William Sandys, F. S. A.
London: John Russell Smith, 1852
Chapter 2 - Froissart's Christmas Log
The Anglo-Norman kings introduced increased splendor at this festival, as they did on all other occasions; the king wearing his crown and robes of state, and the prelates and nobles attending, with great pomp and ceremony, to partake of the feast provided by their monarch, and to receive from him presents, as marks of his royal favor; returning, probably, more than an equivalent. William the Conqueror, was crowned on Christmas day, 1066.
“On Christmas day in solemne sort,
Then was he crowned here,
By Albeit, Archbishop of Yorke,
With many a noble peere.”
There was some disturbance during the ceremony, owing to the turbulence or misconception of his Norman followers, who, as well as their master, were disposed to rule with a rod of iron. William gave a striking proof of how little his nature was capable of understanding “good will towards men,” when he kept his Christmas at York, in 1069, with the usual festivities, and afterwards gave directions to devastate the country between York and Durham; thus consigning 100,000 people to death, by cold, hunger, fire, and sword. Well, perhaps some of us are William the Conquerors in heart; what else is a bully at school, or a bully in society, or, yet more, a bully in domestic life? Who can count the misery caused by one selfish, one imperious tyrant, whose victims dare not, or will not, complain; the crouching child, the trembling, submissive, broken-hearted, yet even still the loving wife? Oh! woman, — woman, how few amongst us are able to appreciate you? We see you fair and accomplished; we find you loving and affectionate; we know you virtuous and faithful; but, can we estimate your truthfulness, your negation of self, your purity of thought? Partakers of our joys, but partners indeed in our sorrows; how many a weary heart of man, crushed by the pressure of worldly cares and trials, have you not saved, and brought to the contemplation of better things! “ She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness.”
It would be easy to give a list of the different places where our monarchs kept their Christmasses, from the time of the Conquest, in nearly, if not quite, an unbroken series; but as this would be scarcely as amusing as a few pages in a well conducted dictionary, it will no doubt be considered to have been wisely omitted. It may be stated, in general terms that the earlier kings occasionally passed Christmas in Normandy, and that some of the principal towns favoured, besides London and Westminster, appear to have been, Windsor, York, Winchester, Norwich, Worcester, Gloucester, Oxford, Eltham, and Canterbury; and in the time of the Tudors, Greenwich. Some examples of marked or distinguished Christmasses will be given in the following pages.
In 1085, William, who was fond of magnificence, kept his Christmas with great state at Gloucester, which was a favourite place with him and his son William. He was either in a particular good humour, or wished to perform what he might think an act of grace, and compensate the severity with which he treated his conquered, or rather semi-conquered new subjects, by showing favour to his own countrymen; — a sort of liberal disposition of public gifts to family friends, that may be seen occasionally even in modern times — so he gave bishoprics to three of his chaplains, namely, that of London to Maurice, of Thetford to William, and of Chester to Robert. There is a somewhat strange regulation among the constitutions of Archbishop Lanfranc for the government of the monks of his cathedral, which contain numerous injunctions respecting washing and combing, and other matters that would now surprise even a well-regulated boys’ school. On Christmas Eve they are directed to comb their heads before they washed their bands, while at other times they were to wash first, and comb afterwards.1 We do not see the philosophy of this curious distinction.
William Rufus, the weak and profligate successor of the Conqueror, kept the Christmas in state, like his father, and Henry the First followed their example; even in 1105, which was “annus valde calamitosus,” wherein he raised many tributes) he still kept his Christmas in state, at Windsor. In 1116, he kept it at St. Athans, when the celebrated monastery there was consecrated. In the Christmas 1126-7, which was held at Windsor, anticipating the struggle for the crown that would take place after his death, he assembled all the principal clergy and nobles (David, king of Scots, being also present), and caused them to swear that they would maintain England and Normandy for his daughter, the Empress Matilda, after his death. In these early times, however, a few oaths, more or less, were of little consequence; the “time whereof the memory of man runneth not to the contrary” was of very short date; a week sometimes making a man to forget utterly what he might previously have sworn to; and the vicar of Bray would have been by no means a reprehensible character.
