of last century, the tickets represented the ministers, maids of honour, and other attendants of the king and queen. A better way perhaps would be to elect a king and queen, and let the officers and ladies of the court then be appointed according to the genius of the parties, as the characters should be supported throughout the evening; we should not then have such anomalies, as a gouty harlequin, or a Miss Hoyden of seventy, or the mother of thirteen children as Fanny Flirt."
At the time that disguisings and pageants were in vogue at court during Christmas, Twelfth-day was frequently chosen for the performance of some of the most splendid.
In one of the Fairfax MSS. entitled “The booke of all maner of Orders concernynge an Erles hous,” &c. part of which is dated 16th Henry VII. though the handwriting appears of the latter end of Henry the Eighth, is an account of the mode of regulating “a disguising,” both by men and women, on Twelfth-night.74
Le Neve’s MS. called “The Royal Book,” containing the method of keeping festivals at court in the reign of Henry the Seventh, prescribes “That on Twelfth-day the King must go crowned, in his royal robes, kirtle, surcoat, his furred hood about his neck, his mantle with a long train, and his cutlas before him ; his armills upon his arms, of gold set full of rich stones; and no temporal man to touch it, but the King himself; and the squire for the body must bring it to the King in a fair kerchief, and the King must put them on himself; and he must have his sceptre in his right hand, and the ball with the cross in the left hand, and the crown upon his head. And he must offer that day, gold, myrrh, and sense; then must the dean of the chapel send unto the Archbishop of Canterbury, by clerk or priest, the King’s offering that day and then must the Archbishop give the next benefice that falleth in his gift to the same messenger.”
Henry the Eighth, during many successive years of his reign, indulged in gorgeous spectacles on this day, of which Hall’s Chronicle shall supply us with one or two examples. In the 2nd year of his reign “Agaynst the xii. daye or the daie of the Epiphanie at nyghte, before the banket in the hall at Rychemond, was a pageaunt deuised lyke a mountayne, glisteryng by nyght, as though it had bene all of golde and set with stones, on the top of the whiche mountayne was a tree of golde the braunches and bowes frysed with gold, spreding on euery side ouer the mountayne, with roses and pomegranettes, the whiche mountayn was with vices brooght vp towardes the Kyng, and out of the same came a ladye, appareiled in clothe of golde, and the children of honour called the Henchemen, whiche were freshly disguysed, and daunced a morice before the Kyng. And that done, re-entred the mountayne; and then it was drawen backe; and then was the wassaill or banket brought in, and so brake up Christmas.”
From the next example it appears that masks were then but recently introduced into this country. “On the daie of the Epiphanie at night (in his third year), the Kyng with a xi. other wer disguised after the maner of Italie, called a maske, a thyng not seen afore in Englande ; thei werc appareled in garmentes long and brode, wrought all with gold, with visers and cappes of gold; and after the banket doen, these Maskers came in, with sixe gentlemen disguised in silke, bearyng staffe torches, and desired the ladies to daunce; some were content, and some that knewe the fashion of it refused, because it was not a thyng commonly seen. And after thei daunced and commoned together as the fashion of the maskes is, thei tooke their leaue and departed, and so did the Quene and all the ladies.”
During the reigns of Elizabeth and James the First, and indeed up to the time of the civil wars, this feast was observed with great show at Court, as well as at the Universities and the Inns of Court. Several plays, including many of the masques of Ben Jonson, were from time to time presented at Court on, and frequently purposely written for this occasion. In the beginning of Elizabeth’s reign, January 1559-60, Nichols, in his “Progresses,” mentions that on “Twelfth-day, in the afternoon, the Lord Mayor and Aldermen, and all the crafts of London, and the Bachelors of the Mayor’s Company, went in procession to St. Paul’s, after the old custom, and there did hear a Sermon. The same day was a scaffold set up in the hall for a play; and after the play was over, was a fine mask; and after, a great banquet that lasted till midnight.”
The Three Kings
It was a very early practice with our Kings to make an offering at the high altar on this day, of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, in commemoration of the offering of the three kings. Edward the First, in his 28th year, gave to the amount of one florin in gold, with frankincense and myrrh, besides oblations in money to the amount of 22s.75 Henry the Seventh made offerings to the value of £1. 13s. 4d.76 The practice has been continued to the present day. Tue same usage also prevailed on the Continent, but the customs there have been frequently varied by the numerous political changes of late years. The King of Spain formerly offered three chalices or communion cups, worth about three hundred ducats each. In one of them was placed a piece of gold, in the second incense, and in the third myrrh.
The legend of the three kings is supposed to have been taken from the 10th verse of the 72nd Psalm, a psalm wherein Solomon’s reign is considered as a type of Christ’s.—” The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents: the kings of Sheba and Saba shall offer gifts;” or, as the Bee Hive of the Romish Church77 states it, “Kings shall come out of the Moore’s land to worshippe Christ.”
Oliver, “ On Initiation,” (p. 92—3.) citing Hyde, “Rel. vet. Pers.” states, that “the initiated in the religious mysteries of Persia are said to have had communicated to them as the last great secret, the important prophecy of Zeradusht, or Zoroaster, with which his early instruction under Daniel had acquainted him, that in future times a prophet should appear, the son of a pure virgin, whose advent should be proclaimed by a brilliant star shining with celestial brightness at noon-day. The candidates were enjoined to follow this star, if it should appear in their time, until they found the new-born babe, to whom they were to offer rich gifts, and prostrate themselves as to the Creator.”
Without, however, entering into the authenticity of this prophecy, it has been supposed that the celebrated prophecy of Balaam78 made a deep impression on the surrounding nations, and being handed down through successive generations, prepared the way for the appearance of the star which proclaimed to the Gentiles the birth of our Saviour. At the time of its appearance also there was a general expectation that the fulfilment of the prophecy respecting the birth of Christ was at hand. But this is matter of too serious a nature to be discussed in a work of the present description, which must treat of the traditionary history only of the three kings; and if some of my readers may surmise that part of it has the appearance of fable, in good sooth I cannot vouch for its veracity. It is as I found it.
The Venerable Bede, in the 7th century, is the first writer in this country who gives a particular description of them, which he probably took from some earlier tradition. Melchior, the first, was old, and had grey hair, with a long beard; he offered gold to Christ, in acknowledgment of his sovereignty. Gaspar, or Jasper, who was young and had no beard, offered frankincense, in recognition of the divinity of our Lord. Balthazar, the third, was of a dark or black complexion, as a Moor, with a large spreading beard, and offered myrrh to our Saviour’s humanity; according to these lines in “Festa Anglo-Romaria,” p. 7.
Tres Reges Regi Regum, tria dona ferebant;
Myrrham Homini, Uncto aurum, thura dedere Deo.
Or, as Sandys gives them,
Three kings, the King of Kings, three gifts did bring;
Myrrh, incense, gold, as to Man, God, a King.
Three holy gifts be likewise given by thee
To Christ, even such as acceptable be.
For myrrha tears; for frankincense, impart
Submissive prayers; for pure gold, a pure heart.79
Bede also describes their dresses, &c.; and in numerous old pictures and popular representations, for which the offering of the Wise Men has been a favourite subject, his account is followed. They had other names besides the above; as the “Golden Legend” says, their names in Hebrew were Appellys, Ameryus, and Damascus,—and in Greek, Galagaluth, Magalath, and Tharath ; the Greek and Hebrew, however, appear to be transposed. Hone80 mentions three other names, Ator, Sator, and Peratoras. There are several old manuscripts relating to their history in the British Museum, from which much of the following particulars is taken.81
In the course of their journey, which lasted for twelve days, they neither took nor required rest or refreshment; it seemed to them indeed as one day. The nearer they approached to Christ’s dwelling, the brighter the star shone. Mehchior, the King of Nubia and Arabia, was of low stature; he gave a “rounde apple of gold and thirty gilt (i. e. golden) pens.” Baltazar, King of Godolie (or Sodalia) and Saba (or Sheba), was of mean (i. e. middle) stature, and offered incense. Jasper, King of Tarse and Egypt (or the Isle of Egristula), was a black Ethiop (and not Balthazar as mentioned by Bede), and presented myrrh.
The star was said to be as an eagle flying and beating the air with his wings, and had within it the form and likeness of a young child, and above him the sign of a cross. In “Dives and Pauper”82 is the following account of it:—“Dives. What manner sterre was it than? Pauper. Some clerkes tellen that it was an angell in the lykenesse of a sterre, for the kynges hadde noo knowynge of angellys, but toke all hede to the sterre. Some saye that it was the same childe that lay in the oxe stalle whiche appered to the kynges in the lykenesse of a sterre, and son drewe theym and ledde theym soo to hym selfe in Bethleem. And therefore holy chirche syngeth and sayth, Jacebat in presepio et fulgebat in celo, he laye full lowe in the cratche and he shone full bryght aboue in heuen. But the comon sentence of the clerkes is, that it was a new sterre newely ordeyned of God to shewe the byrthe of Cryste. And anone as it had done the offyce that it was ordeyned for it tourned ayen to the mater that it come fro.”
The history of the thirty pence, or pieces of gold, is curious, and shews the ingenuity with which some of these legends were dovetailed together. They were first coined by Terah, the father of Abraham, and taken by the latter with him when he left the land of the Chaldees. He afterwards paid them away to Ephron, with the purchase money for the field and cave of Machpelah. The Ismaelites then, according to one account, paid them back as the price of Joseph when sold by his brethren; but we may imagine them to have been returned for some other purpose, if we choose, as the money paid for Joseph was only twenty pieces, according to the usual version of the Scriptures. There is an old poem, however, by Adam Davie, who wrote about the year 1312, wherein it is said,
Ffor thritti pens thei sold that childe,
The seller highth Judas,
IÞo Ruben corn him and myssed bias
Ffor ynow he was.83
However, the money was afterwards paid to Joseph by his brethren for corn during the scarcity. On the death of Jacob, Joseph paid them away to the royal treasury of Sheba, for spices to embalm him. The celebrated Queen of Sheba, in after times, gave them to King Solomon with many other presents. In the time of Rehoboam, when the temple was spoiled by the King of Egypt, the King of Arabia accompanied him, and received these pieces of money in his share of the plunder. In this kingdom they remained until the time of Melchior, who, as we have before seen, offered them to our Saviour.
Their history after the presentation to Christ, is not less singular. On the flight into Egypt, they were lost by the Virgin Mary, and found by a shepherd, who preserved them for many years, when, being afflicted by some disease incurable by mortal aid alone, he applied to our Saviour, who healed him, and he then made his oblation at the altar of these thirty pence. They were subsequently paid by the priests to Judas in reward for his perfidy, and when he, smitten with remorse, returned them and hung himself, the chief priests applied fifteen of them for the purchase of the potter’s field, and with the remaining fifteen they bribed the soldiers who guarded the sepulchre to say that the disciples came by night and stole the body of our Saviour. After this they were dispersed, and all traces of them lost. They were made of the purest gold, the term pieces of silver made use of in some parts of the Scripture in reference to them, being merely a common or generic name for money, as the word argent is now sometimes used in France. On one side was a king’s head crowned, and on the other some unintelligible Chaldaic characters; they were said to have been of the value of three forms each.
The three kings were baptized in their old age by St. Thomas, and on their deaths their bodies were taken to Constantinople by the Empress Helena, from thence they were subsequently removed to Milan, and afterwards carried to Cologne in the time of Reinaldus, Archbishop of that place, whence they are commonly called the Three Kings of Cologne. Their virtues did not end with their lives, as their bones were supposed to possess valuable healing properties. Their names written on parchment and hung about the patient’s neck, were considered to be preservatives from the falling sickness and madness: a simple remedy, but requiring much faith to be mixed with it.
The following charm was found in the purse of Jackson, a celebrated smuggler, convicted of murder in 1749: in his case it however did not prove effectual; as he died struck with horror just after being measured for his irons—
Sancti Tres Reges
Gaspar, Melchior, Belthazar,
Orate pro nobis, none et in hora
“Ces billets ont touché aux trois têtes de S. S. Rois à Cologne.
“Ils sont pour des voyageurs, contre les malheurs de chemins, maux de tête, mal caduque, fièvres, sacellerie, toute sorte de malefice, et mort subite.”
They were also made use of as terms of adjuration. Diccon, in “Gammer Gurton’s Needle,” swears by the “Three Kings of Kullain.”
One John Aprilius, when he was hanged, implored their assistance; and in consequence, when he was cut down, after having been suspended for three days, he was found to be yet alive. He thereupon went to Cologne half naked, with his halter about his neck, to return thanks.84
There is a story of Roprecht the robber somewhere, where the hero is also hung for certain peccadilloes, but his body disappears miraculously from the gibbet, whether by good or evil agency is doubtful; however in no long time he suddenly appears again ready hung, but with the addition of a pair of boots and spurs. As he is now very dead, the reason of his freaks remains a mystery to his countrymen, but the readers of the tale are informed in confidence by the author, that this same Roprecht is taken down from the gibbet by some passer by, who finds him still living, whether by aid of the Three Kings or otherwise does not appear, and maintains him for some time; but he returns to his old tricks, and takes off his benefactor’s horse; he is however pursued, and after some trouble replaced in the halter which he so well deserved, and this time the noose is effectually fastened.
