The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

A Christmas Mumming, 1377

From Harleian MS (B.M.) 247 fol. 172v.

Source: Chaucer's World, Compiled by Edith Rickert, Edited by Clair C. Olson and Martin M. Crow (New York: Columbia University Press, 1948), pp. 233-4.

At the same time the commons of London made great sport and solemnity to the Prince.1 For upon the Monday next before the Purification of Our Lady2, at night, and in the night, one hundred and thirty men were disguised and well mounted on horseback to go mumming to the said Prince, riding from Newgate through Cheapside, where many people could see them, with great noise of minstrelsy, trumpets, cornets,3 and shawms, and a great many wax torches lighted.

The first forty-eight rode like esquires, two and two together, in coats and cloaks of red say or sendal, and had their faces covered with vizards, well and handsomely made. After these esquires came forty-eight like knights, well arrayed in the same manner. After the knights came one excellently arrayed and well mounted, as though he were an emperor; after him some one hundred paces came one nobly arrayed as a pope; after him came twenty four arrayed like cardinals; and after the cardinals came eight or ten arrayed and with black masks like devils not at all amiable, seeming like legates.

All these rode through London and over London bridge to Kennington, where the young Prince lived with his mother. The Duke of Lancaster, the earls of Cambridge, Hertford, Warwick, and Suffolk, and many other lords were there with him to behold the solemnity.

When they reached the manor, they alighted and entered the hall. Soon afterward, the Prince with his mother and the other lords came out of the chambers into the hall, and the said mummers saluted them, showing a pair of dice upon a table to play with the Prince. These dice were subtly made so that when the Prince threw he would win. And the said players and mummers set before the Prince three jewels in succession: first a ball of gold, then a cup of gold, then a gold ring. The Prince won these at three casts, as had been previously arranged. Then they set before the Prince's mother, the Duke of Lancaster, and the other earls, a gold ring apiece, and the mother and the lords won them. After this the Prince had wine brought, and they drank with great joy, commanding the minstrels to play. The trumpets began to sound and other instruments to pipe, etc., and the Prince and the lords danced on the one side and the mummers on the other a long time. Then they drank and took their leave, and so departed toward London.

Notes:

1. Richard, who became king later that year. Return

2. The Feast of Purification (Candlemas) was celebrated on February 2. It was not uncommon for the festivities of the Christmas season to be extended to this date. Cf. John Brand, Observations on the Popular Antiquities Of Great Britain, London, George Bell and Sons, Vol. I; Stow, Survey of London, I, 96-97.  Return

3. The medieval cornet was an entirely different instrument from that which today bears the name, for it was short and either straight or slightly curved, and had several holes bored into one side to make possible the sounding of more tones that the simple tube could produce. Return

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