King Stephen, after his accession, wore his crown and robes of state like the former kings, and kept his Christmas at London; but about the fifth year of his reign, the internal wars and tumults became and continued of such magnitude, that during the remainder of this troubled reign, the celebration of festivals was laid aside.
Henry the Second renewed the celebration of Christmas with great splendour, and with plays and masques; and the lord of Misrule appears to have been known at this time, if not at a much earlier date. In 1171, he celebrated the feast at Dublin, in a large wooden house erected for the purpose, and entertained several of the Irish chieftains, as well as the principal men of his own court and army; the Irish were much surprised at the great plenty and variety of provisions, and were especially amused at the English eating cranes; however, after a very short hesitation they joined readily in the feasting themselves, and history does not say that any ill effects followed. Cranes continued to be favourites at Christmas and aristocratic feasts for some time; at the celebrated and often quoted enthronisation banquet of Archbishop Nevil, in the time of Edward the Fourth, there were no less than 204 of these birds. There were some strange dishes, however, in vogue in the time of Henry the Second, as far as the names, whatever the actual merits of the compounds might have been. Dillegrout, karumpie, and maupigyrnun, may have far surpassed some of our grand sounding modern dishes, where the reality sadly disappoints the ear. This dillegrout also was rather an important dish, as the tenant of the manor of Addington, in Surrey, held it by service of making a mess of dillegrout on the day of the coronation. Fancy the anxiety on this ceremony, not only for the excellence of the dish, but that it shall not be proclaimed a failure, and thus risk the possession of the manor, and some more favoured tenant being put in possession, on the tenure of providing a plum-pudding every Christmas, or something similar, like the celebrated King George’s pudding, still tendered to visitors at the Isle of Portland. This dillegrout, too, required some little skill to make it well, being compounded of almond milk, the brawn of capons, sugar and spices, chicken parboiled and chopped, and was called, also, ‘Le mess de gyron,’ or, if there was fat with it, it was termed maupigyrnun.2
At Christmas, 1176, Roderick, king of Connaught, kept court with Henry at Windsor, and in 1183, Henry kept the feast at Caen, in Normandy, and there wished his son Henry (who died not long afterwards) to receive homage from his brothers; but the impetuous Richard would not consent, the “merry” Christmas was, therefore, sadly interrupted, and fresh family feuds arose; they had previously been but too frequent, Henry’s life having been much embittered by the conduct of his Sons.
When Richard himself came to the throne, he gave a splendid entertainment during Christmas, 1190, at Sicily, when on his way to the Crusades, inviting every one in the united English and French armies of the degree of a gentleman, and giving each a suitable present, according to his rank. Notwithstanding, however, the romance of Richard Coeur de Lion affirms that —
"Christmas is a time full honest,
Kyng Richard it honoured with gret feste;"
and an antiquary of coarse ought to consider these romances of equal authenticity with the old chronicles; yet one cannot help thinking that during Richard’s short reign, his captivity and his absence from his kingdom must have interfered with his Christmas celebrations; in fact, he, of the lion-heart, seems to have been more ornamental than useful in the pages of history.
