The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

its History, Festivities and Carols

William Sandys, F. S. A.
London: John Russell Smith, 1852

Chapter 6 - Charles the Second gambling at Christmas

Plays and other Christmas festivities continued throughout the reign of James the First; and amongst others we find ‘Measure for Measure,’ and the ‘Plaie of Errors,’ by Shaxberd — a new reading as to the spelling of the name of our glorious bard— also ‘King Lear,’ and ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost!1 Many of Fletcher’s plays likewise were first acted before the court at Christmas.

Masks were performed almost yearly; and in one of them, the ‘Queen’s Mask of Moors,’ the queen with eleven ladies of honour took parts. Ben Jonson himself wrote several for the court, and Inigo Jones assisted in the scenery and decorations. James performed one good act, by inflicting a penalty of 10 on any one making use, in plays, shows, or pageants, jestingly or profanely, of the Holy Name of God, or of our Saviour, or of the Holy Ghost, or of the Trinity.

At the very commencement of this reign, John Hemynges and his company received 53 for performing six interludes or plays; and on the 8th of January, 1604, the queen and her ladies presented a mask, by Samuel Daniel, called the ‘Vision of the Twelve Goddesses.’ In the following year, Hemynges and his company received 60, for the same number of plays, and 10 a play seems to have been the usual reward. At the same time, the queen and her ladies performed Ben Jonson’s mask of ‘Blackness,’ being the first in which he was employed. It was got up in a magnificent style, having cost the exchequer 3000. After the performance, there was a banquet in the great-chamber, which was so furiously assailed by the hungry guests, that the table and trestles went down before one bit was touched.

There are some strange stories of scenes of excessive conviviality in this reign, particularly during the visit of the Danish king, Christian the Fourth, in 1606, when, on one occasion, during the personation of the mask of ‘Solomon, and the Queen of Sheba’ — the King of Denmark being the Solomon of the night — the representative of the Queen of Sheba had imprudently imbibed too much of the nectar that she was to have offered to Solomon, and stumbling, distributed her classic offerings of wine, jelly, and cakes, over his dress. He in his turn, attempting to dance, found it necessary to fall, and cling to the floor, until taken off to bed.

Cassio. Is your Englishman so exquisite in his drinking?

Iago. Why, he drinks you with facility, your Dane dead drunk.

Some ladies, representing Faith, Hope, Charity, Victory, and Peace, who were assumed to have been the attendants of the Queen of Sheba, on her celebrated visit, sympathised with their mistress, and were obliged, with proper assistance to guide their tottering limbs, to retire for a time in a state of maudlin sensibility.

From Gervase Markham’s account, in his ‘English Housewife,’ of a moderate dinner of this time, we may somewhat judge of the prevalent profusion:— The first course should consist of “sixteen full dishes; that is, dishes of meat that are of substance, and not empty, or for show—as thus, for example; first, a shield of brawn, with mustard; secondly, a boyl’d capon; thirdly, a boyl’d piece of beef; fourthly, a chine of beef, rosted; fifthy, a neat’s tongue, rested; sixthly, a pig, rosted; seventhly, chewets baked; eighthly, a goose, rosted; ninthly, a swan, rested; tenthly, a turkey, rosted; the eleventh, a haunch of venison, rosted; the twelfth, a pasty of venison; the thirteenth, a kid, with a pudding in the belly; the fourteenth, an olive-pye; the fifteenth, a couple of capons; the sixteenth, a custard, or dowsets. Now, to these full dishes may be added, sallets, fricases, quelque choses, and devised paste, as many dishes more, which make the full service no less than two and thirty dishes; which is as much as can conveniently stand on one table, and in one mess. And after this manner you may proportion both your second and third courses, holding fulness on one half of the dishes, and show in the other; which will be both frugal in the splendour, contentment to the guest, and much pleasure and delight to the beholder.”

If this was a frugal — a sort of friendly — dinner, what must have been a state one — of the Belgravian or East Indian class, for instance?

