The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Old Shrove-tide Revels.

William Hone, The Every Day Book, 2 Vols. London: William Tegg, 1825, 1827.

Volume 1 - February 15

On Shrove Tuesday, according to an old author, “men ate and drank, and abandoned themselves to every kind of sportive foolery, as if resolved to have their fill of pleasure before they were to die.”

The preparing of bacon, meat, and the making of savoury black-puddings, for good cheer after the coming Lent, preceded the day itself, whereon, besides domestic feasting and revelry, with dice and card-playing, there was immensity or mumming. The records of Norwich testify, that in 1440, one John Gladman, who is there called “a man who was ever trewe and feythfull to God and to the kyng” and constantly disportive, made a public disport with his neighbours, crowned as king of christmas, on horse back, having his horse bedizened with tinsel and flauntery, and preceded by the twelve months of the year, each month habited as the season required; after him came Lent, clothed in white and her ring-skins, on a horse with trappings of oyster—shells, “in token that sadnesse shulde folowe, and an holy tyme;” and in this sort they rode through the city, accompanied by others in whimsical dresses, “makyng myrtli, disportes, and playes.” Among much curious observation on these Shrove-tide mummings, in the “Popish Kingdome” it is affirmed, that of all merry-makers,

The chiefest man is he, and one
    that most deserveth prayse
Among the rest, that can finde out
    the fondest kinde of playes.
On him they look, arid gaze upon,
    and laugh with lustie cheere,
Whom boys do follow, crying fools,
    and such like other geare.
He in the mean time thinkes himselfe
    a wondrous worthie man, &c.

It is further related, that some of the rout carried staves, or fought in armour; others, disguised as devils, chased all the people they came up with, and frightened the boys: men wore women’s clothe and women, dressed as men, entered the neighbours’ or friends’ houses; some were apparelled as monks, others arrays themselves as kings, attended by the guards and royal accompaniments; son’ disguised as old fools, pretended to sit on nests and hatch young fools; others wearing skins and dresses, became counterfeit bears and wolves, roaring lions, an raging bulls, or walked on high stilts, with wings at their backs, as cranes

Some like filthy forms of apes,
    and some like fools are drest,
Which best beseeme those papistes all,
    that thus keep Bacclais' feast

Others are represented as bearers of unsavoury morsel

        — that on
    a cushion soft they lay,
And one there is that, with a flap
    doth keepe the flies away

Some stuffed a doublet and hose with rags or straw—

Whom as a man that lately dyed
    of honest life and fame,
In blanket did they beare about,
    and streightways with the same

They hurl him up into the ayre,
    not suff’ring bins to fall,
And this they doe at divers tymes,
    the citie over all.

The Kentish “holly boy,” and “ivy girl” are erroneously supposed (at p. 226,) to have been carried about on St. Valentine's day. On turning to Brand, who also cites the circumstance, it appears they were carried the Tuesday before Shrove Tuesday, and most probably were the unrecognised remains of the drest mawkin of the “Popish Kingdome,” carried about with various devices to represent the “death of good living,” and which our catholic neighbours continue. The Morning Chronicle of March the 10th, 1791, represents the peasantry of France carrying it at that time into the villages, collecting money for the “funeral,” and, “after sundry absurd mummeries,” committing the body to the earth.

Editor's Note: Hone's original reference to "holly boy" and "ivy girl" is from Volume 1, February 14:

Sylvanus Urban, in 1779, was informed by Kitty Curious, that on St. Valentine's day in that year, at a little obscure village in Kent, she found an odd kind of sport. The girls from five or six to eighteen years old were assembled in a crowd, burning an uncouth effigy which they called a "holly boy," and which they had stolen from the boys; while in another part of the village the boys were burning what they called an "ivy girl," which they had stolen from the girls. The ceremony of each burning was accompanied by acclamations, huzzas, and other noise. Kitty inquired the meaning of this from the oldest people in the place, but she could learn no more than that it had always been a sport at that season.

I have also found a reference to a poem by Irish poet John Keegan titled "The Holly and Ivy Girl." The song is performed by a children's choir in the movie "Evelyn." See: Come Buy My Nice Fresh Ivy (John Keegan, 1809-1849).

See Mr. Brand's discussion: Holly-Boy And Ivy-Girl.

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