John celebrated the feast pretty regularly, but seems occasionally to have selected a city or town for the purpose, where some great personage was allowed to provide for the entertainment; as, for instance, the celebrated Hubert de Burgh, at Canterbury, in 1203. In 1213, he kept his Christmas at Windsor with great festivity, and gave many presents. He was accustomed to make a present to his chancellor, every Christmas, of two marks of gold, according to ancient custom, no doubt by way of New Year’s gift, and gave him half that value at Easter and Whitsuntide. In 1214, he was keeping his Christmas at Worcester, when he was informed of the resolution of the barons to withdraw their allegiance, unless their claims were attended to. This information being ill-suited for the festivities then in progress, the king departed suddenly and shut himself up in the Temple; but the barons went to him on the Epiphany of 1215 with their demands, to which he promised a satisfactory answer at the ensuing Easter. The dissensions between himself and his barons, ending in Magna Charta, are well-known matters of history. In the following year the chief barons of the realm were under sentence of excommunication, and the city of London was under an interdict; but the citizens disregarded this, kept open their churches, rang their bells, enjoyed their turtle and whitebait (whatever the turtle and whitebait of that time might have been), drank their hippocras, ale, mead, and claret or clarré, and celebrated their Christmas with unusual festivity. The English had long been celebrated for their pre-eminence in drinking; as lago says, “your Dane, your German, and your swag-bellied Hollander, are nothing to your English.” They probably inherited the talent from the Saxons, for their kings had their wine, mead, cyder, ale, pigment, and morat, to which their Norman successors added claret or clarré, garhiofilac, and hippocras. Morat was made from honey and mulberries; claret, pigment, hippocras, and garhiofilac (so called from the girofle or cloves contained in it), were different preparations of wine mixed with honey and spices, no doubt very palatable; and hippocras particularly was indispensable at all the great feasts. Garhiofilac was probably made of white wine, and claret of red wine, as there is an order of Henry the Third in existence, directing 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 him at the ensuing Christmas, as he used to do in former years. These sheriffs were very useful persons in those times, and performed many offices for our olden monarchs that would somewhat surprise a modern high sheriff to perform now, when he is only called upon to attend to the higher duties of his office, and becomes officially one of the first men in his county. Henry the Third, in his twenty-sixth year, directed the sheriff of Gloucester, to cause twenty salmons to be bought for the king, and put into pies against Christmas; and the sheriff of Sussex to buy ten brawns with the heads, ten peacocks, and other provisions for the same feast.3
In his thirty-ninth year, the French king, having sent over, as a present to Henry (whether as a New Year’s gift or not does not exactly appear) an elephant — "a beast most strange and wonderfull to the English people, sith most seldome or never any of that kind had beene scene before that time,” — the sheriffs of London were commanded to build a house for the same, forty feet long and twenty feet broad, and to find necessaries for himself and keeper.
The boar’s head just referred to was the most distinguished of the Christmas dishes, and there are several old carols remaining in honour of it,
"At the begynnyng of the mete,
Of a borys hed ye schal hete,
And in the mustard ye shal wete;
And ye shal syngyn or ye gon.”
The dish itself, though the “chief service in this land,” and of very ancient dignity — probably as old as the Saxons, — was not confined to Christmas; for, in 1170, when King Henry the Second had his son Henry crowned in his own lifetime, he himself, to do him honour, brought up the boar’s head with trumpets before it, “according to the manner.” It continued the principal entry at all grand feasts, and was frequently ornamented. At the coronation feast of Henry the Sixth there were boars’ heads in “castellys of golde and enamell.” By Henry the Eighth’s time it had become an established Christmas dish, and we find it ushered in at this season to his daughter the Princess Mary, with all the usual ceremonies, and no doubt to the table of the monarch himself, who was not likely to dispense with so royal a dish; and so to the time of Queen Elizabeth, and the revels in the Inns of Court in her time, when at the Inner Temple a fair and large boar’s head was served on a silver platter, with mistrelsy. At the time of the celebrated Christmas dinner, at Oxford, in 1607, the first mess was a boar’s head, carried by the tallest of the guard, having a green scarf and an empty scabbard, preceded by two huntsmen, one carrying a boar spear and the other a