On Twelfth Night, 1606, the mask of ‘Hymen,’ by Ben Jonson, was performed, in honour of the unfortunate marriage of Robert, Earl of Essex, with Lady Frances, daughter of the Earl of Suffolk, afterwards so well known as the vicious wife of the equally vicious favourite, Somerset. In the following year was the mask of ‘Beauty,’ in which the queen and her ladies took part but, though intended for Twelfth Night, it was not performed, for some reason, until Sunday, the 14th of January, Sunday being by no means an unusual day for these festivities. The following Christmas was dull and heavy, like the weather; still there were plays at court.

On the 1st of January, 1611, Prince Henry, accompanied by twelve other persons of rank, performed the mask of ‘Oberon,’ of which the expenses were 1092 6s. l0d., including 16 paid to Inigo Jones, for his labour; it being the joint production of him and Ben Jonson, and contained a variety of delicate music. It was performed in the new and beautiful banquetting-house, at Whitehall. There were, likewise, two other masks, by Ben Jonson and Inigo Jones, in the same Christmas, which cost the queen 600. In one of them, called, ‘Love freed from Ignorance and Folly’ name of the other being ‘Love Restored’ — there were twelve she-fools introduced, dressed in coloured taffeta, lined with fustian, who performed a dance, and received each 1 for her trouble. In November, 1612, Prince Henry died; a prince who, according to most accounts, was much loved, and from whose early promise much was expected. Whether his father much mourned him seems a doubtful question: it has been surmised that he was jealous of his popularity. At all events the following Christmas was kept with the usual festivities, and his daughter Elizabeth was affianced to the palatine.

On the 26th of December, 1613, the favourite, Somerset, was married to the Countess of Essex, at Whitehall, in the presence of the King, Queen, and Prince Charles, and many of the nobility, and several entertainments were given in the course of the Christmas, to the well-matched pair. On the 4th of January, they went to a grand entertainment, at Merchant Tailors’ Hall, and, after supper, were entertained with a wassail, two pleasant masks, and dancing. On Twelfth Day the gentlemen of Gray’s Inn invited them to a mask — the ‘Mask of Flowers‘ — but they did not consent willingly to this act, evidently considering it a degradation, their repugnance having been overcome by Lord Bacon. It appears to have been performed at the banquetting-house.

In 1616, Ben Jonson presented ‘the well-known mask, called the ‘Mask of Christmas,’ the principal characters being Christmas and his children, Misrule, Carol, Minced-Pie, Gambol, Post and Pair, New Year’s Gift, Mumming, Wassel, Offering, and Baby-Cake. Prince Charles performed, and obtained great applause in his mask, called ‘The Vision of Delight, or Prince’s Mask,’ represented on Twelfth Night, 1618, when the Muscovy ambassadors were feasted at court, and a sum of 750 was issued for the occasion. A mask of ladies had been prepared for the same Christmas, and many rehearsals had taken place, but for some reason it was forbidden by the king and queen; to the great disappointment of the ladies, no doubt.

The Inns of Court continued their revels as in former reigns. Sir Simon D’Ewes complains of some great irregularities at the Temple, in 1620, and some subsequent years, arising from gambling and quarrelling. In Christmas, 1622-3, the Society of the Middle Temple incurred the displeasure of the king—who apparently cared little for any one but himself—by a demonstration in favour of his amiable and talented daughter, Elizabeth of Bohemia. The lieutenant of the Middle Temple had thirty of the best gentlemen of the society to sup with him; during the meal, he took a cup of wine in one hand, and his drawn sword in the other, and drank a health to the distressed Lady Elizabeth, after which he kissed his sword, and swore to live and die in her service, and then passed the cup and sword round.2

On the Twelfth Day in the same Christmas, a ludicrous scene occurred, for at dead of night, the gentlemen of Gray’s Inn, in order to make an end of their Christmas, shot off all the chambers they had borrowed from the Tower, which were as many as filled four carts. The king, who, as is well known, could not bear the sight of a naked sword, being awakened with the noise, started out of bed, crying out, “Treason! treason!” The city was in confusion, and the court in arms, the Earl of Arundel running to the king’s bed-chamber, with his sword drawn, to rescue his sovereign.2

