The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

A Proclamation for adjourning of part of Michaelmas Terme

King Charles I., 9 September 1630

Background: England had been experiencing outbreaks of the Plague during the year, and King Charles I was concerned to keep the disease from spreading, especially to the densely packed cities of London and Westminster. Accordingly, on 9 September 1630, His "most Excellent Majestie" issued a lengthy proclamation designed to limit travel, and thereby limit the spread of disease. In particular, he ordered postponement of the business of the courts for the next term, the Michaelmas Terme. At that time, the beginning of the civil new year was the first of October, and as the nearest religious feast was St. Michael (Sept. 29), the term was called the Michaelmas Term. This practice continues through today in England, the beginning of the new college or university year, and the beginning of the new year of business for the U. S. Supreme Court.

In the hope that "by the defering and putting off the Business of the next Terme of St. Michaell," the King ordered that the next Term would be adjourned, and that His subjects were not to travel to London or Westminster but were, instead, required to remain at their homes or where their businesses were located until after Palm Sunday next Spring, "upon payne of his Majesties high Displeasure" and, in case that was not a sufficient deterrent, punishable as a Misdemeanor!

Preventing the further spread of the Plague also afforded King Charles the opportunity to reinforce an old Royal prohibition concerning celebration of the Christmas holidays. I'll quote the entire segment of the Proclamation on this issue (but will modernize the spelling for the sake of understanding).

And lastly, because his Majesty has observed that diverse Noblemen, Knights and other Persons of Quality, have been accustomed toward the Winter Season to give over their Housekeeping and Hospitality in the Country where they dwell, and to come up and live or sojourn at London or Westminster, or other Cities and Towns, a thing which has been usually forbidden, not only in the times of the late Queen Elizabeth and of his Majesty's Father of blessed memory [i.e., King James I.], but in the times of other his Royal Predecessors, and is of very evil consequence, the Winter time being a time when the Country has most need of their Residence, and keeping amongst their Neighbours, and attending the public Services and Occasions thereof, but above all other times is not to be permitted in times of Infection and Death; his Majesty's express Pleasure and Will is, and he doth hereby straightly charge and command, for the reasons and considerations aforesaid, that they continue at their usual Dwellings and Habitations in the Country for the Winter Season now coming, without removing themselves and their Families from the places of their abode to London or Westminster or other Cities or great Towns, saving such as are attending their Suites in Law, or by other just cause shall be occasioned thereunto, may come up to London or Westminster, leaving their Families in the Country, and to return again thither after their business dispatched, as well as to avoid their own danger, as to be a comfort and relief to such of their poor Neighbours as shall stand in need thereof; And if they have any place of Authority (as being Justices of Peace or other Officers) to take due care, as well for preventing the further spreading of the Plague, as to see that the Markets be well served with Corn and Provisions at reasonable rates and prices; All which his Majesty straightly chargeth and commandeth to be duly observed, by all such whom the same shall any way concern, upon pain of his Majesty's high displeasure, and of such further Punishment as by the Laws or his Majesty's Royal Prerogative may be inflicted upon them for, contemning or disobeying this his Majesty's Commandment at their Perils.

Source: Foedera, Conventiones, Literae Et Cujuscunque Generis Acta Publica, Inter Reges Angliae. (London: J. Tonson, 1732), pp. 192-194.

The King's father, James I., fought the same battle eight years earlier. William Chappell noted:

"The flocking of the nobility to London at Christmas, complained of in the ballad [Christmas Is My Name], was the occasion of a proclamation by James I., which is thus noticed in a letter from Mr. Chamberlain to Sir Dudley Carleton, bearing date Dec. 21, 1622: “Divers Lords and personages of quality have made means to be dispensed withall for going into the country this Christmas according to the proclamation; but it will not be granted, so that they pack away on all sides for fear of the worst.” (Nichols’s Progresses of James I.)"

The King's Proclamation required the Nobility to observe Christmas in their traditional homes in the country, and forbad them from observing the holiday in London. In part, this would also function to restore the traditional opening of the Lord's Manor to the commoners during the Christmas-tide for feasts, musical shows, games, and other festive pursuits.

I've been unable to locate the Proclamation by James I. See: Christmas Is My Name, with notes. Source: William Chappell, The Ballad Literature and Popular Music of the Olden Time. (London: Chappell & Co., 1859), Appendix, p. 783.

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