drawn faucion, and two pages carrying mustard, which seems to have been as indispensable as the head itself. A carol was sung on the occasion, in the burden of which all joined. Queen’s College, Oxford, was also celebrated for its custom of bringing in the boar’s head with its old carol. Even in the present day, though brawn, in most cases, is considered as a sort of substitute, the boar’s head with lemon in his mouth may be seen, though rarely, and when met with, may be safely recommended as a dainty; but some of the soi-disant boars’ heads seen at Christmas in a pompous state of whiskerless obesity, may without disparagement, take Lady Constance’s words literally and “hang a calf skin on their recreant limbs.” Brawn is probably as old as boar’s head; but the inventor of such an arrangement of hogsflesh must have been a genius, and would have been a patentee in our days, and probably have formed a joint-stock brawn association. We have just observed it in the time of Henry the Third, and the ‘begging frere,’ in ‘Chaucer’s Sompnoure’s Tales,’ says, “geve us of your braun, if ye have any,” and it may be found in most of the coronation and grand feasts; even in the coronation feast of Katharine, queen to Henry the Fifth, in 1421, brawn and mustard appear, though the feast was intended to be strictly a fish dinner, and with this exception and a little confectionary, really was so, comprising, with other marine delicacies, “fresh sturgion with welks,” and “porperous rosted,” the whole bill of fare, however, would match even the ministerial whitebait dinner. This is not the only instance where brawn was ranked with fish; for when Calais was taken, there was a large quantity there; so the French, guessing it to be some dainty, tried every means of cooking it; they roasted it, boiled it, baked it, but all in vain, till some imaginative mind suggested a trial au naturel, when its merits were discovered. But now came the question, in what class of the animal creation should it be placed? The monks tasted and admired: “Ha! ha!” said they, "capital fish!" and immediately placed it on their list of fast-day provisions. The Jews were somewhat puzzled, but a committee of taste, of the most experienced elders, decided that it certainly was not any preparation from impure swine, and included it in their list of clean animals.
At the coronation of Henry the Seventh, a distinction was made between “brawne royall,” and “ brawne,” the former probably being confined to the king’s table. Brawn and mustard appear to be as inseparable as the boar’s head and mustard, and many directions respecting them may be found at early feasts. In the middle of the sixteenth century brawn is called a great piece of service, chiefly in Christmas time, but as it is somewhat hard of digestion, a draught of malvesie, bastard, or muscadell is usually drunk after it, where either of them is conveniently to be had.
“Even the two rundlets,
The two that was our hope, of muscadel,
(Better ue’er tongue tript over,) these two cannons,
To batter brawn withal, at Christmas, sir, —
Even these two lovely twins, the enemy
Had almost cut off clean.”4
At the palace, and at the revels of the Inns of Court, it seems to have been a constant dish at a Christmas breakfast. Tusser prescribes it amongst his good things for Christmas, and it has so remained to the present time. The salmon recently mentioned, as having been ordered for the king, continued to be a favourite dish for this feast. Carew says —
Lastly, the sammon, king of fish,
Fils with good cheare the Christmas dish.”
There used to be a superstition at Aberavon, in Monmouthshire, that every Christmas Day, in the morning, and then only, a large salmon exhibited himself in the adjoining river, and permitted himself to be handled and taken up, but it would have been the greatest impiety to have captured him. One would not wish to interfere with the integrity of this legend, by calling on the salmon some Christmas morning, for fear that he may have followed the tide of emigration, or may have been affected by free trade.
The salmon, however, is not the only living creature, besides man, that is supposed to venerate this season.
"Some say, that ever ‘gainst that season comes
Wherein our Saviour’s birth is celebrated,
The bird of dawning singeth all night long:
And then, they say, no spirit can walk abroad;
The nights are wholesome; then no planets strike;
No fairy tales, nor witch bath power to charm,
So hallow’cl and so gracious is the time."5
According to popular superstition the bees are heard to sing, and the labouring cattle may be seen to kneel, on this morning, in memory of the cattle in the manger, and the sheep to walk in procession, in commemoration of the glad tidings to the shepherds.
Howison, in his ‘Sketches of Upper Canada,’ mentions an interesting incident of his meeting an Indian at midnight, on Christmas Eve, during a beautiful moonlight, cautiously creeping along, and beckoning him to silence, who, 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.”