In 1607, there was a celebrated exhibition of the Christmas Prince, at St. John’s College, Oxford, conducted with more than usual pomp. A numerous court was appointed, and pageants and dramatic performances were from time to time exhibited; the “Prince,” Mr. Thomas Tucker, continuing in his office until Shrove Tuesday. There were some disturbances, in consequence of the inability of many people to find room, but probably not more than occur now occasionally at the Commemoration. Sir John Finett, who was master of the ceremonies to James the First and Charles the First, and who seems to have considered the settlement of points of etiquette as the very essence of good government, in his quaint publication, called ‘Phioxenis,’ gives many curious particulars of disputes, in several years, both in this reign and the following one, between the royal ambassadors; and claims of precedence, and fanciful privileges on the part of themselves and their wives; and of his own skill  and finesse in arranging them, so as in general to give satisfaction, and prevent the peace of Europe from being disturbed, which, from his statement, but for his diplomatic powers, would appear to have been inevitable, had one ambassador’s wife got a back to her chair, while another only had an ottoman. On New Year’s Night, for instance, the intended mask was obliged to be postponed, in consequence of some scruple on these formal matters, of the French ambassador, but Sir John happily overcame this before Twelfth Day, when the mask was proceeded with, and the French, Venetian, and Savoyard ambassadors were present. In the following year the prince was a principal actor in the mask, and the French ambassador took umbrage, because the Spanish ambassador was invited. This schism was beyond Sir John Finett’s control; a correspondence ensued, but the French ambassador was recalled before his time had expired. Many of the disputes remind one of the points of etiquette respecting the old French court privilege of the tabouret — as to wearing a cocked hat fore and aft, as it is called, or athwart the head — as to wearing a hat always in a club-room, or in the House of Commons, if a member — as to the number of yards to a peeress’ train — as to the feather in the cap of a Highland chief or chieftain  — as to the persons entitled to wear long-tailed wigs, or short-tailed wigs, or wigs with a curly tail — and many other equally important points. However, etiquette is probably necessary for the good rule of society, and high and low have their own regulations. We find, in the East, it is considered a highly aristocratic privilege, on ceremonial occasions, that the palanquin should be borne crossways, instead of lengthways, probably because it has a greater chance of being in the way; but it is thought of so much importance, that a few years since, Sri Sunkur Bharti, and Sidha Lingayah Charanti, whoever those grandees might have been, contested the point by appeal to the privy council.

The practice of giving New Year’s Gifts and Christmas Boxes remained as before; the value of the gifts to the king having become quite a matter of regulation. An earl, for instance, was to buy a new purse of about 5s. price, and put in it twenty pieces of 20s. value each, and go to the presence chamber on New Year’s Day, about eight in the morning, and give them to the lord chamberlain; then to go to the jewel house for a ticket to receive 18s. 6d. as a gift, and give 6d. there for a box for the ticket; then to go to Sir Wm. Veall’s office, and receive the 18s. 6d.; then to the jewel house again, and choose a piece of plate of about thirty ounces weight, and mark it, and fetch it away in the afternoon, give the gentleman that delivered it to him 40s. in gold, and to the box 2s. and to the porter 6d.3

On New Year’s Day, 1604, the young prince, then in his tenth year, gave his father as his gift, a short Latin poem, in hexameter verse, which no doubt delighted the king. In 1610, he gave his sister, for his New Year’s Gift, a cabinet of ivory, wrought with silver;4 five years before this, when she was eight years of age, she had received from the corporation of Coventry a pair of fat oxen, as their gift at this season; certainly a very substantial mark of respect, but a sort of bon-bon that would somewhat astonish the royal nursery at present.

The New Year’s Gifts, given by the Prince Palatine in 1612, when he married the Princess Elizabeth, were of a sumptuous description, but may be considered more in the light of marriage presents than New Year’s Gifts. The jewels, he gave to his mistress alone, were valued at 35,000, comprising a rich chain of diamonds, with pendant diamonds for the ears; and two pearls scarcely to be equalled for size and beauty. To each of her attendants he gave 100; and to her chief usher, 150; to Mrs. Dudley, a chain of pearls and diamonds, worth 500; to Lord and Lady Harrington, golden and gilt plate of the value of 2000; to the prince, a rapier and pair of spurs set with diamonds; and handsome presents to the king and queen. There was great splendour in dress at this wedding; the Lady Wotton had a gown that cost 50 a yard; and Lord Montacute spent 15,000 in apparel for his two daughters. Our ladies (independent of jewels) would have some difficulty to match this at present; but there was great extravagance of dress, in general, in the course of this reign. Even Archie Armstrong, the well- known court-jester, had, on the occasion of this marriage, a coat of crimson velvet and gold lace, yellow worsted hose, and crimson garters;

