The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

St. Nicholas' Clerks

Source: Brand's Popular Antiquities Of Great Britain

W. Carew Hazlitt, Faith and Folklore: A Dictionary of National Beliefs, Superstitions and Popular Customs, Past and Current, With Their Classical and Foreign Analogues, Described and Illustrated.

Forming A New Edition of "The Popular Antiquities of Great Britain" By Brand and Ellis, Largely Extended, Corrected, Brought Down To The Present Time, and Now First Alphabetically Arranged.

In Two Volumes

London: Reeves and Turner, 1905.

Vol. 2, pp. 436-37

The bad repute of the processions of youths, headed by the Episcopus Puerorum on Holy Innocentsí Day and during Childermass, is supposed to have gained for them this bye-name, and it was eventually extended to depredators in general. In Baleís "Yet a course at the Romyshe Foxe," 1542, signat. D 4, the author enumerates some "auncyent rytes and lawdable ceremonyes of holy Churche," then, it should seem, laid aside, with the following censure on the Bishop: "than ought my lorde also to suffre the same selfe ponnyshment, for not goynge abought with Saynt Nycolas clarkes," &c. Which passage appears to lend some countenance to the theory that the expression in italics originally signified nothing more than those who conducted the Service, but when Bale wrote, the festival of the Boy-Bishop had grown sufficiently scandalons to be made the subject of a prohibitory statute (33 Henry VIII.).

In the first part of "Henry IV." act ii. scene 1, highwaymen are called St. Nicholasís Clerks. In a tract which appeared in 1652, it is said of the Knights of the Blade, that they were "commonly called Hectors, or St. Nicholasí Clerkes." They were also called St. Nicholasí Knights. In "Plaine Percevall, the Peace-Maker of England," we read, p. 1: "He was a tender-harted fellow, though his luck were but hard, which hasting to take up a quarrell by the highway side, between a brace of St. Nicholas clargiemen, was so curteously imbraced on both parties, that he tendered his purse for their truce."

See Boy Bishop.

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