In our notice of Christmas wines, we must not omit malt-wine or ale, which may be considered, indeed, as our national beverage.
The nut-brown ale, the nut-brown ale,
Puts downe all drinke when It is stale,”
or, as it has been classically rendered, alum si sit stalum. The Welsh who are still famous for their ale, had early laws regulating it, while the steward of the king’s household had as much of every cask of plain ale as he could reach with his middle finger dipped into it; and as much of every cask of spiced ale as he could reach with the second joint of his middle finger. As millers are remarkable for the peculiarity of their thumbs, no doubt these stewards were gifted with peculiarly, long middle fingers. Ale, or beer, was afterwards divided into single beer, or small ale, double beer, double-double beer, and dagger ale; there was, also, a choice kind, called March ale; and our early statute books contain several laws regulating the sale of ale, which was to be superintended by an ale-taster, and the terrors of the pillory and cucking-stool held over misdemeanants.
It may be expected that “Christmas broached the mightiest ‘ale,” and Christmas ale has, accordingly, been famous from the earliest times. —
“Bryng us in good ale, and bryng us in good ale,
For our blyssd Lady sake,’ bring us in good ale,”
is a very old wassailing cry, and the wandering musicians always expected a black jack of ale and a Christmas pye. A favourite draught, also, was spiced ale with a toast, stirred up with a sprig of rosemary, — "Mark you, sir, a pot of ale consists of four parts : imprimis, the ale, the toast, the ginger, and the nutmeg." Mead, or metheglin, was another national drink, and here the steward was only allowed as far as he could reach in the cask with the first joint of his middle finger. That metheglin was so called from one Matthew Glinn, who had a large stock of bees that he wished to make profitable, must be considered more as a joke than a tradition.
Henry the Third generally kept his Christmasses with festivities. In 1230, there was a grand one at York, the King of Scots being present; but four years afterwards he kept it at Gloucester, with only a small company, many of the nobles having left him in consequence of the great favour he was showing foreigners, to their injury. In 1241, he again offended them by placing the Pope’s legate, at the great dinner at Westminster Hall, in the place of honour, that is, the middle, he himself sitting on the right-hand, the Archbishop of York (the Archbishop of Canterbury being dead) on his left-hand, and then the prelates and nobles, according to rank. This etiquette, as to place at table, is certainly as old as the Egyptians, and many a wronged or neglected individual’s dinner has been spoilt, who has failed in getting such a place above the salt, or at the cross table, as he considered his merits entitled him to.
On one occasion, in his forty-second year, Henry rather took undue advantage of the custom of the season, and being distressed for money, required compulsory New Year’s Gifts from the Londoners.6 His wars frequently distressed him for money, and in 1254, his queen sent him, to Gascoigne, 500 marks from her own revenues, as a New Year’s Gift, toward the maintenance of them. In several instances, he kept his Christmasses at the expense of some of the great nobles, as Hubert de Burgh, and Peter, bishop of Winchester, who, in 1232, not only took all the expense upon himself, but gave the king and all his court festive garments; and, in another year, when Alexander, King of Scots, married his daughter Margaret, the Archbishop of York, where the feast was held, gave 600 fat oxen, which were all spent at one meal, and expended 4000 marks besides. This convenient practice saved the pocket of the sovereign, and gratified the ambition of the subject; but the great expense caused by such a favour, must have been something like the costly present of an elephant, by an Eastern despot, to a subject. In his later years, the king laid aside hospitality very much.
The three Edwards kept the feast much as before, and Edward the First is said to have been the first king who kept any solemn feast at Bristol, holding his Christmas there in 1284. In his wardrobe accounts, there are some valuable particulars of the custom of the king at this time. In pursuance of ancient usage, he offered at the high altar, on the Epiphany, one golden form, frankincense, and myrrh, in commemoration of the offering of the three kings; a custom carried down with some variation to the present day. In the same accounts, some of the New Year’s Gifts given to him are mentioned; among them, a large ewer set with pearls all over, with the arms of England, Flanders, and Barr, a present from the countess of Flanders; a comb and looking-glass of silver-gilt enamelled, and a bodkin of silver in a leathern case, from the countess of Barr; also, a pair of large knives of ebony and ivory, with studs of silver enamelled, given by the Lady Margaret, his daughter, duchess of Brabant.