As specimens of the gifts presented in private life, we find Sir Francis. Bacon sending to the lady and daughters of Sir M. Hicks some carnation stockings, with a request that they would wear them for his sake.5 This would be considered a strange sort of keepsake from a gentleman to a lady at present; but, as the Queen of Spain, in the former days of Spanish etiquette, was said to have no legs; so, from the long dresses now worn, it does not appear to signify much, except as a matter of personal convenience to themselves, whether our ladies have legs or not.

Turkeys and capons were Christmas presents during this age, as the former are still: Justice Greedy says,—

"......I remember thy wife brought me,
Last New Year’s tide, a couple of fat turkeys.”

The goose was the more ancient dish than the turkey, which was not introduced into England until the sixteenth century, and the goose is still the favourite bird in Paris and other parts of France, as it also is in the west and some other parts of England. Indeed the Norfolk people may fairly be suspected of having introduced the turkey as the Christmas bird, when we find that several tons weight of them are sent to London from that county annually at this season, some individual birds weighing at least a quarter of a hundred. In Spain patients used to present their medical attendants with turkeys; so that men in large practice had to establish a little trade in them. These turkeys were driven by gipseys from parts of Old Castile, chiefly from Salamanca; the march was about 400 miles, and lasted about half a year, so that the birds left the farmer in the state of chickenhood, but arrived almost at the maturity of turkeyhood on the journey.6

There was a good deal of gambling at court during Christmas, in the course of this reign, no one being admitted that brought less than 300. In one night, Montgomery, who played the king’s money, won for him 750, which he had for his trouble; Lord Monteagle lost for the queen 400, and Sir Robert Cary for the prince, 300. The following may give some notion of the manner of keeping Christmas, by an English gentleman, at this time, as mentioned in Armin’s ‘Nest of Ninnies.’ “At a Christmas time, when good logs furnish the hall fire, when brawne is in season, and indeed all reveling is regarded, this gallant knight kept open house for all commers, where beefe, beere, and bread was no niggard. Amongst all the pleasures provided,: a noyse of minstrells and a Lincoinshire bagpipe was prepared; the minstrells for the great chamber, the bagpipe for the hall; the minstrells to serve up the knight’s meate, and the bagpipe for the common dauncing.”

The Christmas-block or Yule-log, above referred to, is of very ancient date,

“Heap on more wood — the wind is chill;
But let it whistle as it will,
We’ll keep our Christmas merry still.”7

A massive piece of wood was selected, frequently the rugged root of a tree grotesquely marked, which was brought into the great hall or kitchen, with rejoicing and merriment. The old Christmas gambol of drawing Dun out of the mire — which is referred to as far back as the ‘Towneley Mysteries,’ “Bot if this draght be welle drawen Dun is in the myre,” — was probably connected originally with drawing in the Christmas block.

“If thou art Dun we’ll draw thee from the mire,
Of this (save reverence) love, wherein thou stick’st
Up to the ears.”8

A log of wood is brought in, which is called Dun the cart- horse, and is supposed to stick in the mire. Some of the party then advance and try to extricate him, but they require more assistance; this continues till all are engaged, and Dun is at length drawn out, “I see I’m born still to draw Dun out o’ th’ mire for you.”9 Much fun arises from the feigned awkwardness of the revellers, and contrivances to drop the log on each other’s toes. Herrick says—

“Come, bring with a noise,
  My merrie merrie boycs,
The Christmas log to the firing;
  While my good dame, she
Bids ye all be free,
  And drinke to your heart’s desiring.