Their history was a favourite subject for paintings and tapestry from an early period. Warton (vol. iii. p. 11.) mentions some at the convent of St. Swithin, at Winchester, in 1374; and Henry the Fifth had a piece with the same subject: many other instances might be given.
The early mysteries, as might be expected, frequently adopted so popular a legend, and some of the most recent continental ones have preserved it; it was also introduced into a puppet-show at Bartholomew Fair, in the time of Queen Anne, as before stated. Lebeuf mentions a Latin mystery of the Three Kings so early as the time of Henry the First of France in the 11th century, wherein Virgil is introduced accompanying them; and at the end of the adoration, he joins with them in singing a long Benedicarnus.85 The first feast of the Three Kings was celebrated at Milan, in 1336, by the convent of the friars preachers. Warton86 gives the following account. It is called in the ritual, The Feast of the Star.
“The three kings appeared crowned on three great horses, richly habited, surrounded by pages, body-guards, and an innumerable retinue. A golden star was exhibited in the sky, going before them. They proceeded to the pillars of S. Lawrence, where king Herod was represented with his scribes and wise-men. The three kings ask Herod where Christ should be born: and his wise-men having consulted their books, answer him at Bethlehem. On which, the three kings with their golden crowns, having in their hands golden cups filled with frankincense, myrrh, and gold, the star still going before, marched to the church of S. Eustorgius, with all their attendants; preceded by trumpets and horns, apes, baboons, and a great variety of animals. In the church, on one side of the high altar, there was a manger with an ox and an ass, and in it the infant Christ in the arms of his mother. Here the three kings offer their gifts,” &c.
When Henry the Sixth entered Paris, in 1431, as King of France, he was met at the gate of St. Denis, by a dumb show, representing the birth of the Virgin Mary and her marriage, the adoration of the three kings, and the parable of the sower.87 This legend afforded the subject of one of the Corpus Christi plays at Newcastle, of which many particulars are preserved in Brand’s History of that place. The earliest notice of them by him is in 1426, but they are considered of older date. Each company acted its own play. The glaziers, with plumbers, pewterers, and painters, and anciently consisting of goldsmiths, plumbers, glaziers, pewterers, and painters, maintained their play of “The Three Kings of Coleyn,” as appears by an order of their Society, dated Sept. 1st, 1536. In an old book of this company, is the following entry, dated 5th March 1598, relating to the players’ apparel.
“Bye beards to the kynges three, and for the messoager one with theyr head hayres.
“Item, three cappes, and thre septers, and thre crownes.
“Item, one sterre and twey crownes.
“Item, box with our ordenarie and oure playe book.”
About the beginning of James the First, these plays were suppressed in all towns of the kingdom.88
In an inventory of ornaments belonging to the church of Holbech, in Lincolnshire, in 1548, appears, “Item, for the coats of the iii kyngs of Coloyne, vs. iiiid.” evidently intended for some mystery or procession.89 Some of the earliest printed books were appropriated to their history, so popular does it appear to have been. Dibdin90 says that an edition was printed in his best manner by Güldenschaiff, in 1477; and W. de Worde, in 1521, also printed one. There are numerous manuscripts on the subject; amongst others, Harl. MS. 2407-13, containing an ancient song on the three Kings of Cologne, wherein the whole story is resolved into alchemy!
The End of Christmas-tide
Twelfth-day is now considered the close of Christmas, after which people go back to their accustomed labours, treasuring up the recollection of past enjoyments, and looking forward to a repetition of them on the return of the season. But in former times the revels were frequently extended to a later day. In Herrick’s time the 7th of January, St. Distaff’s-day, as he calls it, was considered the last day, it being thought judicious probably to allow a kind of idle day to intervene between the sports of Twelfth-day and the full return of labour, for he says,
Partly work and partly play
Ye must on S. Distaff’s-day;
* * *
Give S. Distaffe all the right,
Then bid Christmas sport good night;
And next morrow, every one
To his own vocation.91
All semblance of Christmas, however, was not finally discarded until the 2nd of February, Candlemas-day, or the Purification of the Virgin; and at present the evergreens in churches are frequently kept up until Lent. According to Herrick, the evergreens should be taken down in houses on Candlemas-day—
Down with the rosemary, and so
Down with the baies and misletoe;
Down with the holly, ivie, all
Wherewith ye drest the Christmas hail;
That so the superstitious find
No one least branch there left behind;
For look, how many leaves there be
Neglected there, maids, trust to me,
So many goblins you shall see92
It was also the custom to burn the Christmas log for this day, taking care to preserve a fragment to kindle the log of the following Christmas.
Kindle the Christmas brand, and then
Till sunne—set let it burne;
Which queucht, then lay it up agen)
Till Christmas next returne.
Part must be kept, wherewith to teend
The Christmas log next yeare
And where ‘tis safely kept, the fiend
Can do no mischiefe there.93
End now the white-loafe and the pye,
And let all sports with Christmas dye.
The Lord Of Misrule
The Lords of Mis-rule, or Christmas Princes, frequently had their power extended to this day, when after a cessation from revelling, or nearly so, since Twelfth day, a sort of farewell was given, and then the last lingering relic of the Christmas was passed away.
This Lord of Misrule, or comptroller of the revels, by whatever name he was called, was of considerable antiquity; Faber says lie was derived from an old Persico-gothic festival in honour of Budha; during the Saturnalia also a king or ruler of the feast was chosen. Some have deduced this office from the Boy-Bishop, of whom traces may be discovered as far back as the Constantinopolitan synod in 867. This ceremony prevailed in England from an early period; and when Edward the First went to Scotland in 1299, one of these boy-bishops was permitted to sing vespers before him in his chapel at Heton, near Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and received a present of 40s. in consequence. The custom was put down by Henry the Eighth, in 1542. it was revived during the short and troubled reign of Queen Mary, but again put aside upon the accession of Elizabeth.
The Lord of Misrule, or Christmas Prince (called in Scotland the Abbot of Unreason,94 and in France the Abbe de Malgouverné and Abbé de Liesse,) was not only appointed to control or superintend the festivities at court, where his power was probably restrained by the royal prerogative, but also at the houses of the nobility, the different colleges, and the inns of court. In the 7th of Henry VII. in the household-book of that monarch, is a payment to “Ringley, Abbot of Misrule, £5.” In the 10th year, to the same person £2; and in the 18th year, to the Abbot of Mysrule, in rewarde, £6. 13s. 4d.; in the 22nd and 23rd years, to the same character, for his besynes in Crestenmas holydays, £6. 13s. 4d.95 The establishment and equipment of this officer were frequently of a very expensive description. In 1551, when Mr. Ferrers, as before-mentioned, was Lord of Misrule, his expences were more than £650, his apparel alone amounting to a third; he had different dresses for Christmas-day, New Year’s day, and Twelfth-day. That on New Year’s-day was a robe of red bawdekyn, nine yards, with a great embroidered gard of purple silver, fourteen yards; a coat of the same materials, and embroidered and garded in like manner; a pair of hosen slopwise, the breeches of cloth of gold, figured with velvett red and green, with a cut gard of cloth of gold on it; a pair of buskins of red bawdekyn. The cost £34. 14s.96
Grafton, in his description of this Christmas, states it to be of old ordinary course; that there is always one appointed to make sport in the court, called commonly Lord of Misrule, whose office was not unknown to such as had been brought up in noblemen’s houses, and among great housekeepers, which used liberal feasting in that season.
The Lord Mayor and Sheriffs also formerly had their Lord of Misrule, as mentioned by Stow, but the office has of late years been discontinued. It is true there was an ordinance of Common Council in the 1st and 2nd of Mary for retrenching expences, whereby, amongst other things, it was directed, that the Lord Mayor or Sheriffs should not keep any Lord of Misrule in any of their houses.97
Stubbs, in his “Anatomie of Abuses,” printed in 1595, reprobates the conduct of a sort of parish or country Lord of Misrule, with his hobby-horses, dragons, and riotous followers decorated with scarfs, ribbons, and laces, hung over with gold rings, precious stones, and other jewels, with bells about their legs and rich handkerchiefs in their hands: they carried their licence so far as to dance into the churches even during the time of service. These rude revellers, however, partook more of the nature of morris-dancers than of the Christmas Prince. His reign was interrupted by the progress of Puritanism, though, as before stated, there were some celebrated exhibitions of this description even as late as the seventeenth century.
In the Christmas at the Middle Temple in 1632, the Lord of Misrule was attended by his Lord Keeper, Lord Treasurer, eight white staves, a band of pensioners with their captain, and two chaplains, with other officers. His venison was supplied by Lord Holland, his Justice in Eyre, and the Lord Mayor and Sheriffs of London furnished his wine. Evelyn says that he was invited to the solemn foolery of the Prince de la Grange, at Lincoln’s Inn, in January 1662, when the King and Duke of York, &c. were present; and in January 1668, he went to see the revels at the Middle Temple, which was an old but riotous custom.
The Society of Lincoln’s Inn used to choose a King of Christmas-day, and on Childermass-day another officer called the King of the Cockneys. The practice is now obsolete, unless the Twelfth- night king may be considered as similar for his limited time, and except in those very rare cases where in private parties it is agreed to choose one on any particular occasion during the holidays.
The Christmas Box
The custom of Christmas-boxes would be more honoured in the breach than the observance, taking into consideration the little sympathy that now exists between the boxers and the boxed. Not withstanding, it is an old custom. Some have derived it from the practice of the monks, to offer masses for the safety of all vessels that went long voyages, in each of which a box was kept in the custody or under the control of the priest. Money, or other valuable consideration, was placed in these to secure the prayers of the church, and they were opened yearly at Christmas, whence they were called Christmas-boxes, and the name was readily transferred to the gifts themselves. Poor persons interested in the fate of these ships, begged money from their wealthier neighbours to enable them to contribute to these boxes.98 The practice is, how ever, probably of pagan origin, like that of New-year’s gifts, but differs at present, inasmuch as Christmas-boxes are seldom reciprocal, New-year’s gifts frequently are; and the former are generally given to dependants. Apprentices and journey men, and servants, used to carry about earthen boxes with a slit in them to receive money, and when the time for collecting was over, broke them to obtain the contents. Similar boxes may yet be seen, but principally made of wood. There are many examples of payments to domestics or other dependants, somewhat in the nature of Christmas-boxes, in many of the old household accounts.
The oddest effect produced by the fear of Christmas-boxes was one that occurred some few years since, where a person in trade directed that he should be denied to all applicants for these forced gratuities. Amongst others, however, some importunate creditor called, and was denied. He immediately in the height of his wrath consulted his lawyer, or professional man, as is the modern term, and the unsuspecting victim of Christmas-box-phobia was punished by having a docket struck against him, and in due time may have appeared in the Gazette as “dealer and chapman,” but I forget the result.
The dustmen and scavengers are in the habit of leaving printed applications for their Christmas- boxes, one of which, in my possession, warns people against a number of persons completely unconnected with “our profession, who go about at this season with the base design of imposing upon you, and defrauding your obedient humble servants.” Another ticket of the “constant dust-men,” as they call themselves, adds at the bottom, “No connexion with the scavengers.” The Principal Wait also leaves a notice of a more imposing description, stating a regular appointment to the office by warrant, and admission with all the ancient forms of the City and Liberty of Westminster, and bears a silver-badge and chain with the arms of that city. But these ancient personages must be mentioned more at length.
In the early ages (but subsequent to those times when the bard was also the historian or chronicler, and held a high rank in the royal establishment,) minstrels, mimics, jugglers, tumblers, &c. crowded the abodes of our princes and grandees during the several great festivals; at Christmas, therefore, as an especial feast, there was a numerous gathering of them. Many, particularly those who attained any eminence in their art, were attached to the establishment of royal and noble households. The term Wait, or Wayte, seems to designate a species of minstrel or musician, who kept watch at night during certain times of the year, having a pipe, or hautboy, or some similar instrument; on which he was to pipe watch as it was called, and to make bon gayte, that is, bon guet, at the different chamber doors.
In the household of Edward the Third, among the “mynstrells,” were “waytes 3,” who had 12d. per day in time of war. In time of peace, it appears they had only 20s. a year. The band of this monarch consisted of “five trumpeters, one cyteler, five pipers, one tabret, one mabrer, two clarions, one fidler, three wayghts or hautbois.”99
Waits are mentioned in the ordinances for subsequent royal households, and the names of the individuals occasionally occur; but the description of one in the time of Edward the Fourth fully describes his office, station, and perquisites.
“A wayte, that nightelye from Mychelmas to Shreve Thorsdaye pipe the watche within this courte fower tymes; in the somere nightes iij tymes, and rnakethe bon gayte at every chambere doare and offyce, as well for feare of pyckeres and pilleres. He eateth in the halle with mynstrielles, and takethe lyverey at nighte a loffe, a galone of alle, and for somere nightes ij candles pich, a bushel of coles; and for wintere nights half a loaf of bread, a galon of ale, iiij candles piche, a bushel coles; daylye whilste he is presente in courte for his wages in cheque roale allowed iiijd. ob. or else iijd. by the discresshon of the steuarde and tressorere, and that, aftere his cominge and diseruinge: also cloathinge with the houshold yeomen or mynstrelles like to the wages that he takethe ; and he be syke he taketh twoe loves, ij messe of greate meate, one gallon ale. Also he partethe with the housholde of general gyfts, and hathe his beddinge carried by the comptrollers assygment; and under this yeoman to be a groome watere. Yf he can excuse the yeoman in his absence, that he taketh rewarde, clotheinge, meat, and all other things lyke to other grooms of houshold. Also this yeoman-waighte, at the making of Knightes of the Bathe, for his attendance upon them by nighte-tyme, in watching in the chappelle, hath to his fee all the watchinge-clothing that the knight shall wear uppon him.”100
As the encouragement given to minstrels at great houses lessened, so did their respectability, or relative station in society; besides which, their wandering propensities tended to promote irregular habits. In Henry the Fourth’s time it was found necessary to lay a restraint on their proceedings; and in the fourth year of his reign an act was passed for that purpose, though it is confined to Wales, which was probably a favourite place of resort. The act was altered in 26th and 27th of Henry VIII. and here follows in its original classical language.