The custom of giving New Year’s Gifts existed from the earliest period, and as Warmstry, in his ‘Vindication,’ says, may be “harmless provocations to Christian love, and mutuall testimonies thereof to good purpose, and never the worse because the heathens have them at the like times.” The Romans had their Xenia and Strenæ, during the Saturnalia, which were retained by the Christians, whence came the French term étrennes; a very ancient one, for in the old mystery, “Li Gieus de Robin et de Marion,” in the thirteenth century, Marion says, she will play, “aux jeux qu’on fait aux étrennes, entour la veille de Noel.”7 The Greek word strenæ, is translated in our New Testament, delicacies; so that, whether delicacies were called strenæ because such gifts were generally of an elegant or graceful nature, or the New Year’s Gifts adopted a word previously applied to delicacies, seems immaterial, as the result is the same. These “diabolical New Year’s Gifts,” as some called them, were denounced by certain of the councils, as early as the beginning of the seventh century, though without effect. They were either in the nature of an offering from an inferior to his superior, who gave something in return, or an interchange of gifts between equals. Tenants were accustomed to give capons to their landlords at this season, and in old leases, a capon, at Christmas, is sometimes reserved as a sort of rent, —
"Yet must he haunt his greedy landlord’s hall,
With often presents at each festivall;
With crammed capons ev’ry New Year’s morne."
The practice of New Year’s Gifts is of great antiquity in this country. In the twelfth century, Jocelin of Brakelond, when about to make a gift to his abbot, refers to it, as being according to the custom of the English;8 and, in very early times, the nobility, and persons connected with the court, gave these New Year’s Gifts to the monarch, who gave in return presents of money, or of plate, the amount of which in time became quite a matter of regulation; and the messenger, bringing the gift, had, also, a handsome fee given him. How much kindly feeling is caused by the interchange of these gifts, and how much taste and fancy displayed at Fortnum and Mason’s, and other places, to tempt us to purchase for the gratification of our younger friends, and receive our reward in the contemplation of their unfeigned pleasure and amusement!
Humorous and witty, as well as elegant, bon-bons and souvenirs, drawing the money from us like so many magnets; as Nasgeorgus says —
“These giftes the husband gives his wife,
And father eke the childe,
And maister on his men bestowes
The like, with favour milde.”
There are some particulars in the wardrobe accounts of the New Year’s Gifts of Edward the Second, and also payments made to him to play at dice at Christmas; a custom existing probably long before his time, and certainly continued down to a comparatively recent period, gambling at the groom-porter’s having been observed as late as the time of George the Third. He also gave numerous gifts, being, as is well known, of extravagant and luxurious habits. In his eleventh year, especially, at Westminster, several knights received sumptuous presents of plate from him, and the king of the bean (Rex Fabæ) is mentioned as receiving handsome silver-gilt basins and ewers as New Year’s Gifts.9 Two of the kings of the bean named, are, Sir William de la Bech, and Thomas de Weston, squire of the king’s household. Edward kept several stately Christmasses, and one at Nottingham in 1324, with particular ‘magnificence, glory, and resort of people. Even when a prisoner at Kenilworth in 1326-7, he kept up a degree of state, although his son, Edward the Third, then aged about sixteen years, was crowned on Christmas Day, 1326, the queen-mother keeping open court, with a great assembly of nobles; prelates, and burgesses, when it was decided to depose the father, whose melancholy fate is well known. Edward the Third became not only a great warrior, but, also, in many respects, a great monarch, and his Christmasses, with other feasts, were