With the last yeere’s brand
  Light the new block, and
For good success in his spending,
  On your psalteries play,
That sweet luck may
  Come while the log is a teending,”

Formerly, each of the family sat down on the log in turn, sang a Yule song, and drank to a merry Christmas and happy New Year: after which they had, as part of their feast, Yule dough, or Yule cakes, on which were impressed the figure of the infant Jesus, and sometimes they were made in the shape of a little image, studded with currants and baked, and the bakers gave them as presents to their customers. Bowls of frumenty, made from wheat cakes or creed wheat, boiled in milk, with sugar and nutmeg, &c., also made part of the feast. Nor was the wassail bowl, or the tankard of spiced ale, omitted, but formed a prominent part of the entertainment; Christmas ale being generally of superlative merit.

Horace brings out his log and his best wines as some of his winter comforts.

“Dissolve frigus, ligna super foco
Large reponens; atque benignius
  Deprome quadrimum Sabina,
  O Thaliarche merum diota,”10

and in the same ode, refers to pastimes similar to some of ours at Christmas,—

“Niinc et latentis proditor intimo
Gratus puell
risus ab angulo,
Pignusque dereptum lacertis,
Ant digito male pertinaci.”11

Christmas candles of large size, frequently presents from the chandlers, were at the same time used in some places; and, when tired of the sports, the party gathered round the log, and sang carols, or told legendary tales.12 The Essex logs appear to have been in repute, “We shall have some Essex logs yet to keep Christmas with,” says a character in one of Middleton’s plays; and there were sometimes services reserved to furnish these Christmas logs; as the cellarist of St. Edmundsbury, for instance, held Hardwick under the Abbey, and was bound annually to provide four Christmas stocks, each of eight feet in length. The strangest log on record, however, is that mentioned by Froissart, at a great feast held by the Count de Foix. After dinner he went up into a gallery, to which there was an ascent of twenty-four steps; it being cold, he complained that the fire was not large enough, on which a person named Ernauton d’Espaign, having seen below several asses laden with wood, went down and brought up-stairs on his back one of the largest, with his load of wood, and threw him on the fire, feet upwards, to the delight of the count and the astonishment of all;13 and of the poor ass, no doubt, more than all.

A small portion of the log was to be carefully preserved to light that of the following year; and on the last day of its being in use, which, in some places, was on Candlemas Day, a small piece having been kept on purpose, the custom was to—

Kindle The Christmas Brand, and then
  Till sunne-set let it burne
Which quencht, 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.”14

The Souche de Nol, in some places on the Continent, was very similar to our log.

As to minstrels, the waits of Southwark, according to the Citizen in the ‘Knight of the Burning Pestle,’ were as rare fellows as any in England, and two shillings would bring them all o’er the water with a vengeance, as if they were mad. In the commencement of the following reign a character in a play by Shirley introduces the city waits in a speech that, with one slight alteration, is applicable to the present panic felt by many persons respecting the possibility of foreign invasion: “We will have the city waites down with us, and a noise of trumpets; we can have drums in the country, and the train-band, and then let the [French] come an they dare.”15

Burton, in his ‘Anatomy of Melancholy,’ mentions “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.

After the accession of Charles the First, Christmas was frequently observed with great splendour, and a variety of plays, masks, and. pageants, in which the king and queen, with some of the courtiers, occasionally took part, until about the year 1641, when the civil disturbances interfered with all social enjoyments, and the spirit of fanaticism even endeavoured to abolish any commemoration of the Nativity of our Saviour. The king had his mask on Twelfth Day, and the queen hers on the Shrovetide following, and considerable sums were granted for the expenses, often exceeding 2000.

The Christmas of 1632-3 was dull; the queen, having some little infirmity, the bile or some such thing, kept in, and there was but one play and no dancing; the gambling however remained as before, the king carrying away 1850, of which the queen took half. On Twelfth Night however she feasted the king at Somerset House, and presented a pastoral, in which she herself took part, and which, with other masks, cost considerably more than 2000.

In the following year there were no masks, but ‘Cymbeline’ was acted before the court, and well liked. Prynne, in his ‘Histriomastix,’ having been supposed to reflect on the queen for her love of these diversions, was severely punished, as is well known.