“Item, pur eschuir pluseurs diseases & meschiefs qont advenuz devaunt ces heures en in terre de Gales por pluseurs westours rymours ministralx & autres vacabondes ordeignez est & establiz qe nul westour rymour ministrall ne vacaboud soit aucunement sustenuz en la terre de Gales pur faire kymorthas ou coillage sur la commune people illoeqes.”
There is a celebrated description of a minstrel, given by Laneham, in quaint uncouth language, in his Letter respecting the Queen’s Entertainment at Killingworth (quasi Kenilworth) in 1575, and inserted by Nichols in his “Progresses.” Like the waits, he wore “a fayr flagon cheyn, pewter (for sylver); az a Squier Minstrel of Middilsex, that travaild the cuntree thys soomer season unto fairz, and worshipfull menz houzez. From hiz cheyn hoong a schoochion, with metall and cooller resplandant upon his breast, of the auncient armez of Islington.”
In the course of the same and the following century, minstrels used to travel the country in search of bride-ales, Christmas dinners, fairs, &c. and whenever they could do so, gained access to the halls of the gentry and nobility. This custom may still be noticed, though the modern minstrels are of a reduced description. Brand, in his “History of Newcastle,” (vol. ii. pp. 353-4) states that there was a society of waits, or musicians, at that town; and by an order of Common Council, Nov. 4th, 1646, they were to go about morning and evening, according to ancient custom. By a like order of 1675, they were enjoined going about the town in the winter season, and they had certain privileges in preference to strangers. In other towns it is probable that similar societies existed with like privileges;101 the sworn waits of the present day are descended from such, but they have sadly neglected the good old tunes; in winter nights lulling us with “Hush thee, my darling,” or enlivening our frozen toes in imagination with a galope or mazurka; and in summer steaming it to Margate or Ramsgate, to harmonize the flocks that go to the great annual wash there, with “The Sea,” “Ye Gentlemen of England,” &c.
The practice of decorating churches and houses with evergreens is of very ancient date. From the earliest times branches of trees and flowers were used in religious ceremonies as emblems of gladness. Our Saviour himself permitted such a demonstration upon his triumphal entry into Jerusalem; it was natural therefore that the early Christians should adopt this symbol of rejoicing on the return of that season in which they commemorated the fulfilment of the promise to fallen man, in honour of the birth of our Saviour. The custom was, however, liable to abuse in common with others derived from the heathens; differences of opinion arose as to its propriety, and some of the councils endeavoured to abolish it. In the Capitula Græcarum Synodorum, A.D. 610, collected by Martin Bishop of Bracara, can. 73, it is enacted, that “It is not lawfull to keepe the wicked observations of kalends, nor to observe the festivals of the Gentiles; nor yet to begirt or adorne houses with laurel or greene boughes: for all this practice savours of Paganism.”102
The usage however gained ground, and has been preserved to the present day. One of the earliest carols of the following collection, of the time of Henry VI. is called “A song on the Ivy and the Holly.” [Possibly A Song Of the Ivy and the Holly?] Stowe mentions a storm of thunder and lightning on Candlemas-day 1444, which rooted up a standard of tree at the Leadenhall, in Cornhill, nailed full of holme and ivie for disport of Christmas to the people, which accident was by some attributed to the malignant spirit. Tusser, in the following century writes, “Get iuye and hull, woman decke vp thyne house.”
The churchwardens accounts of various parishes, during the 15th and following centuries, contain entries of payments for evergreens at this season, of which many extracts are given by Ellis, in his notes to Brand’s “Popular Antiquities,” and in Nichols’s “Illustrations of Manners and Expences,” as from the accounts of St. Mary Hill, London, for 1487: “For holme and yve anenst Crist. 1d.’ and again in the accounts of St. Martin Outwich, London:
“1524. Itm for holy and ivy at Chrystmas, ijd. ob.
“1525. Payd for holy and ivye at Crystmas, ijd.”
During the civil wars, prior to the establishment of the Commonwealth, the practice was not abolished, and in 1647 the churchwardens of St. Margaret’s Westminster “paid for rosemarie and baies that was stuck about the church at Christmas, 1s. 6d.” but were brought before the House of Commons in consequence. Even in the Commonwealth, when the Puritans had the ascendancy, it was preserved. Coles, in his “Art of Simpling,” 1656, says, “In some places setting up of holly, ivy, rosemary, bayes, yew, &c. in churches at Christmass, is still in use. And thus Poor Robin’s Almanack, in 1695, sings:
With holly and ivy,
So green and so gay,
We deck up our houses
As fresh as the day;
With bays and rosemary,
And laurel compleat,
And every one now
Is a king in conceit.
At present great variety is observed in decorating our houses and buildings, and many flowers are introduced that were unknown to our ancestors, but whose varied colours add to the cheerful effect, as the chrysanthemum, satin flower, &c. mingling with the red berry of the holly and the mystic misletoe. In the West of England the myrtle and laurustinum form a pleasing addition. In many parts of Germany, and in Sicily, a large bough is set up in the principal room at Christmas time, the smaller branches of which are hung with little presents suitable to the different members of the household. A good deal of innocent mirth and spirit of courtesy is produced by this custom.103
The misletoe, which forms an essential and prominent object in these decorations, was looked upon by our Pagan ancestors with a species of veneration; it is supposed to have been the sacred branch referred to by Virgil, in his description of the descent to the lower regions; and if so, may be presumed to have been in use in the religious ceremonies of the Greeks and Romans, as this description is considered an allegorical representation of somc of their mysteries. It is well known that this plant was held sacred by the Druids and the Celtic nations, who attributed valuable medicinal qualities to it, calling it allheal, or in Welsh quidhel. The Gothic nations also attached extraordinary qualities to it, and it is said in the Edda to have been the cause of the death of Balder:
Frigga, when she adjured all the other plants, with the animals, birds, metals, earth, fire, water, reptiles, diseases, and poison, not to do him any hurt, neglected to take any oath from the misletoe, as it appeared too young and feeble to injure him. When the gods in their great assembly amused themselves therefore by throwing darts and other missiles at him, which all fell harmless, Loke, moved with envy, joined them in the shape of an old woman, and persuaded Hoder, who was blind, to throw a branch of rnisletoe, guiding his hand for the purpose, when Balder fell dead, pierced through and through.
The Druids used to collect the misletoe on the approach of the new year, with many mysterious ceremonies, such as cutting it with a golden sickle, and receiving it in a white cloth, the officiating Druids being also clad in white. This tended to increase the superstitious feeling of the people towards it, already aroused probably by the singular manner of its growth. As late as the 17th century peculiar efficacy was attached to it. Coles, in his “Art of Simpling” (1656, p.67,) observes that “If one hang misletoe about the neck, the witches can have no power of him.” Some lingering superstition remains to the present day, and in many houses a bunch of misletoe is suspended from the ceiling, under which the male part of the assembly have the privilege of taking the females and saluting them, at the same time they should wish them a happy new year, and present them with one of the berries for good luck. In other places people try lots by the crackling of the leaves and berries in the fire.
Mumming and The Feast of Fools
Mumming and theatrical representations at this season have been already mentioned ; but as something of the same description still exists in parts of the kingdom, chiefly towards the Northern and Western extremities, although far different in public estimation from those of former times, a few further particulars will not be out of place. Traces of the fool’s dance, a sort of religious mummery at Christmas, may be discovered as far back as the time of Edward the ‘Third. In the early part of Henry the Sixth’s reign, there are payments to “Jakke Travaill & ses compaignons faisans diverses jeuues & eutreludes dedeins le feste de Noell devant notre dit sire le Roi.”104
The feast of fools, and the feast of asses, with other similar observances, were probably derived from some of the rites of idolatry. The ceremonies on the last of these festivals, as described by Ducange, appear to us in the present day as perfect profanation of religion, there being a regular burlesque service in honour of the ass, and all sorts of impurities committed even at the holy altar, and a hymn was sung, beginning as follows:
Patcher et fortissimus,
Hez, sire asnes, car chantez;
Belle bouche rechignez;
Vous aurez du foin assez
Et de l’avoine à plantez.
The chorus to the last verse was in the following beautiful strain—
Her va! her va! her va her!
Bialx Sire Asncs car aller;
Bclle bouche car chantez.105
In some places this feast might appear to have reference to the journey of the Virgin Mary into Egypt with the infant Saviour, as a beautiful girl was chosen and placed, with the child in her arms, on an ass decorated with splendid trappings, on which she proceeded to the altar. So popular was this ceremony even among the higher clergy, that in 1212 it was found necessary by the Council of Paris to prohibit archbishops and bishops from attending it; but even this proved ineffectual, and the church rulers continued their endeavours for centuries to restrain and abolish these absurdities, for after the respectable part of the clergy had withdrawn from them, they still continued popular among the laity, and were not finally abolished till the very end of the sixteenth century, although they might have undergone various modifications; and there were some remnants even in the middle of the seventeenth.
Aspecies of mumming existed in France in the sixteenth century, supposed to be of pagan origin.
“ A man, personating a Prince, (roi follet, ‘a mummer,’) set out from the village into the woods, bawling out, ‘Au gui menez, le Roi le veult;’ the monks followed in the rear, with their begging-boxes, which they rattled, crying ‘tire-lire,’ and the people put money in them, under the fiction that it was for a lady in labour. Persons in disguise (guiscards) forced themselves into dwelling-houses, playing antic tricks, and bullying the inmates for money and choice victuals, crying, ‘tire-lire, tire-lire, maint du blanc et point du bis (pis).’ Hence, the late Professor Robison of Edinburgh derived the guiscarts of Edinburgh, and their cry, ‘Hog menay, troll lollay, gie’s your white bread, and none o’ your gray.’ ”106 At a subsequent period, people used to go through the towns and villages singing and begging money, and crying out, “Au Guy! L’An Neuf!”
In the collection of Noei Borguignon, of which some account will be given hereafter, it is stated that at Dijon, about the year 1700, masked persons went about at night during Christmas, some playing, some dancing. The players were called mommons, the dancers simply masques. Among the mummers in England, as late as the seventeenth century, the hobby-horse was an important character, but in more recent times he appears to have been discarded— “For, oh! the hobby-horse is forgot.”
There also appears to have been a sort of goblin or buffoon, dressed in calf-skin. In an old play called “Wily Beguiled,” in the early part of James the First, a character called Robin Goodfellow says, “I’ll go put on my devilish robes, I mean my Christmas calf’s-skin suit, and then walk to the woods: O, I’ll terrify him, I warrant ye.”
A remnant of this appears in a set of mummers mentioned by Jackson about 1760 in his “History of the Scottish Stage,” (pp. 410—11,) whose amusements began with a sort of prologue, announcing the performers, as they came on successively with the clown. The first verse he gives thus—
My name it is Captain Calf-tail, Calf-tail,
And on my back it is plain to be seen;
Although I am simple, and wear a fool’s-cap,
I am dearly belov’d of a queen.
In the Christmas mumming continued in Ireland to recent times, the Fool generally appeared in a calf, or cow-skin. The mummers, or gysarts, in Scotland and the north of England are not yet obsolete, and still have plays similar to those of the Cornish, which will presently be described. Indeed, the Christmas plays, in the few places where they yet exist, are very similar, implying therefore a common origin, though modern interpolations of an absurd description constantly occur.
Many of the old Christmas customs are preserved in Cornwall to an extent not exceeded by any county in the kingdom. The higher orders, unfortunately, are gradually withdrawing their sanction, so that in a few years there will scarcely be any traces left. In a county long famed for its hospitality, it may be imagined that when Christmas feasts prevailed throughout the country among people of wealth, the Cornish would at least equal any of their neighbours; and as an example may be stated, the establishment of John Carminow, whose family was of high repute in the county about the time of Henry the Eighth. Hals says, that “he kept open house for all comers and goers, drinkers, minstrells, dancers, and what not, during the Christmas time, and that his usual allowance of provision for those twelve days, were twelve fat bullocks, twenty Cornish bushels of wheat, (i.e. fifty Winchesters)107 thirty-six sheep, with hogs, lambs, and fowls, of all sort, and drink made of wheat and oat-malt proportionable; for at that time barley-malt was little known or used in those parts.” This hospitality has been continued to the present period, and is one of the Christmas customs prevalent among all classes.