held with much splendour. One at Wells, where there were many strange and sumptuous shows made to pleasure the king and his guests, is particularly mentioned; but that at Windsor, in 1343-4, is by far the most distinguished in history, as the king then renewed the Round Table, and instituted the celebrated Order of the Garter, making St. George the patron; whether from the circumstance of the countess of Salisbury having dropped her garter (whence the old Welsh tune took its name of Margaret has lost her garter), cannot now be distinctly proved; but we may as well leave the balance in favour of gallantry. Suffice it, that never has any order of knighthood enrolled such a succession of royal, brave, and world-renowned characters. In 1347 at Guildford, and 1348 at Ottford, in Kent, there were great revellings at Christmas. In the first of these years, there were provided for the amusements of the court, eighty-four tunics of buckram, of divers colours; forty-two visors of different likenesses; twenty-eight crests; fourteen coloured cloaks; fourteen dragons’ heads; fourteen white tunics; fourteen heads of peacocks, with wings; fourteen coloured tunics, with peacocks’ eyes; fourteen heads of swans, with wings; fourteen coloured tunics of linen; and fourteen tunics, coloured, with stars of gold and silver.10 In the following year, quadrupeds were in the ascendancy, instead of the feathered creation, and amongst the things mentioned in the wardrobe expenses are, twelve heads of men, surmounted by those of elephants; twelve of men, having heads of lions over them; twelve of men’s heads, having bats’ wings; and, twelve heads of wodewoses, or wildmen. A good pantomime decorator would have been invaluable in those days. On New Year’s Eve 1358, Edward, with his gallant son, were in a different scene, fighting under the banners of Sir Walter de Mauny before the walls of Calais, which place the French thought had been betrayed to them; but the plot was counteracted, and they were defeated, and many French knights made captives, who were hospitably entertained by the English king on the following day, being New Year’s Day.
The mummeries, or disguises, just referred to, were known here as early as the time of Henry the Second, if not sooner, and may have been derived originally from the heathen custom of going about, on the kalends of January, in disguises, as wild beasts and cattle, and the sexes changing, apparel. They were not confined to the diversions of the king and his nobles; but a ruder class was in vogue among the inferior orders, where, no doubt, abuses were occasionally introduced in consequence. Even now, our country geese or guise dancers are a remnant of the same custom, and, in some places, a horse’s head still accompanies these mummers. The pageants, in former times, of different guilds or trades, some of which still exist, and, at the Lord Mayor’s shows, had all probably a common origin, modified by circumstances; but, with respect to those of the city, I must refer to Mr. Fairholt’s account, printed for the Percy Society, where he has treated largely on the subject. Who knows how many juvenile citizens may not have been fired by ambition at the sight of these soul-stirring spectacles, to becoming common councilmen, aldermen, sheriffs, and lord-mayors themselves — to have at their beck, the copper-cased knights; the brazen trumpets; the prancing horses, bedecked with streamers; the marshal-men, in martial attire; gilded coach, with the sword of state looking out of window — and then the charms of the dinner, in all the magnificence of turtle-soup, barons of beef, champagne, venison, and minced pies, with Gog and Magog looking benignly on; though they must miss the times, when the Lord Mayor’s Fool used to jump into a huge bowl of Aimayn custard.
Edward the Third gave and received New Year’s Gifts, as former kings; and we find an instance of presents given to Roger Trumpony and his companions, minstrels of the king, in the name of the king of the bean.11 He also made the usual oblations at the Epiphany.