In the Christmas of 1641-2 only one play was acted, being on Twelfth Day, at the cockpit in Whitehall; but the king and queen were in no mood to be present, as the king on the previous day had paid his eventful visit to the House of Commons to demand the five members: and after this time he had matter of too much moment to engage his attention to allow of any further indulgence in festivities or amusement, thenceforth, alas! unknown to him. The struggle then began on the part of the Puritans to abolish Christmas as a festival altogether. The first ordinances to suppress the performance of plays were issued in 1642, and doubt began to be expressed as to the proper manner of keeping this feast: in Christmas 1643, some in the city opened their shops, but they were shut again, people being afraid of any popish observance, as they called it, of the day. On one occasion, 1644, Christmas Day was kept as a fast, as it fell on the last Wednesday of the month, which was the day appointed by parliament for a monthly fast, and it was ordered that this should not be an exception.

Ministers were prohibited from preaching God’s word on the Nativity, and were imprisoned if they attempted to do so; and in 1647 the parish officers of St. Margaret’s, Westminster, were committed and fined for allowing some of them to preach on Christmas Day, and for adorning the Church with rosemary and bays.16

On the 3d of June in that year, the parliament abolished the observance of Christmas and many other holidays, directing that, instead of them, all scholars, apprentices, and servants should, with leave of their masters, have a holiday on the second Tuesday in every month. On this being proclaimed at Canterbury, just previous to the ensuing Christmas, and the mayor directing a market to be kept on that day, a serious disturbance took place, wherein many were severely hurt.

On the 24th of December, 1652, the observance of Christmas Day was strongly prohibited, and several entries may be found in Evelyn’s Memoirs, in that and subsequent years, to the effect that no service was allowed in the churches on that day, so that it was kept at home or privately by the right-minded, who occasionally got into difficulty in consequence. Evelyn with his wife and others, while taking the sacrament on Christmas Day, 1657, were taken into custody for breach of the ordinance of the parliament, but were let off. In a satirical list of supposed works called ‘Bibliotheca Parliamenti,’ 1653, is ‘An Act for the speedy suppressing all Plays, the Fools being all turned Commanders or Parliament men.’ Even in the midst of fanaticism, however, Christmas festivities could not be entirely abolished; and in the ‘Vindication of Christmas,’ old Father Christmas, complaining of his treatment for the last twelve years, says, “But welcome, or not welcome, I am come;” and says his best welcome was with some Devonshire farmers, thus describing his entertainment :—“ 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 sang carols and pleasant songs (suitable to the times) ; then the poor labouring hinds, and maidservants, 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 endeavour to make good
  The title ‘gainst a king.’

Thus, at active games and gambols of hot cookies, shoeing the wild mare, and the like harmless sports, some part of the tedious night was spent; and early in the morning, I took my leave of them, promising they should have my presence again the next 25th of December, 1653.”

Herrick, in his ‘New Year’s Gift’ sent to Sir Simeon Steward [See: A New Year's Gift], 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 chuse your king and queen,
And cry out, ‘Hey for our town green.’”

The noblemen and gentry were, in the early part of the reign, directed to return to their mansion-houses in the country, to keep up hospitality during the Christmas; and many of them lived like petty princes, their household establishments forming almost a mimic court. The Christmas feast was kept up, the poor man’s heart was cheered by earthly comforts, and he was led to the contemplation of the eternal blessings bestowed on man at this tide. The great hall resounded with the mirth of the servants, and tenants, and other dependents, whose gambols amused the lord of the mansion, and his family, and friends; and their presence and participation in the festivities, together ‘with the shows exhibited by them, of which the poorer class were frequently allowed to be the amused spectators, encouraged them, and mitigated the trials and privations of the winter.

A splendid Christmas, held by Richard Evelyn, Esq., High Sheriff of Surrey and Sussex, in 1634, at Wotton, may be taken as an example. A lord of Misrule was appointed; in this case, Owen Flood, gentleman, trumpeter to Mr. Evelyn, was chosen, and regulations were made to support his authority; amongst others, that if any man should kiss any maid, widow, or wife, except to bid welcome or farewell, without his lordship’s consent, he should have punishment as his lordship should think convenient; it is to be presumed, however’, that the misletoe bough was a privileged place, a sort of kissing sanctuary. The hall of the mansion being open on these occasions, many gifts were made to assist in provisioning the guests, and, at this time, the contributions were, 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, and two baskets of pears.17