Christmas plays, however puerile they seem at present, are of a remote origin, and supposed by many to be as old as the time of the Crusades, and that hence arose the favourite subject of St. George and the Dragon [See: Christmas Play of Saint George]. But the Crusaders perhaps only varied the representations then existing. Saint George and his friends, however, were introduced into theatrical performances many centuries since, and it is not improbable that some of those religious adventurers might have introduced them. A play of this description was performed before Henry the Fifth at Windsor, in 1416, when the Emperor Sigismund was with him. The favourite romance of “The Seven Champions of Christendome” was written about the time of Elizabeth, by Richard Johnson, who, according to Percy,108 copied from the metrical romances of former ages, and particularly the story of St. George and the fair Sabra, from the old poetical legend of “Syr Bevis of Hampton,” which is more ancient than Chaucer.
The Cornish also had their Guary, or miracle plays, with subjects taken from the Scriptures, at a period equally remote; and remains may yet be seen of the rounds, or amphitheatres, erected for their representation. To these, at the appointed times, the people flocked from many miles distant, and the performance must frequently have lasted a considerable time, if we may judge from the length of that called “ The Creation of the World,” edited recently by Davies Gilbert, Esq. This, however, was nothing to be compared with the dramatic effusions of the Society of Parish Clerks of London, some of which are related by Stowe to have lasted for eight days.
The actors probably were not very apt scholars, as there was one called the Ordinary, whose office it was to follow about and prompt them. Carew, in his “Survey of Cornwall,” mentions an amusing circumstance occasioned by this practice: it having come to the turn of one of the actors to go on the stage, the ordinary said, “Goe forth, man, and shew thy selfe.” The actor, from ignorance, or more probably from a sort of Listonian affected stupidity, stepped forward, made his bow (if bows were then in fashion) and repeated, “Goe forth, man, and shew thy selfe.” The ordinary whispered in his ear, “Oh, you marre all the play.” The actor, with appropriate gesture, repeated aloud, “Oh, you marre all the play.” The prompter then lost his patience, and reviled him with all the bitter terms he could think of, which the actor invariably repeated aloud with a steady serious countenance, as if engaged in the most solemn performance. The ordinary was at last obliged to give over, and the assembly, according to Carew, received “ a great deale more sport and laughter than 20 such guaries could have afforded.”
Borlase, in his “Natural History of the County,” mention three Cornish interludes of the 15th century, in the Bodleian Library: the 1st, containing “The Creation of the World;“ the 2nd, “The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ;“ and the 3rd, “The Resurrection.” “The Creation of the World,” by William Jordan, was written by him in 1611. He was a Helstone man; but whether the same Jordan who officiated as a sort of city poet laureate about the same time, does not appear.109
The original language of the county became obsolete probably full a century since, and for a long time previous to that, had not been the prevalent dialect. Such compositions as existed in it appear to have been neglected, or at least very few now exist, the best examples of which the literary world has been favoured with by Mr. Gilbert. The plays in the Cornish language were probably succeeded by imperfect and garbled translations, or imitations.
The legend of St. George became also mixed up with much extraneous matter, though kept distinct from the Scripture plays. Borlase says, that in his time the lower people “carryed on miserable dialogues on Scripture-subjects; when their memory could go no further, they filled up the rest of the entertainment with more puerile representations, the combats of puppets, the final victory of the hero of the drama, and death of his antagonist.”
These plays at present are performed only by persons of the lower order, chiefly young persons, who, in the West of Cornwall, go about the towns, stopping at the inns, and gentlemen’s houses, whereever they are likely to collect money, reciting, in doggrel rhymes, the history of St. George. The plot and the diction are certainly of a humble description; but I have nevertheless, though with some hesitation, inserted a specimen after the Carols [Christmas Play of Saint George]. Scarcely any two sets of actors perform them alike, though the characters and plot, if it may be called one, are similar. [Compare: Christmas Play of St. George and the Dragon, Sandys, 1852]
So little do the actors know the history of their own drama, that sometimes General Wolfe is introduced, who first fights St. George, and then sings a song about his own death. I have also seen the Duke of Wellington represented. Occasionally there is a sort of anti-masque, or burlesque (if it will admit of such) at the end of the performance, when some comic characters enter, called, Flub Bob, Old ‘Squire, &c. and the piece concludes with a dance.
St. George and the other tragic performers are dressed somewhat in the style of morris dancers, with white trowsers and waistcoats, shewing their shirt-sleeves, and are much decorated with ribbons and handkerchiefs, each carrying a drawn sword in his hand, if they can be procured, otherwise a cudgel. They wear high caps of pasteboard, covered with fancy paper, adorned with beads, small pieces of looking-glass, bugles, &c. several long strips of pith generally hanging down from the top, with shreds of different-coloured cloth strung on them, the whole having a fanciful and smart effect. The Turk sometimes has a turban; Father Christmas is personified as a grotesque old man, wearing a large mask and wig, with a huge club in his hand; the Doctor, who is a sort of merryandrew to the piece, is dressed in some ridiculous way, with a three-cornered hat and painted face. The female, when there is one, is in the costume of her great-grandmother. The hobby-horse, when introduced, has a sort of representation of a horse’s hide; but the dragon and the giant, when there is one, frequently appear with the same style of dress as the knights.
The play of “Alexander, the King of Egypt,” as acted by the Mummers in the North of England, was printed at Newcastle in the year 1788, and bears a great similarity to those just described. Mr. Reddock, in Hone’s “Every-day Book,” vol. ii. p. 18, gives an account of a similar play in Scotland. Besides this regular drama of St. George, Guisards, or geese-dancers, as they are called, go about, the males and females frequently exchanging attire, and visit the different houses. Heath, in his account of the Scilly Islands, in 1750, mentions a similar custom.
Games and Pastimes
There are two or three peculiar games or pastimes used at this time by the lower orders in the west of Cornwall, which may be considered as rough substitutes for some of the games of forfeits practised by children; the first, however, is of much antiquity, as Strutt, in his “Sports and Pastimes,” gives a drawing of a similar game of the date of the 14th century. Each end of a round pole, about ten feet long, is placed on a chair, on one of these is a lighted candle; the adventurer mounts the pole with his face towards this, having in his hand a small stick with a piece of paper tied to it: the trial is to get both his heels up crossways upon the pole, and endeavour to light the paper from the candle; many awkward tumbles are occasioned in the attempt, each of the Leroes in turn getting a fall “upon the planchen.”
Another game is called “The tinkeler’s (Tinker’s) shop.” A large iron pot, with a mixture of soot and water, is placed in the middle of the room; one of the party acts as master of the shop, having a small mop in his left hand and a short stick in his right, as his comrades have also; each of these assumes a name, as old Vulcan, Mend-all, Tear’em, All-my-men, &c. They all kneel down round the vessel: the master cries out, “every one and I; “they then all hammer away as fast as they can, some with ridiculous grimaces: the master suddenly cries out, “All-my-men and I,” “ Mend-all and I,” or any other name he chooses, upon which all are to cease working except the individual named. If any of them fail in attending to this, they are treated with a salute from the mop, well soaked in the sable liquid; and as the master contrives to puzzle them by frequently changing the names, and sometimes calling two or three together, the faces of most of the party are soon reduced to a state that would make even Warren’s jet blacking look pale with envy.
Another amusement is called “The Corn-market,” where also there is a master, who has an assistant called Spy-the-market; another essential character is old Penglaze, who has a blackened face, and a staff in his hand, and a person is girded round with a horse’s hide, or what is supposed to be such, to serve as his horse; they are placed towards the back of the market. The other players have each some even price appropriated to them for names, as Twopence, Sixpence, Twelvepence, &c. The master then calls “Spy-the-market,” to which the man replies, “Spy-the-market.” The master again calls “Spy-the-market,” who replies, “Ay, sirrah.” The master then asks the price of corn, the man names some price that is borne by one of the players, as for instance “Twopence.” The master then holds the same conversation with Twopence as he had with his man, and so on till some mistake is made, by any of the party not answering to his name, when the unlucky offender is to be sealed, which constitutes the principal amusement of the game. The master goes up to the delinquent, and taking up his foot says, “Here is my seal, where is old Penglaze’s seal?” and gives him a blow on the foot. Old Penglaze then comes in on his horse, which winces and capers about grotesquely. He is then told that a fine colt wants shoeing, for which he says his reward is a full gallon of moonlight, besides all other customs for shoeing in that market. The shoe of the colt is taken off, and Penglaze gives him one or two hard blows on the sole of the foot, after which he rides off again, his horse capering more than before and sometimes throwing the old gentleman off.
In Yorkshire and Northumberland, and some other parts, the ancient custom of the Sword-dance is still kept up at Christmas, or was to a very recent period, the dancers being accompanied by a fiddler, a character called Bessy, and one personating the Doctor. Another custom in Yorkshire is the Hagman-heigh, on New Year’s Eve. The keeper of the pinfold goes round knocking at certain doors with a song beginning,
To-night it is the new-year’s night, to-morrow is the day
We are come about for our right and for our ray,
As we us’d to do in old King Henry’s day
Sing, fellows, sing, Hagman-heigh, &c.
He concludes with wishing a merry Christmas, - and a happy New Year.110 But it would far exceed the limits of this Introduction to enter into a detail of the different county customs, even if I had the means of doing so; therefore, like Dogberry, having bestowed all my tediousness upon your worships, I will proceed to state a few particulars relating to the singing of carols.
The Singing Of Carols
Music was introduced into the sacred rites of the earliest nations. The Egyptians used it, the Druids also had recourse to it, and it formed a considerable part of the religious ceremonies of the Greeks and Romans. The Hebrews had hymns and psalms from their first becoming a nation; one of the earliest on record being that in which Miriam and her companions joined on the overthrow of the Egyptians. The Anglo-Saxons and other Gothic nations greatly encouraged psalmody. If we may judge from those specimens that have been handed down to us, the tunes and melodies were but few, and those of a nature that do not impress us with any favourable idea of their harmony.
The Heathen Romans were in the habit of singing hymns on the calends of January, on which account some of the early canons of the church prohibited the practice at that time, but the corruptions introduced in the songs arid dances on some of the early festivals of the saints, probably sprang from this source. The early Christians were in the constant habit of singing psalms and hymns, especially on their festivals and on the vigils of their saints, when, according to Burney, they sang sacred songs after supper. The practice is referred to both by St. Paul and St. James; and Pliny the younger, in his letter to Trajan respecting the Christians, A.D. 107, says, “They were wont to meet together on a stated day, before it was light, and sing among themselves alternately a hymn to Christ as to God.”
According to Durand, the bishops in the earlier ages of the Church were accustomed on Christmas-day to sing hymns among their clergy, from whence may be derived our Christmas hymns or carols. Bishop Taylor observes, however, that the “Gloria in Excelsis,” the well known hymn sung by the Angels to the Shepherds at our Lord’s Nativity, was the earliest Christmas carol. In the second century Telesphorus, in his “Decretall Epistle,” mentions the practice as already noticed.111
In the fourth century the Ambrosian chant was established in the church at Milan, when St. Ambrose was bishop of that place, and church music began to take a more settled and imposing form. The Anglo-Saxons, after their conversion to Christianity, preserved their fondness for religious music, and it was a common article among their guilds or fraternities, that each member should sing two psalms a day, one for the living members, the other for those that were dead.112
They had also, no doubt in consonance with the practice of other countries, peculiar hymns for particular feast days, and especially for the feast of the Nativity, which was considered one of the greatest in the year, and some scattered specimens may probably yet be found. When the Anglo-Normans obtained the sway in this country, their priests introduced more pomp into the ceremonies of religion, and equally encouraged church music. There are some Latin hymns, with music of the time of King Stephen, still existing in the British Museum.113
In the 12th century, and probably sooner, the monks composed legends in verse of the lives of the saints, &c. for the proper holidays; and at Christmas therefore religious pieces suited to the time were recited, accompanied with appropriate hymns or songs. Some of these spiritual songs came gradually to be introduced into private meetings, and others were composed for the same purpose of a lighter description. The theatrical exhibitions at this season of the year, also frequently contained songs incidental to the performances, which, as before stated, were at first subjects taken from the Scriptures.
The term carol appears originally to have signified songs intermingled with dancing, or a sort of divertisement; and it is used in that sense in “Le Roman de la Rose,” and by Chaucer and other old writers. It was afterwards applied to festive songs, and as these became most prevalent during Christmas, it has for a long time past designated (though not exclusively) those sung during that feast; but these should in strictness be distinguished from Christmas hymns, which are of a more solemn nature, although they are now generally confounded together under the name of carols.
In one of the Coventry pageants, being that of the Shearmen and Tailors, towards the beginning of the 15th century, three songs are introduced, sufficiently rude in their construction, which from the subjoined specimens may be considered in the nature of carols; and several other examples of ancient ones will be found in the following collection.
SONG I.—(By the Shepherds.)
As I out rode this endenes-night,114
Of thre ioli sheppardes I saw a sight,
And all a bowte there fold a star shone bright;
They sange terli terlow.
So mereli the sheppards ther pipes can blow.
SONG II.—(By the Women.)
Lully lulla, Þw littell tiné child,
By by, lully lullay, Þw littell tyné child,
By by, lully lullay.
O sisters too, how may we do
For to preserve Þis day
This pore yongling for whom we do singe
By by, lully lullay.
Herod the king, in his raging,
Chargid he hath this day
His men of might in his owne sight
All yonge children to slay.
That wo is me, pore child, for thee,
And ever morne and say,
For thi parting nether say nor singe
By by, lully lulla.