The continental usages were, in many places, similar to our own; but, as before intimated, they will be but slightly noticed. Charles the Fifth, of France, for instance, in 1377, held the feast of Christmas, or Noël as it was called, at Cambray, “et là, fist ses sérimonies imperiaulx, selon l’usage,” referring evidently to old customs;12 he also presented gold, incense, and myrrh, in three gilt cups. Not many years afterwards, the duke of Burgundy gave New Year’s Gifts of greater value than any one, and especially to all the nobles and knights of his household, to the value of 15,000 golden florins; but there was probably as much policy in this, as any real regard for the sacred festival.13
Richard the Second was young when he came to the throne, extravagant, fond of luxury and magnificence, and the vagaries of fashion in dress were then, and for a long time after, unequalled; his dress, was “all jewels, from jasey to his diamond boots.” It is to be expected, therefore, that his Christmasses were kept in splendour, regardless of expense; and this appears to have been the case even to the close of his short and unfortunate reign; as, in 1899, there was a royal Christmas at Westminster, with jus hugs and running at the tilt throughout, and from twenty-six to twenty-eight oxen, with three hundred sheep, and fowls without number, were consumed every day. In the previous Christmas, at Lichfield where the Pope’s nuncio and several foreign gentlemen were present, there were spent two hundred tuns of wine, and two thousand oxen, with their appurtenances. It is to be assumed that the pudding was in proportion to the beef; so these, in point of feasting, must have been royal Christmasses indeed.
In the midst of all this grandeur, there was a want of cleanliness and comfort in the rush-strewn floors and imperfectly furnished rooms and tables, that would have been very evident to a modern guest; and the manners at table, even in good society, would rather shock our present fastidious habits. Chaucer, not long previously, in, describing the prioresse, who appears to have been a well-bred and educated person for the time, proves the usual slovenliness of the domestic habits, by showing what she avoided—
“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 no feb 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.”
or, according to the Roman de la Rose, from whence Chaucer took this account,—
“Et si doit si sagement boyre,
Quo sur soy n’en espande goutte.”
It must be remembered, however, that there were no forks in those days. The Boke of Curtasye of the same age, reprobates a practice that is even now scarcely obsolete, and may unexpectedly be seen in company, where it excites surprise) to say the least of it; —
“Clense not thi tethe at mete sittande,
With knyfe no stre, styk no wande”
Richard also had his pageants, or disguisings, but instead of looking to the brute or feathered creation for models, we find, on one occasion, there is a charge for twenty-one linen coifs for counterfeiting men of the law, in the king’s play or diversion at Christmas, 1389.14 If the men of the law had been as plentiful as at present, there would have been no need of making any counterfeits, where a sufficient quantity of real ones might have been procured so cheap. The unfortunate Richard was murdered on Twelfth Day, 1400, a sad finish to all his Christmasses. At the same time, a plan was laid by the earls of Kent and Huntingdon (recently degraded from the dukedoms of Exeter and Surrey), with the earl of Salisbury and others, to gain access, under colour of a Christmas mumming, at Windsor, where Henry the Fourth and the princes were keeping the feast, and thus effect the restoration of Richard; but one of the conspirators, the earl of Rutland (degraded from duke of Auinarle), gave timely notice of it, in order, as it is said, to forestal his father, the duke of York, who had got some knowledge of the plot. Henry the Fourth kept his Christmas feasts in the usual style, and does not require any particular notice, which might tend to needless repetition.
Notes from Sandys:
1. Archaeologia, vol. xi, 13 (from Wilkins's Concil.). Return
2. Blount, Fragmenta Antiq., by Beckwith, 50. Return
3. 21 Madox's Hist. Exchequer, 258. Return
4. The Woman's Prize, Fletcher, iv, 2. Return
5. Hamlet i. 1. Return
6. 29 Baker's Chronicle, 82, 83. Return
7. Théâtre Français au moyen Age, 1842, p. 118. Return
8. Cronica Jocelini de Brakelonda, 46. Return
9. Archæologia, xxvi, 342. Return
10. 30 Archæologia, xxxi, 37, 38, 43, 122. Return
11. Cotton MS. Nero, C. viii. Return
12. Petitôt Mémoires, 1st Ser. vi, 66. Return
13. Monstrelet, ed. 1840, i. 153. Return
14. Warton, Hist. of Poetry, 8vo, ii. 71, 72. Return
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