The Christmas festivities, at some of the colleges, and at the Inns of Court, were continued in this reign. In 1627-8, there was a collision between Mr. Palmer, lord of Misrule of the Temple, and the lord-mayor and city authorities. The Temple lord chose to claim rents of 5s. a piece from the houses in Barn Alley and Fleet Street, and broke open doors to enforce it, if not quietly opened. The lord-mayor went with his watch to meet him, and after some scuffle, Mr. Palmer was wounded and taken prisoner, and sent to the Compter, and, after two nights, was released, by the intercession of the attorney-general, on payment of all damages, and restoring the rents.18

In the ninth of Charles, the Inns of Court spent 2400 about their Christmas celebration, and the king was so pleased with it, that he asked 120 of the members to a mask at Whitehall, on the following Shrove Tuesday.

There was also a splendid Christmas at the Middle Temple, in 1635, when Mr. Francis Vivian, of Cornwall, who had been fined in the Star Chamber, about three years before, in respect of a castle he held in that county, was the Christmas Prince, and expended 2000 out of his own pocket, beyond the allowance of the Society, in order to support his state with sufficient dignity. He had his lord keeper, lord treasurer, eight white staves, captain of pensioners and his guard, and two chaplains, who, when they preached before him, saluted him on ascending the pulpit with three low bows, as was then done to the king. The lord-mayor and sheriffs supplied him with wine, and Lord Holland, his justice in Eyre, with venison. These descriptions really make us regret the cessation of such festivities.

In December, 1641, Evelyn was elected one of the comptrollers of the Middle Temple revellers, the Christmas being kept with great solemnity; but he got excused from serving. The most magnificent entertainment, however, given by the Inns of Court, was on Candlemas Day, 1633 — which day was frequently distinguished by a farewell Christmas entertainment, and the rule of the Christmas Prince extended to it — when the two Temples, Lincoln’s Inn and Gray’s Inn, jointly presented Shirley’s ‘Triumph of Peace,’ at an expense to the Societies of more than 20,000. The music, under the superintendence of William Lawes and Simon Ives, cost 1000, and the dresses of the horsemen were valued at 10,000. Whitelocke and Hyde were two of the principal managers, and the former wrote for it his celebrated ‘Coranto.’ The king ‘was so much entertained, that he requested it to be performed again a few days afterwards at Merchant Tailors’ Hall. Whether Gray’s Inn was more or less inclined to play than the other Inns is not very material; but the following order, in the fourth of Charles, may be taken either way, “that all playing at dice, cards, or otherwise, in the hail, buttry, or butler’s chamber, should be thenceforth barred, and forbidden at all times of the year, the twenty days in Christmas only excepted.” The Inner Temple, not to be outdone in propriety, ordered, in 1632, that no play should be continued after twelve at night, not even on Christmas Eve.

New Year’s Gifts were given as in former reigns; even little Jeffery Hudson gave the queen in 1638, ‘The New Year’s Gift,’ written by Microphilus, meaning himself. The Duke of Buckingham, who was regardless of expense, appears to have given 20 to the celebrated Archie, the king’s jester; and 13 6s. 8d. to the king’s fool, meaning his other court fool, probably David Dromon. There is a story told of Archie, who having fooled many was fooled himself; and perhaps by this very nobleman. Archie went to him, or to the nobleman whoever he was, to bid him good morrow on New Year’s Day, and received twenty pieces of gold as his New Year’s Gift; but covetously desiring more, shook them in his hand, and said they were too light, The donor said, “I prithee, Archie, let me see them again, for there is one among them I would be loth to part with.” Archie unsuspectingly returned them, expecting them to be increased; but the nobleman put them in his pocket, with this remark, “I once gave money into a fool’s hand, who had not the wit to keep it.”19 The story of his having stolen a sheep, and hid it in a cradle, has been mentioned before, but is probably spurious.

This Archie, or Archibald Armstrong, may be considered as the last of the regular or official court fools; for Killigrew, in the succeeding reign, although a licensed wit, was of a higher class, both by birth and education; and Pepys’s account of his having a fee for cap and bells was apparently meant as a joke. The last play, in which the regular fool was introduced, was probably, ‘The Woman Captain,’ by Shadwell, 1680. Tarleton, in the preceding century, was a celebrated performer in these characters.