Editor's Note: See As I Out Rode This Enders Night and Coventry Carol
The custom of singing carols had become general about this time; and in some of the early ones scraps of Latin will be found introduced, adopted probably from the Christmas hymns, for which these songs were intended as a substitute. So popular did they become, that W. de Worde, one of our earliest printers, was induced to print a set of them in the year 1521, containing amongst others, the celebrated The Boars Head Carol, anciently sung upon the introduction of that dish on Christmas-day. In the particular instructions given for the regulation of the household of Henry the Seventh, the ceremonies to be observed on the several feast-days during the Christmas are set forth; even describing the particular robes and dress to be worn by the King on each of them. On Twelfth-day he is to go crowned, and wear his robes royal; and on Twelfth-night is the following direction—
“Item, the chappell to stand on the one side of the hall, and when the steward corneth in at the hall-doore with the wassell, he must crie three tymes, Wassell, wassell, wassell; and then the chappell to answere with a good songe; and in likewise if it bee in the great chamber.”
This song, above referred to, was no doubt a carol, and in the book of expences of Elizabeth, Queen of Henry the Seventh, in the 18th of his reign, we may see the value of one in those days, as William Cornyshe, who appears to have been a favourite poet and composer at court, then received 13s. 4d. “for setting of carrall vpon Cristmas-day in reward.” The price of a collection of carols was equally moderate with the reward given for setting one, for in the churchwardens’ accounts of St. Mary at Hill, London, A.D. 1537, is an entry, “To Sr Mark for Carolls for Christmas, and for 5 square Books, iijs. iiiid.” In the regulations of the Northumberland household in 1512, it appears that the children of the chapel were allowed an extraordinary compensation of 6s. 8d. for singing Gloria in Excelsis upon Christmas-day in the morning. Carols continued much in vogue throughout this century. Tosser mentions one to be sung to the tune of King Solomon; and it would have been very desirable if some of the genuine and popular carol tunes of that age had been preserved, which may however be the case, although difficult of proof.
Some of the airs hereafter given [See: Tunes From Sandys], are of considerable antiquity, and one or two of them are said to have been known in Cornwall for three hundred years past. In the Additional MSS. British Museum, Nos. 5465 and 5665, being collections of ancient songs in the time of Henry VII. and VIII. are some carols and pious songs, with the music generally in three or four parts, but not of sufficient interest for any but musical antiquaries, and scarcely intended for the lower orders of that age. Among the composers are Edmond Turges, Gilbert Banaster, and the before-named William Cornysshe; and perhaps the 13s. 4d. carol may be in the collection. Some of the old psalm tunes, which were preserved at the time of the Reformation, have considerable similarity in style to the old carol tunes, as for instance, the Bristol, Salisbury, and Kenchester tunes, among Playford’s psalms, and others attached to the early editions of the English Liturgy.
In Shakspeare’s time, carols were sung at night during Christmas about the streets, and made a pretext for collecting money. The Reformation also having abolished Latin hymns in the established church, Christmas carols came into general use in the country churches. About the same time, Sternhold and Hopkins made their English version of the Psalms; the former died in 1549, and his fifty-one psalms were published in the same year. The entire version was published by John Day in 1562, with “apt notes to sing them withall.”
The custom of singing carols was, however, by no means confined to the reformed religion, for the Roman Catholics equally preserved the custom; as indeed is done to this day in the Catholic countries on the Continent. Barnaby Googe, in his translation of “Naogeorgus, gives the following account of Christmas-day in the middle of the sixteenth century, among other things:
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 childe 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 cheare.
The priestes do rore aloude; and round about the parentes stande
To see the sport, and with their voyce do helpe them and their hande.
Naogeorgus also mentions a custom of the same date, in parts of Germany, for the young people of both sexes to go about from house to house on the three Thursday nights preceding the Nativity, knocking at the doors and singing Christmas carols, and wishing a happy new year,—a custom yet scarcely obsolete in some parts of England.
There is a story on record, of a terrible plague at Goldsberg, in 1553, which carried off above 2500 persons, leaving not more than twenty-five housekeepers alive in the place. The plague abating, one of the survivors went on Christmas-eve to the Lower Ring, and sang a carol, and was by degrees joined by a few others, to excite each other in thanksgiving. Hence arose a custom for the people to assemble in large numbers, at the Upper and Lower Ring on Christmas morning, to sing carols, beginning with
Unto us this day a child is born.115
In the grand Christmasses kept up at Court, and other places, the singing of carols always constituted part of the necessary ceremonies. Among the regulations for conducting a feast of this description at one of the inns of Court, in the early part (4th year) of Queen Elizabeth, as given by Dugdale, is the following for Christmas eve: “At night, before supper, are revels and dancing, and so also after supper, during the twelve daies of Christmas. The antientest Master of the Revels is, after dinner and supper, to sing a caroll or song; and command other gentlemen then there present to sing with him and the company; and so it is very decently performed.” (fol. 1671, p. 150-155.)
Christmas carols at this time were probably divided into two sorts : one of a more scriptural or serious nature, sung in churches, and through the streets, and from house to house, ushering in the Christmas morning, and sung afterwards, morning and evening, until Twelfth-day; the other, of a more convivial nature, and adapted to the season of feasting and carousing. The convivial, or “jolie carols,” as Tusser calls them, were sung by the company, or by the itinerant minstrels that attended the feasts for the purpose, during the daily revelry at the houses of the wealthy throughout the Christmas. Some of them were called Wassel Songs, and may be traced back to the Anglo-Normans, who were very prone to conviviality, and encouraged every thing that was likely to aid it. An Anglo-Norman song of this description, as old as the 13th century, with an elegant translation by Mr. Douce, is printed in his “Illustrations of Shakspeare,” and also, with some variations, in “Brand’s Popular Antiquities,” by Ellis. Several collections of carols appear to have been printed in the course of the 16th century, some of which will be more particularly mentioned in a subsequent part.
In the 17th century, carol-singing continued in great repute, and was considered as a necessary ceremony, even in the feasts of the higher orders. During the proceedings of the celebrated Christmas Prince, at St. John Baptist’s College, Oxford, in 1607, when the boar’s head was brought-in in state, a peculiar carol was sung (which will be found in the subsequent pages) [The Boar Is Dead] wherein the whole company joined by way of chorus. An amusing story, connected with carol-singing, is related in “Pasquil’s Jests, mixed with Mother Bunche’s Merrirnents, &c. 1609,”116 affording another example of the influence which the fair sex (properly) have over us.
“A tale of a merry Christmas Carroll sung by women.
“There was sometime an old knight, who being disposed to make himselfe merry in a Christmas time, sent for many of his tenants, and poore neighbors, with their wives, to dinner: when having made meat to be set on the table, would suffer no man to drinke, till he that was master ouer his wife should sing a carroll, to excuse all the company: great nicenesse there was, who should bee the musician, now the cuckow time was so farre off. Yet with much adoe, looking one upon another, after a dry hemme or two, a dreaming companion drew out as much as hee durst, towards an ill-fashioned ditty. When hauing made an end, to the great comfort of the beholders, at last it came to the women’s table, where likewise commandment was giuen, that there should no drinke be touched till she that was master ouer her husband had sung a Christmas carroll ; whereupon they fell all to such a singing, that there was neuer heard such a catterwalling peece of musicke. Whereat the knight laughed heartely, that it did him halfe as muche good as a corner of his Christmas pie.”
This rule, as to “No Song no Supper,” with some modifications, must have been prevalent at this time; for in the old ballad, called, “The Pedigree, Education, and Marriage of Robin Hood, with Clorinda, Queen of Titbury Feast,” being one of the oldest of the Robin Hood set, the Squire at Gamwel-Hall says, on his feast given on Christmas-day,
— Not a man here shall taste my March beer
Till a Christmas-Carol he does sing
Then all clapt their hands, and they shouted and sung
Till the hall and the parlour did ring.
Now mustard and braun, roast beef and plumb-pies,
Were set upon every table, &c.117
In the year 1630 appeared “Slatyr’s Psalms,” intended for “Christmas Carolls.” These, and similar collections, were probably encouraged by the Puritan party, who, we have before seen, endeavoured to abolish the observance of Christmas, (when they were in power) while their opponents supported those of a lighter description. Several writers of this period, even during the height of “civil dudgeon,” mention the practice of singing carols.
Sir Thomas Overbury (who died in 1613), in his character of the Franklin, talks of “the wakeful! ketches on Christmas eve;” and a few years after this, the following description is given of an hospitable housekeeper:118 “Suppose Christmas now approaching, the ever-green ivie trimming and adorning the portals and partcloses of so frequented a building; the usuall carolls, to observe antiquitie, cheerefully sounding; and that which is the complement of his inferior comforts, his neighbours, whom he tenders as members of his own family, joyne with him in this consort of mirth and melody.”
Stevenson, about the middle of this century, introduces old Christmas talking of the former festivities of the season, of sitting by the fire, with a bowl of lamb’s wool; after which some sang carols; the servants went to dancing, and sung one to the tune of Hey,
Let’s dance and sing, and make good cheer,
For Christmass comes but once a year.
And for the recreations of January he mentions the “chearfull carrols of the wassel cup— cards and dice purge many a purse, and the adventurous youth shew their agility in shooing the wild mare. The Lord of Misrule is no meane man for his time; masking and mumming, and choosing king and queen.”119
Ballad-singing was encouraged in this century, though, during the Commonwealth, endeavours were made to check all similar amusements. Warton mentions two celebrated itinerant singers about the middle of it, called, “Outroaringe Dick” and “Wat Wimbas,” who occasionally made twenty shillings per day, by attending fairs, &c.; and such men as these were probably skilled in carol-singing also. After the Restoration people had all their amusements restored to them without restraint; and in some instances, perhaps, fell into the opposite extreme, and indulged in too much conviviality. The Christian festivities, which for the last few years had been checked, and the promoters of them even looked upon with suspicion, were now revived throughout the country, and enjoyed with the more zeal from the previous difficulties under which they had laboured: many, who would gladly have partaken of them, having refrained from so doing for fear of giving offence to the ruling powers, not having courage to imitate the example of their less scrupulous neighbours.
From this time, carol-singing was probably continued with unabated zeal, till towards the end of the last century, since which the practice has declined, and many old customs have been gradually becoming obsolete. It would be needless to give many references to publications of the 18th century, to prove the continuance of the custom, as the fact of its present existence in several parts of the kingdom proves such a continuing custom, and old people must recollect when it was much more general.
In the Northern counties, and in some of the midland, carol-singing is still preserved. In the metropolis a solitary itinerant may be occasionally heard in the streets, croaking out “God rest you merry, gentlemen,” or some other old carol, to an ancient and simple tune. Indeed many carols are yet printed in London for the chapmen, or dealers in cheap literature; and I have some scores of half penny and penny carols of this description, published chiefly by Pitts, of St. Andrew’s Street, Seven Dials; Catnach, Monmouth Court, Monmouth Street; and Batchelar, Long Lane, Smithfield, who are large venders of ballads, and single, or broadside pieces. Several of these carols have wood-cuts of the rudest description; others, again, have embellishments that might have been considered very creditable for the price at which they are afforded, until recent examples had shown us the extent of ornament which may be lavished even on a penny publication. Some of these carols, I was informed by the publishers, are in considerable request, and are printed off as the demand requires.—The custom prevails also in Ireland and Wales. In the latter country, in particular, there are several collections known in the Welsh language; some of which are of ancient date. Others are composed by the modern village-poet; and Mr. Roberts, in his “Cambrian Popular Antiquities,” (1815,) particularly mentions Hugh Morris as a favourite writer and poetic genius in this line, in modern days. And there was a notice recently of the death of a Welsh poet, David Jones, at Rhuddlan, in Flintshire, aged sixty-nine, who for the last fifty-three years had annually sung a carol, of his own composing, on Christmas day, in the church there.120
In the West of England, and especially in the western parts of Cornwall, carol-singing is still kept up, the singers going about from house to house wherever they can obtain encouragement, and, in some of the parish churches, meeting on the night of Christmas-eve and singing-in the sacred morning. Heath, in his “Account of the Scilly Islands,” mentions the practice of singing carols in churches on Christmas-day in his time (about 1750), and a collection made from the congregation by carrying about a hat for the benefit of the singers.
The modern part of the ensuing collection (with a trifling exception) is selected from a very large number of carols procured in this county, frequently from the singers themselves, and sometimes from aged persons who had been once famed in such capacity; occasionally from private sources, where they had long been preserved in old families; and to one collection of this description I am particularly indebted. I was unable to discover any carol in the old Cornish dialect, nor did I expect to do so, it having been so long obsolete as a spoken language, and leaving such few records either printed or in manuscript. Of these the best are preserved by Lluyd, Price, Borlase, and D. Gilbert in his recent publications on the subject. Like the other Celtic dialects, it was no doubt favourable for poetry, possessing the same facility of being converted into rhyme or metre, of which the Welsh is still an example. But when the language was discarded gradually from common usage, it appears to have met with unmerited neglect; for although it is inconvenient as a matter of policy to have a dialect in any country unknown to the greater part of the inhabitants, yet the Cornish language, as a subject of philological research, is one of great interest, being a remnant of Celtic literature differing in some respects from those still existing. A comparison therefore of the whole, observing the variations between them, and noting wherein they agree, would tend to give some insight into the original and primitive language from which they are all derived; one of the earliest probably in the annals of mankind. But a dissertation on this subject is not compatible with the nature of the present Introduction.
A few of the carols yet popular in Cornwall may be as old perhaps as the Reformation; for, according to their traditionary history, they are nearly three hundred years old, having been handed down by succeeding generations, but the diction must have been gradually modernized. Two or three obtained from very aged persons, who said their fathers received them also when children from their parents, are no doubt of considerable antiquity, as well as some of those in manuscript, as many of these (ancient themselves) profess to have been copied from more ancient books; others are of a much more recent date. Several of the tunes appear to have been passed down orally, until some singer, more scientific perhaps than his fellows, fixed them on paper; but even now many of the carol-singers know them only by tradition and descent, which preserve them very faithfully; as in London, in the tunes of some of the old-fashioned ballad-singers, may occasionally be recognised some of great antiquity.
The oldest printed collection of Christmas carols mentioned is that published by Wynkyn de Worde, in the year 1521. The colophon of this work is, “Thus endeth the Christrnasse carolles, newely in-printed at Londö, in the fietestrete, at the sygne of the sonne, by wynkyn de worde. The yere of our horde, M.D.XXI.”
Another old collection is thus intitled, being in black letter, as well as the preceding “Christmas carolles newely Inprinted, (Wood-cut of our Saviour crucified between the two thieves.) Inprynted at London, in the Powltry, by Rychard Kele, dwellyng at the longe shop under saynt Myldredes Chyrche.”
Editor's Note: Kele's Carols were reprinted by Edward Bliss Reed, Christmas Carols Printed in the Sixteenth Century (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1932).
The editor of “Bibliographical Miscellanies,” (4to. Oxford, 1813,) doubts whether the whole of this relique be of Kele’s printing, since it is imperfect, and conceives it to be a part of at least three volumes of carols, as there are three different sets of signatures. He gives some specimens, (from which I have taken the liberty of selecting,) and describes some of the songs as very gross. He states that the volume, or volumes, were probably printed between 1546 and 1552, during which time Kele lived at the long shop in the Poultry, and at the sign of the eagle near unto the Stocks Market, in Lombard-street. I have understood this curious volume to he in the possession of Sir Francis Freeling. In Brand’s “Popular Antiquities,” a collection of carols, black letter, and imperfect, is stated to be in the possession of Mr. Douce.
Tusser introduces a carol to the tune of King Salomon, of which the following are four of the lines.
Euen Christ, I meane, that virgins child,
In Bethlem born:
That lambe of God, that prophet mild,
Crowned with thorne!
On March 4th, 1559, there is a receipt entered in the register of the Stationers’ Company from Ralph Newbery, for his licence for printing a ballad called “ Kynge Saloman.”
In 1562, John Tysdale had a licence for printing “Certayne goodly carowles to be songe to the glory of God.” Again, “Crestenmas Carowles auctorisshed by my lord of London.” A ballad of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba is entered in 1567; and in 1569, an “Enterlude for boyes to handle and to passe tyme at Christimas.” More instances follow.121
Thomas Becon, who died in 1570, published “Christmasse carols, very new and godly.” His works were printed by John Day in 1563, fol.
Christopher Payne published “Christenmas carrolles,” licensed to James Roberts in 1369; and Ritson (Bibl. Poet.) states that Moses Powell set forth (or meditated) “ A book of carolls” licensed to John Wolf, 11th December, 1587.
In 1597 was published at Edinburgh, “ Ane Compendiovs Booke of Godly and Spiritvall Songs, collectit, &c. for avoyding of Sinne and Harlotrie,” wherein are contained some carols. This collection, which was reprinted in 1801, was designed to supersede the use of profaner ballads, and the several songs and carols were adapted to popular tunes for that purpose; several of the latter are to be sung as Neen Major Neale.
In 1630, the following work was published with the intention of superseding the light species of carol then in use, “Certaine of David’s Psalmes, intended for Christmas Carolls, fitted to the most common but solempne tunes, every where familiarly used, by William Slatyr, printed by Robert Young, 1630.” 8vo.
Carols may occasionally be found in some of the writers of the seventeenth century, as in “Herrick’s Works” for instance, where there are several pieces of this description, which were set to music by Mr. Henry Lawes, for the purpose of being performed before the Court of Charles the First. In the collection of Anthony à Wood, in Oxford, (No. 100, a.) are contained “Christmas Carols, 1642.” “New Carols for the time of Christmas, 1661.” “Christmas Carols, fit also to be sung at Easter.” “New Christmas Carols, 1688,” &c. About the same time with this last mentioned, was published “A smale Garland of pious and godly Songs, composed by a devout man, for the solace of his friends and neighbours in their afflictions. Printed in Gent (Ghent), 1684,” small 8vo. This is said to have been published, like other works before mentioned, to supersede the popular ballad, and may therefore, like them, have contained carols for the use of the people at Christmas, and other times when they were accustomed to sing them; as it appears that formerly they were not confined to Christmas, but that some were adapted for Easter, Whitsuntide, and other great festivals.
Editor's Note: See Charles L. Hutchins, Carols Old And Carols New (Boston: Parish Choir, 1916), which contained 751 carols, approximately 450 of which related to the Christmas-tide. Only 1,000 copies were printed.
In the broadside lists of cheap books, ballads, &c. published from 100 to 150 years since, specimens of which may be seen in Bagford’s collections in the British Museum, and in the lists of books attached to several of such small publications, the names of well-known carols occur, as, “When Jesus Christ Was Twelve Years Old”—“Joseph an aged man truly”[Joseph Being An Aged Man Truly]—“Jury came to Jerusalem”—“The Angel Gabriel”—“Christus natus est,” &c. In a list also of Small Merry Books, sold by William Thackery, at the Angel in Duck Lane, is one intitled “Carrols.”
Hone, who gives some interesting particulars relating to carol-singing,122 mentions one in his numerous collection with this curious title, “A Christmas Carol on Peko-Tea: or, a Sacred Carol, which like tea that is perfectly good and fine, will be most grateful and useful all the year round, from Christ-mass to Christmass for ever. Humbly addressed to Queen Caroline, and the Princess Carolina, and all the Royal Family. By Francis Hoffman. London, 1729,” 8vo. pp. 16.
In the present day, numerous single-sheet carols are printed in different parts of the kingdom, and in the metropolis as before mentioned; and in some very few instances, the tune is printed with them. There are some collections occasionally printed at Birmingham (and perhaps elsewhere) in a small cheap form, containing several carols; such as, “The Christian’s Sacred Lyre, or a choice Assortment of Original and Select Carols for Christmas,” by Bloomer, of Birmingham.
In 1822 Mr. D. Gilbert [Davies Gilbert] published twelve favourite western carols, which were followed by a second edition in 1823, containing twenty, with a few old ballads, &c. There have been various collections of Welsh carols; among the Myvyrian MSS. belonging to the Cymmrodorion, are several; No. XIV. written about the year 1640, contains thirty- two, and No. XV. of about the same date, has two. Hone, (On Mysteries, &c. p. 103,) mentions two printed collections. “Lffyr Carolan, or the Book of Carols,” (Shrewsbury, 4th edit. 1740, l2mo.) containing sixty-six for Christmas, and five Summer carols; “Blodeugerdd Cymrii, or the Anthology of Wales,” (Shrewsbury, 1779, 8vo.) containing forty-eight Christmas carols, nine Summer carols, three May carols, one Winter carol, one nightingale carol, and a carol to Cupid.’ I wish I was enabled to lay before my female readers a translation of this “Carol to Cupid.”
The practice of singing carols at Christmas on the Continent has been preserved to recent times. Calabrian peasants pour forth their minstrelsy before the images of the Virgin Mother, and thus pay their homage. Crysostom, the unfortunate youth in “Don Quixote,” who was probably intended to have been the Coryphæus of his village, according to the goatherd’s narrative, “was such a great roan at composing couplets, that he made carols for Christmas-eve, and plays for the Lord’s-day, which were represented by the young men in our village; and every body said that they were tip-top.’
A few years since, previous to the troubles in the country, there was a custom in Spain at Christmas time of setting up in most respectable families what was called the nacimiento, which was a rude imitation of rocks with baby-houses, &c. and clay figures representing the Nativity, the shepherds, ox, and ass kneeling to the holy infant, with Joseph and Mary in a ruinous stable. Large parties used to meet for several nights dancing, reciting speeches from old Spanish plays called “Relaciones,” and singing carols to the sound of the Zambomba.123
In France the carols, of which there are numerous collections, are called Nodls ; the season itself being known by the name of Noël or Nouel whence came our Nowell or Novell, which may be seen in many carols, though the last term is sometimes used in the sense of news or tidings. Some writers have derived Noel from Natalis (which seems however rather doubtful),124 as signifying originally a cry of joy at Christmas. It may, perhaps, be derived from the same source as our Yule. It does not appear to have been confined originally to Christmas time, but was used as a cry of joy on many great occasions. At the proclamation of Henry the Sixth it was made use of. Pasquier gives many examples,125 as at the baptism of Charles the Sixth in December 1368; the entry of Philip, Duke of Burgundy, with his sister, to Paris, in 1429; and the entry into Paris of Charles the Seventh in 1437, in which the people proclaimed their pleasure by loud shouts of “Noel, Noel,” &c. On the entry also of Henry the Fifth into Rouen, after the siege thereof in January 1419, as described in an old English poem published in the 22nd volume of the “Archæologia,” the people received him with shouts of Nowell.
“Wilcome our lorde,” they seide, “so fre!”
“Wilcome into thyne owne righte,
“As it is the wille of god almyzt.”
Wt that thay kryde alle “nowelle!”
Lydgate also, in his account of the expedition of Henry the Fifth, and his return to London, says,
Virgyues out of the castelle gon glyde,
For ioye of him they were daunsyog,
They knelyd adoun alle in that tyde,
Nowell! Nowell! alle thei gon syng.
Chaucer uses the term in the same sense, though, being applied to Janus, it may be considered in the passage cited as appropriated to the time of Christmas.
Janus sit by the fire with double herd,
And drinketh of his bugle horn the wine
Beforn him stant braune of the tusked swine,
Aud nowel crieth every lusty man.126
The ancient Christmas customs in France were, no doubt, similar in many respects to those used in England, having a common origin, and it was in like manner considered a great time for feasting and rejoicing. In the “Bataille de Karesme et de Charnage,” an old poem about the year 1400, Karesme brings to his aid all the fishes, both of sea and fresh water, vegetables, pulse, cheese, milk, &c. Charnage has on his side the animals, birds, &c. The battle is fierce, night separates the combatants; but Karesme, hearing that Noël was approaching with considerable succours to his enemy, by advice of his council makes peace on certain terms .127
Carol singing also was of very early origin in France. In “Les Crieries de Paris,” a manuscript poem of the end of the 13th century, par Guillaume de la Villeneuve, being a description of the cries then and previously in use, is this line:
Noel, Noel, à moult granz cris.
A note says, “Des livres contenant des Noels. Ces cantiques sont fort anciens. M. le Duc de la Valliere en avoit un manuscrit du XIVe siècle tresprecieux.”128
The editor of “Noei Borguignon,” mentions a volume containing three collections of old Noëls that had come to his hands, printed in 8vo. at Paris, in Gothic letter, two of them without date; in one of which is the Noël mentioned by Rabelais to have been composed in the Poitevin language, by “le Seigneur de S. George,” named Frapin, the other in 1520, being “Chansons de Noëls nouveaux, par Lucas le Moigne,” of which the following may serve as a specimen:
Ainsi la vierge pucelle
Ce doulx sauveur enfanta
Joseph luy tint la chandelle
qui tout tremblant regarda.
The same editor also mentions an old Noël, printed to the tune of “A vous point vu la Perronelle?” made in the time of Louis XII.
Brunet, in his “Manuel,” (3rd ed. Brussels, 1821,) names the following collection of the same date. “Noels nouvellement composez a l'honneur de la nativité de nostre saulveur et redēpteur Jesu-Christ, qui se chantent sur le chāt de plusieurs belles chansons. On les vend à Lyon en la maison de Claude le Nourry dict le Prince (vers 1520), pet. in 8. goth.”
“Livret de 8 f. avec des petites gravures en bois en forme de bordures: on y remarque un Noël en langage lyonnais rustique. Vend 10 fr. Courtois.”
About 1540, Clement Marot made his celebrated version of the Psalms into French rhyme, which were sung to popular tunes, and adopted by the French Court; many of the great personages selecting particular psalms as their favourites. Some of these were probably introduced at Christmas time, as well as the noels. About the same time Calvin introduced them into his congregation at Geneva; and in the neighbouring country of England, a collection, somewhat similar, appeared by Sternhold and Hopkins.
Pasquier, whose work on France was published in 1643, makes the following mention of the custom in his younger days. “ Et en ma ieunesse c’estoit vne coustume que l'on auoit tournée en cérérmonie, de chanter tous les soirs presque en chaque famille des Noüels, qui estoient chansons spirituelles faites en l’honneur de nostre Seigneur. Lesquelles on chante encores en plusieurs Eglises pendant que l’on celébre la grand’ Messe le iour de Noüel, lors que le Prestre reçoit les offrandes. Or cette allegresse manifesta encores hors les Eglises. Parce que le peuple n’auoit moyen plus ouuert pour denoter sa ioye, que de crier en lieu public Noüel, quand il vouloit congratuler à vn Prince.”