A strange appendage this officer or attendant was to royal and noble establishments; known even in oriental courts; and continued from the time of the Anglo-Saxons, or perhaps of the ancient Britons, to the time of which we are now writing. They often became such favourites as to gain great influence with their royal and noble masters, and frequently possessed more wit and discretion than the so-called or self-called sages, who endeavoured to make them their laughing stock, but whose attempts frequently flew back, like the boomarang, on their own heads. They differed of course much in merit, from the fellow of infinite jest to the mere practical joker, or the half-witted butt for the gibes of others. Will Somers was a recognised favourite of the capricious Henry the Eighth, and appears to have been a man of good conduct; two or three portraits of him may be still seen among the royal pictures at Hampton Court. It would be out of place to give any anecdotes of these characters here, or we might begin with Goles, the domestic fool of William the Conqueror, when Duke of Normandy, who saved his master’s life by giving timely notice of a conspiracy; then mentioning William Picolf, who held land from King John on performing fool’s service; Martinot of Gascoigne, fool to Edward the First; Robert le Foll, to Edward the Second; Ward, to Richard the Second, who, having some personal resemblance to that king, was induced after his death to personate him, for the purpose of an insurrection; Peche, in the time of Henry the Seventh; Sexton, Somers, and Williams, in the time of Henry the Eighth, the latter having been fool to Cardinal Wolsey, and when recommended by him to the king, after his disgrace, the faithful servant was obliged to be moved from his old master almost by force; Chester, who seems to have been somewhat of an impertinent disposition, in the time of Queen Elizabeth; with others that might be named, down to Archie Armstrong, Davie Dromon, George Stone, and Dicky Pearce; with a few words for Jane the female fool to Queen Mary; female fools, however, being rare. There were also celebrated professional fools in continental courts, as Moret, Bagot, Chichot, who was a man of courage, and accompanied his master to the wars; Triboulet, fool to Francis the First; and Mathurine, a female fool, who was with Henry the Fourth of France when he was stabbed by Jean Chastel, and was the means of the criminal being discovered.20

Will Somers’s notion of cramming himself with salt beef, when on a voyage, may be submitted to travellers for consideration. When he was crossing to Boulogne with his master, Henry, the weather was rough, and he was observed to eat salt beef greedily, and on the king asking him the reason why he preferred salt meat when there was plenty of fresh, he replied, “Don’t blame me for filling my stomach with salt meat, because, if we are cast away, I know what a quantity of water I shall have to drink after it.” These personages, however, did not always enjoy their privileges without drawbacks, and were liable to punishment, even to whipping. George Stone, in the time of James the First, had a sound flogging for saying, when the Earl of Nottingham went ambassador to Spain, that there went sixty fools into Spain, besides my lord admiral and his two sons. Archie Armstrong, as is well known, was sentenced to have his coat pulled over his head, discharged the king’s service, and banished the court, for abuse of Archbishop Laud, having given “great praise to God, but little laud to the devil.” It was not, however, of much consequence to him, for he was a careful man, and by this time—

“Archee, by kings and princes grac’d of late,
Jested himself into a fair estate.”

Notes from Sandys:

1.  Account of Revels, 204. Return

2. Pictorial History of England, iii, 88. Return

3. Nichols's Progresses, i, xl, n. Return

4. Account of Revels, xi. Return

5. Lansdowne MS. 92. Return

6. Doblado's Letters. Return

7. Introduction to Canto 6, Marmion. Return

8. Romeo and Juliet, i, 4. Return

9. Westward Ho, ii, 3. Return

10. Horace, lib. i, od. 9. Return

11. Michaelmas Term, ii, 3. Return

12. Promptorium Parvulorum, 238. Return

13. Johnes's Translation, vol. iii, c. 7. Return

14. Herrick's Works, ii. 124. Return

15. Witty Fair One, iv, 2. Return

16. Nichols's Illustrations of Manners and Expenses, 53. Return

17. Archologia, xviii, 335. Return

18. Curiosities of Literature, iii. 269. Return

19. Hone's Every Day Book, i. 9. (Banquet of Jests, 1634). Return

20. Petitt Mmoires, 47, 101. Return

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