About the same time appeared “Melanges de la Musique de Eustaché du Caurroy, Maistre de la Musique de la Chappelle du Roy,” published at Paris, by his nephew, André Picart, 1610; one year after the death of the uncle, who was born in 1549. This collection contains some Noëls, of one of which Barney gives the music.129 In “Recueil de Poetes Gascons, Première Partie, contenant les Oeuvres de Pierre Goudelin de Toulouse,” Amsterdam, 1700, 8vo. are some carols. In 1701 a collection appeared at Dijon, in the dialect of the country, which at first gave some offence from the freedom of the carols; but they were saved partly by the naïveté of their patois, which also prevented their being perfectly understood. The first two editions were given by Le sieur Ressayre of Dijon. In 1720 an edition was published, with the title, “Noei Borguignon de Gui Barôzai,” containing thirty-four noels and two chansons, with the music to each, and an ample glossary. Many of these are written in a very free and irreverent style, and with a vein of burlesque humour quite out of character. The seventh of them sets forth the Salutation of the Virgin, and her surprise thereon, in a style that reminds the reader of the old lines,
Gaude Virgo, Mater Christi,
Quæ per aurern concepisti.
A similar conceit may also be seen, in Moliere’s “Ecole des Mans.” The salutation of the angel is quite in the manner of a petit maitre,
Po lai fenétre el antri,
Et peù de queique distance
Ai li fi lai révérance,
Car el étó bén épri.
Dei vo gar, mai chére aimie,
Dit-i d'éne douce vol, &c.
very different from the gravity displayed in the Chester Mysteries, in the Wrightes Play, (about 1328.)
Heale be thou, Marie mother free,
Full of grace god is wth thee
Among all women blessed thou bee
And the frute of thy bodye.”130
In the fourteenth pageant of the Coventry Plays there is, however, some buffoonery introduced, quite as gross as in this noël, but which was probably well calculated for the amusement of the rude imagination of the audiences in those times. Mary is brought to trial before Ahizachar, the Bishop, for infidelity. The accusers are called Primus et Secundus Detractor. Primus Detractor observes,
In feyth, I suppose that this woman slepte
Withowtyn all coverte, whyle that it dede snowe,
And a flake therof into hyre rnowthe crepte,
And therof the chylde in hyre wombe doth growe.
Secundus Detractor, following up the joke, warns her to take care, when the child is born, not to let the sun shine upon it.131
The fifth of these Noëi gives an account of the adoration and offering of the three kings, of which the following is an extract.
Ai lai Nativitai
Chanton, je vo suplie.
Troi Roi d’autre coutai
Moitre an estrôlôgie,
Be l’anfan nôvea nai
Saivein lai piôfecie.
Ai lai Nativitai
Chanton, je vo suplie.
De l’étoile guidai
Tô troi do compagnie,
Patire sans menai
Gran seùte, ni meignie.
Ai lai Nativitai
Chanton, je vo suplie.
L’un prin soin d’Opotai1
De lai myére candie,
L’autce d’or efeignai2
E’ne bonne pognie.
Ai lai Nativitai
Chanton, je vo suplie.
Le tier po macberth,3
Qu’ein 1toi d’EtiOpie,
Prezanti po son plai
Do I’auçan 0’ Airaibie.
3. barbouillé de noir.
The thirteenth begins in the following quaint manner, being an address from a shepherd to his wife.
Le Diale á mor,
J’on lé beá jor.
Another is directed to be sung to the Ouverture do Bellérophon, beginning thus:
4N’á pa si gran 5clar
El á si béte 7qu’ai croyoo,
Que Dei 8varoo
Au gran 9éproo,
Et l’or & lai 11soo,
4. n’est pas.
7. qu’il croyoit.
10. qu’il porteroit.
Que le moindre 1roo
Su sé 3lochefroo
Seró dé 4geleignôte de boo.
4. gelinotes de bois.
Some curious particulars are incidentally introduced in the glossary. Amongst others, it is stated to be the custom in the province, for the master of a family with his wife and children to sing Noëls; une très grosse buche” (called lai suche de Noei,) was put on the fire, and the younger children were then sent into the corner of the room to pray that the suche might produce bon bons, by the same means that the renowned Gulliver employed to extinguish the fire in the Lilliputian palace. On their return, packets of sugar-plums, &c. were found near the suche, to whom the children implicitly attributed the power of thus supplying them.
An account is also given (pp. 257—8) of a representation of the mystery of the Nativity, in which four animals were introduced, the ox and ass of the manger, (or crèche) the cock of the passion, and the lamb of St. John the Baptist, each of them speaking in his own manner. First, the cock exclaims with a piercing voice, Christus natus est. The ox with a lengthened bellowing (mugissement) demands ub? pronouncing it as the Germans, oubi. The lamb answers in Bethleem, laying a stress on, and lengthening the first syllable; on which the ass concludes with hinhamus, hinhamus, signifying eamus.
Hone, (on Mysteries, p. 103.) describes a carol printed in London in 1701, having a similar conceit, with a large wood-cut, representing the stable at Bethlehem ; Christ in the crib, watched by the Virgin and Joseph; shepherds kneeling, and 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 and birds have labels, expressing nearly the same words as described in the French representation. Brunet, in his “Manuel du Libraire,” names “Traduction des noels bourguignons de la Monnoye,” 1735, and such a translation must have been very useful, for those who wished to read them with ease, though at the risk of losing part of the original humour.
There are several collections in the French language, provincial and otherwise; Hone mentions one in his possession, called “Noels Nouveaux sur les Chants des Noels anciens notez pour en faciliter le chant, par M. l’Abbé Pellegrin,” 8vo. Paris, 1785. The tunes of some of the more favourite old Noëls may occasionally be found in collections of popular French airs; and among the chap-books of the day small books of Noëls will be found at a very cheap rate. Besides those already described, I have the following provincial editions. “Nouveaux Cantiques Spirituels Provençeaux,” with the music, Avignon, 1750, l2mo. This is not exactly a collection of Noëls, but contains some of that class. “Recueil de Noels Provençaux, composés par le Sieur Peirol, Menuisier d’Avignon. Nouvelle edition,” Avignon, 1791, l2mo. This contains forty-one, besides six pieces of a different description. They are principally of a light, joyous nature, and contain many ideas similar to those in the English carols; the dialect in all these collections is troublesome to read without a little practice, just as our own Lancashire or Cornish, or other marked dialects would be. “Recueil de Noels Provençaux composés par le Sieur Nicolas Saboly. Nouvelle Edition, augmentée, &c.” Avignon, 1807, containing ninety. “Pastorale sur la Naissance de Jesus Christ, &c. Par Frère Claude Macée, Ermite de la province de Saint-Antoine,” at the end of which are twenty Noëls, called “Noels Nouveaux,” Saint Malo, 1819, l2mo. The same book also contains “La Vie et l’Adoration des trois Rois,” and “Le Massacre des Innocens.” These, with the “Pastorale,” are dramatic performances in the style of the ancient mysteries, and nearly as rude, very probably containing some passages from them in a modernized form. Ruben, one of the shepherds, says, talking of the birth of our Saviour,
Ii devoit naître dans un Louvre,
On dedans un Palais Royal.
In another edition of the “ Pastorale,” &c. St. Malo, 1805, there is a collection at the commencement, with a separate paging, called “ Nods Vieux et Nouveaux,” of which the title page in my copy is torn off.
But it is time to close this introduction, which has imperceptibly almost, extended to a length that the subject will not sanction. We are apt to think that other persons take as much interest in our hobbies as ourselves, and therefore ride them unsparingly. Not that this has been any particular hobby, but rather an occasional amusement during some visits to the West of England, to collect any carols I could meet with. These gradually accumulated, and it was my intention, a few years since, to have printed a few of the most popular, but this was superseded by Mr. D. Gilbert having about the same time published his first edition. My number however still increasing, and the practice appearing to get more neglected every year, which will hereafter increase the difficulty of obtaining specimens, I determined to hazard the ensuing selection from a very large number of all descriptions.
The Introduction is merely intended to supply any readers who are desirous of having a little insight into our old Christmas customs, with a slight account of them, without the trouble of referring to those numerous books to which I am myself indebted for the information. It is, what it professes to be, a compilation; and if I have not in all cases stated my authority (i.e. where it seemed immaterial to do so), it was to avoid the appearance of citing too many. I will now conclude with the following pleasing description of Christmas, by that great ornament of our age, whose loss we have had so recently to lament.
On Christmas-eve the bells were rung;
The damsel donned her kirtle sheen;
The hail was dressed with holly green;
Forth to the wood did mnerry~rnen go,
To gather in the misletoe.
Then opened wide the baron’s ball
To vassal, tenant, serf and all;
Power laid ins rod of rule aside,
And Ceremony doffed his pride.
The heir, with roses in his shoes,
That night might village partner chuse;
The lord, underogatiug, share
The vulgar game of” post and pair.”
All hailed, with uncontrolled delight,
And general voice, the happy night,
That to tile cottage, as the crown,
Brought tidings of salvation down.
The fire with well-dried logs supplied,
Went roaring up the chimney wide;
The huge hall-table’s oaken face,
Scrubbed till it shone, the day to grace,
Bore then upon its massive board
No mark to part the squire and lord.
Then was brought in the lusty brawn,
By old blue-coated serving-man;
Then the grim boar’s-head frowned on high,
Crested with bays and rosemary.
Well can the green-garbed ranger tell,
How, when, and where, the monster fell
What dogs before his death he tore,
And all the baitings of the boar.
The wassol round, in good brown bowls,
Garnished with ribbons, blithely trowls.
There the huge sirloin reeked: hard by
Plumb-porridge stood, and Christmas pye;
Nor failed old Scotland to produce
At such high tide, her savoury goose.
Then came the merry masquers in,
And carols roared with blithesome din;
If unmelodious was the song,
It was a hearty note, and strong.
Who lists may in their mumming see
Traces of ancient mystery;
White shirts supplied the masquerade,
And smutted cheeks the visors made:
But, O! what masquers, richly dight,
Can boast of bosoms half so light!
England was merry England, when
Old Christmas brought his sports again.
‘Twas Christmas broached the mightiest ale,
‘Twas Christmas told the merriest tale;
A Christmas gambol oft would cheer
The poor man’s heart through half the year.132
Notes From Sandys
1. Henry’s History of England, 8vo. vol. iii. p. 194. Return
2. Clavis Calendaria, vol. ii. p. 315. Return
3. The Feast of Feasts, Oxford, 1644, whence also many of the particulars respecting the celebration during the first five centuries are taken. Return
4. The Feast of Feasts, p. 13. Return
5. Henry’s History of England, vol. iv. 327-9. Return
6. Henry’s History of England, vol. vi. p. 13. In some of the romances of the age may also be found references to this custom, as, for example, in Richard Coer de Lion, (written prior to 1300,) line 1773 & seq.
Christmas is a time full honest;
Kyng Richard it honoured with gret feste.
All his clerks and barouns
Were set in their pavylouns,
And served with grete plenté
Of mete and drink and each dainté.
Weber’s Metrical Romances, vol. ii. p. 70. Return
7. Hist. Angl. lib. 13. Return
8. The word mumm is said to be derived from the Danish; to disguise with a mask. Return
9. Produced in 1268, according to Collier’s History of Dramatic Poetry, a work that contains much valuable information. Return
10. Library Companion, p. 777. n. Return
11. Warton’s Hist. Poetry, 8vo. ii. 71-2. Return
12. Collier’s Hist. Dramatic Poetry, vol. i. 16. Return
13. Or rather of the Earl of Rutland (degraded from Duke of Albemarle), one of the conspirators.— Hume's Hist. of England, vol. iii. p. 63. Return
14. Turner’s Hist. England, 4to. vol. iii. pp. 34—5. Return
15. The origin of the drama in France, is by some referred to the mysteries performed by the Confreres de la Passion, about 1402; by some to the Troubadours; but in an old Chronicle in verse, speaking of the fête which Philippe-le—Bel gave in 1313, on conferring knighthood on his children, among other amusements during the four days of rejoicing, were exhibited the following spectacles Adam et Eve; les Trois Rois; le meurtre des Innocens; N. S. riant avec sa Mere, et mangeant des pommes; Hêrode et Caïphe en mître; Pilate lavant ses mains, &c. These were relieved by burlesque pantomimes and dances, amongst them the King of the Bean (un Roi de la fêve). Some of the earliest pieces had reference to the Crusades — Fobliaux ou Contes du xiiie et du xiiie Siècle. Paris, 1779, 4 vols. 8vo. vol. i. pp. 329—30, &c.
16. In Harl. MS. 5931, being a collection of handbills, &c. during the time of Queen Anne, amongst others similar, are the following :—
her Majestie’s Permission.
At HEATLY’S Booth,
over against the (cross-Daggers, next to Mr. Miller’s Booth: During the time of Bartholomew-Fair, will be presented a little Opera, call’d The old Creation of the World, Newly Reviv’d, With the Addition of the Glorious Battle obtained over the French and Spaniards, by his Grace the Duke of Marlborough.
The contents are these.
1. The Creation of Adam and Eve.
2. The Intreagues of Lucifer in the Garden of Eden.
3. Adam and Eve driven out of Paradice.
4. Cain going to Plow, Abel driving Sheep.
5. Cain killeth his Brother Abel.
6. Abraham offering his Son Isaac.
7. Three Wisemen of the East guided by a Star, who Worship him.
8. Joseph and Mary flee away by Night upon an Ass.
9. King Herod’s cruelty, his Men’s spears laden with Children.
10. Rich Dives invites his Friends, and orders his Porter to keep the Beggars from his Gate.
11. Poor Lazarus comes a begging at Rich Dives’s Gate, the Dogs lick his Sores.
12. The good Angel and Death contends for Lazarus’s Life.
13. Rich Dives is taken sick and dieth, he is buried in great solemnity.
14. "Rich Dives in Hell, and Lazarus in Abraham’s Bosom, seen in a most glorious Object, all in machines, descending in a Throne, Guarded with multitudes of Angels, with the Breaking of the Clouds, discovering the Palace of the Sun, in double and treble Prospects, to the Admiration of all Spectators.
"Likewise several Rich and Large Figures, which Dances Jiggs, Sarabands, Anticks and Country Dances between every Act; compleated with the merry Humors of Sir John Spendall and Punchinello, with several other things never yet Exposed.
"Perform’d by Mat. Heatly.
“At Crawly’s Booth, over against the Crown Tavern in Smithfield, during the time Of Bartholomew-Fair, a little Opera, call'd the Old Creation of the World, yet Newly reviv’d, with the addition of Noah’s Flood,” &c." Return
17. Dives and Pauper, ed. W. de Worde, 1496. Return
18. Hall’s Chronicle, 17 Hen. VIII. Return
19. Baker’s Chronicle, p. 393. Return
20. There is the form of a proclamation made by the Sheriff of York, given by Leland (Itinerary, vol. iv. p. 182), where the encouragement is so extended as to appear almost ironical. It contains the following passage.
“Also that all manner of whores and theives, dice-players, carders, and all other unthrifty folke, be welcome to the towne, whether they come late or early, att the reverence of the high feast of Youle, till the twelve dayes be passed.” Return
21. Hist. Dram. Poetry, vol. i. p. 85—6. Return
22. Vol. i. p. 271. From MS. Cotton. Vesp. F. xiii. fol. 134. Return
23. Dugdale, Orig. Jurid. Return
24. Baker’s Chronicle, 393—4. Return
25. Collier, Hist. vol. i. p. 174. Return
26. Vol. i. p.190. Return
27. Orig. Jurid. p. 161. Return
28. Ben Jonson wrote several Masks that were represented before the court during this reign: amongst others the Mask of Christmas [See: Christmas, His Masque], presented in 1616, wherein the principal characters are Christmas and his children, namely, Mis-Rule, Caroll, Minc’d-Pie, Gamboll, Post and Pair, New-Year’s-Gift, Mumming, Wassail, Offering, and BabyCocke. Return
29. Ed. 1638, p. 271. Return
30. See Collier’s Hist. Dram. Poetry, for particulars of this and many other similar entertainments. Return
31. Warton’s History of Poetry, vol. iii. p. 227, n. Return
32. By an order, 17th Nov. 4th Charles I. all playing at Dice, Cards, or otherwise, is forbidden at Gray’s Inn, except during the 20 days in Christmas. Return
33. Collier’s History, vol. ii. p. 89, note. Return
34. Herrick’s Works, 8vo. 1823, vol. i. p. 176-7. Return
35. Nichols’s “Illustrations of Manners and Expences." p. 53. Church-Wardens Accompts of St. Margaret’s, Westminster, 1647. Return
36. Vol ii. p. 126—7. Return
37. Percy’s Reliques, vol. ii. pp. 352—4. Return
38. Evans’s Ballads, vol. iii. 262. Return
39. Brand’s Popular Antiq. by Ellis, vol. i. pp. 380—1. Return
40. From Popular Ballads and Songs, by Jamieson, vol. ii. pp. 282—4 n. Return
41. Herrick’s Poems, vol. ii. p. 91. Return
42. Berners’ Translation, vol. iv. cap. 23, fol. 24. Return
43. In Summer’s “Last Will and
Testament,” by Nash, 1600, Christmas is personified
“Sitting in a corner turning crabs,
Or coughing o’er a warmed pot of ale.” Return
44. Collectanea, iii. 444. Return
45. “ The king doth wake to—night, and
takes his rouse,
Keeps wassel.”—Hamlet, act 1. sc. 4. Return
46. From Harl. MS. 541 (temp. Hen. VI.) and also printed in Ritson's Ancient Songs, pp. xxxiv—v. n. [Compare: Bring Us In Good Ale] Return
47. Ben Jonson, in his “Christmas, His Masque,” describes Wassell like a neat sempster and songster; her page bearing a brown bowl dressed with ribbands and rosemary before her. Return
48. The tenant of the manor of Addington, in Surrey, held it by the service of making a mess of Diligrout on the day of the Coronation. This is supposed to have been the same as the dish called Bardolf, contained among some receipts of the 13th century, the family of that name being then lords of Addington. It was made of almond milk, the brawn of capons, sugar, and spices, chicken parboiled and chopped; and if there were fat or lard in the mess, it was called Maupigyrnun.—Blount’s Fragment. Antiq. by Beckwith, 4to. 1815, pp. 50—54. Return
49. New Year’s Day. Return
50. Mortrewes appears to have been a rich broth or soup, in the preparation whereof the flesh was stamped or beat in a mortar.—Tyrwhitt's Chaucer, 8v0. iv. 157, note. Return
51. Prologue, 1. 127—135. Return
52. “Le Roman de la Rose,” from whence
this account was taken by Chaucer, says as to her drinking (l. 14190-I).
“ Et si doit si sagement boyre,
Que sur soy n’en espande goutte.” Return
53. Account of Scilly Islands, p. 445. Return
54. Chronicles, vol. iii. p. 76. Return
55. “Christmas Prince,” reprint, p. 24. This and the next mentioned Carol are printed in the subsequent pages. Return
56. Sloane MS. 4712. Return
57. Morat was made of honey, diluted with the juice of mulberries.—(Henry’s Hist. England, vol. iv. 396.) Claret was (red?) wine mixed with honey and spices, and clarified; and garhiofilac (gariophilluni, according to Du Cange, meaning girofle, or cloves,) probably something similar in white wine. Henry the Third directs the keepers of his wines at York to deliver to Robert de Monte Pessulano two tuns of white wine to make garhiofilac, and one tun of red wine to make claret for his use, at the approaching Christmas.— Henry’s Hist. England, vol. viii. 409.
Ypocras, according to a receipt of the 16th century, was a sort of mulled wine, and thus made on a small scale “The crafte to make Ypocras. Take a quarte of red wyne, an unce of synamon, and half an unce of gynger; a quarter of an unce of greynes and of longe pepper, wythe half a pound of sugar; broie all these not too smalle, and then putte them in a bagge of wullen clothe (made therefore) with the wyne, and lotte it hange over a vessel tylln the wyne be runne thorow.” (N.B. It is presumed the wine should be poured in boiling hot, to gain the spicy flavour.) Andrews’ continuation of Henry’s Hist. England, vol. ii. 292, n. quoting Arnold’s Chronicle of London. Return
58. From “Specimens of Songs, by Dramatic Writers.” Brit. Bibliog. vol. ii. p. 167, being “The Player’s Song,” from Histrio—mastix. Return
59. Popular Antiquities, by Ellis, p. 116. [Brand's Popular Antiquities Of Great Britain, Hazlitt's Edition of 1905] Return
60. Clavis Calendaria, vol. i. p. 135.Return
61. Popular Superstitions of the Highlanders, pp. 252-3. Return
62. L’Antiquité devoilée, vol. iv. pp. 16-17. Return
63. Prynue, Histrio-Mastix, p. 580. Return
64. Excerpta Historica, London 1830, No. ii. p. 148—50. Return
65. Collier’s History, vol. i. p. 98, n. Return
66. Ellis’s Original Letters, vol. i. p. 272. Return
67. Archæologia, vol. xviii. p. 335. Return
68. Roper’s Life of Sir T. More, p. 73. Return
69. Parkes’s History of the Court of Chancery, p. 290. Return
70. Religious Ceremonies, London 1731, fol. vol. ii. p. 6. Return
71. Fabliaux et Contes, par Barbazan et Meon, vol. ii. 285. Return
72. Strutt’s Sports and Pastimes, Hone’s ed. 8vo. p. 344. Return
73. Diary, p. 130-1. Return
74. Collier’s History of Dramatic Poetry, vol. i. p xvii. Return
75. Wardrobe Account, published by Antiq. Society, p. 27. Return
76. Excerpta Historica, part p. i. p. 106. Return
77. London, 1623, 8vo. p. 193. Return
78. “I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a star out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth.”—.Numbers, xxiv. 17, and see note on the subject in Townsend’s Arrangement of the Old Testament. Return
79. Sandys’s Travels, p. 141. Return
80. Every—Day Book, vol. i. p. 46. Return
81. MSS. Bibl. Reg. 5 F. xiv. 7. Ibid. 18 A. x. 8. Harl. MSS. 1704, 11. Return
82. Ed. W. de Worde, 1496, ciiii. Return
83. Warton’s History of Poetry, 8vo. ii. 51. Return
84. Hone’s The Every Day Book, vol. i. p. 46. Return
85. Warton’s Hist. of Poetry, vol. ii. p. 68-9. n. Return
86. Warton’s Hist. of Poetry, vol. ii. p. 128. n. Return
87. Ibid. ii. 71. n. Return
88. Brand’s History of Newcastle, ii. 372. n. Return
89. Warton’s Hist. of Poetry, iii. 11. n. Return
90. Biographical Tour, vol. i. p. 177. Return
91. Herrick’s Works, vol. ii. pp. 168—9. Return
92. Ibid. pp. 152—3. Return
93. Herrick’s Works, vol. ii. p. 124. Return
94. Suppressed by Parliament in 1555. Return
95. Collier’s History, &c. vol. i. p. 44, n. Return
96. Archæologia, vol. xviii. p. 320. Return
97. Archæologia, vol. xviii. p. 314. Return
98. Brady, Clavis Calendaria, vol. ii. pp. 316—17. Return
99. Henry's Hist. of England, vol. viii. pp. 314—15. Return
100. Burney’s History of Music, vol. ii. pp. 431-2, citing Liber Niger Domus Regis. Return
101. “In the Privy Purse Expences of Henry VII. are entries of payments to the waits of various towns through which he passed.”—Collier, vol. i. p. 28. n. Return
102. Prynne’s Histrio—mastix, p. 581. Return
103. Journal of an Officer in the King’s German Legion, 1827, 8vo. p. 281 n. Return
104. Nichols’s Progresses, xli, n. Return
105. A full account of this service is given by Ducange, voce Festum: and in Hone on Mysteries, p. 160, &e. many interesting particulars will be found respecting this and similar customs. Return
106. Upham’s History of Budhism, p. 63, a. He connects the Christmas galnI)ols in France with the eastern mythology; and considers, as others have done, the Scottish hog menay, and the French au gui menez, as corruptions of the Greek αψια μπνπ or holy moon. Return
107. It should be sixty Winchester. Return
108. Reliques of Ancient Poetry, vol. iii. p. 270. Return
109. The Shakspearian reader will he amused in this Cornish Interlude to find the expression “Tely valy” used as an exclamation, which will remind him of ‘Tillie Vallie Lady,” &c.; but the language in which it is written does not appeal’ to be pure old Cornish. Return
110. Hone’s Table-Book, part i. p. 7-8. Return
111. Page xiii. ante. Return
112. Henry’s History of England, vol. iv, 367. Return
113. Royal MSS. Caligula, A. xiv. Return
114. From the Saxon επδεπεγε, the last. Return
115. Friendship’s Offering, 1823. Return
116. British Bibliographer, vol. i. p. 42. Return
117. Collection of Old Ballads. Lond. 1723, p. 69. Return
118. Whimzies, or a new cast of Characters, 1631, cited in Ellis’s edition of Brand, p. 351. n. Return
119. The Twelve Months, &c. cited in the same, p. 382. n. and 394. Return
120. Literary Gazette, Oct. 13th, 1832. Return
121. Warton’s History of Poetry, 8vo. vol. iv. p. 131, n. Return
122. Hone, on Mysteries, &c.; and see also his The Every Day Book, Year Book, and Table Book, for much information on Christmas customs. Return
123. An instrument formed by stretching over the mouth of an earthen jar, a piece of parchment with a slender reed fixed in the centre, by means of which a hollow sound is produced, similar to that of the tambourine when rubbed by the middle finger. Return
124. In Normandy it is called Nuel. In Burgundy, the people pronounce Noé for Noël. A certain priest at Dijon, wishing to avoid this error, fell into the opposite extreme, and in one of his discourses repeated three or four times, “ l’Arche de Noël, et le Patriarche Noël.” The Poitevins write Nau, and in “La vieille Bible des Noëls “ is found, chanter No. Return
125. Les Recherches de la France, fol. 1643, pp. 383-4. Return
126. Chaucer, 11564 & seq. The Frankeleine’s Tale. Return
127. Fabliaux et Contes par Barbazan et Meon, vol. iv. pp. 80-99.
128. Fabliaux, &c. vol. ii. p. 282.
129. Hist. of Music, vol. iii. pp. 284-86. Return
130. Harleian MS. 2013. Return
131. Collier’s History of Dramatic Poetry, vol. ii. p. 178. Return
132. Marmion, introd. to Canto vi. 8vo ed pp. 300—303. Return