The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

January 6 - Epiphany

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

Volume 1

Epiphany. Close holiday at all public offices except Stamp, Customs, and Excise.

St. Melanius. St. Peter. St. Nilam mon.

St. Peter was a disciple of Gregory the Great, the first abbot of St. Augustine's monastery at Canterbury, and drowned in 608 while proceeding on a voyage to France. According to Cressy, the inhabitants buried his body without knowing any thing about him, till “a heavenly light appeared every night over his sepulture,” when they held an inquest, a count Fumert buried him in the church of Boulogne. From a quotation in Patrick, it appears that a weasel who gnawed his robe was found dead upon it for his sauciness.


The Rev Thomas Dudley Fosbroke, M. A. F. A. S., &c. whose “Encyclopaedia of Antiquities” has already cited from, is the author of “British Monachism, or, Manners and Customs of the Monks and Nuns of England,” 4to. 1817; a most erudite work, wherein he gives an account, from Du Cange, of the Feast of the Star, or Office of the Three Kings, a catholic service performed on this day. “Three priests, clothed as kings, with their servants carrying offerings, met from different directions of the church before the altar. The middle one, who came from the east, pointed with his staff to a star: a dialogue then ensured; and after kissing each other, they began to sing, 'Let us go and inquire;' after which the precentor began a responsory, 'Let the Magi come.' A procession then commenced, and as soon as it began to enter the nave, a crown like a star, hanging before the cross, was lighted up, and pointed out to the Magi, with 'Behold the star in the east.' This being concluded, two priests, standing at each side of the altar, answered, meekly, 'We are those whom you seek,' and drawing a curtain showed them a child, whom, falling down, they worshipped. Then the servants made the offering of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, which were divided among the priests. The Magi in the mean while continued praying till they dropped asleep; when a boy clothed in an alb, like an angel, addressed them with, 'All things which the prophets said are fulfilled.' The festival concluded with changing services, &c.”

Mr. Fosbroke adds, that at Soissons a rope was let down from the roof of the church, to which was annexed an iron circle, having seven tapers, intended to represent Lucifer, or the morning star.

The three persons honoured by this service, and called kings, were the three wise men who, in catholic works, are usually denominated the Three Kings of Cologne. Cressy tells us, that the empress Helena, who died about the year 328, brought their bodies from the east to Constantinople; from whence they were transferred to Milan, and afterwards, in 1164, on Milan being taken by the emperor Frederick, presented by him to the archbishop of Cologne, who put them in this principal church of that city, “in which place,” says Cressy, “they are to this day celebrated with great veneration.” Patrick quotes a prayer to them from the Romish service, beginning “O, king Jaspar, king Nelchior, king Balthasar;” and he says that the Salisbury Missal states their offerings to have been disposed in this day: -- “Joseph kept of the gold as much as him needed, to pay his tribute to the emperor, and also to keep our lady with while she lay in childbed, and the rest he gave to the poor. The incense he burnt to take off the stable there as she lay in; and with the myrrh, our lady anointed her child, to keep him from worms and disease.” Patrick makes several observations on the service to these three kings of Cologne, and as to the credibility of their story; and he inquires what good this prayer will do to Jaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar, when another tradition says their names were Apellius, Amerus, and Damascus; a third, that they were Magalath, Galgalath, and Sarasin; and a fourth, Ator, Sator, and Peratoras? Which last, Patrick says, he should choose in this uncertainty to call them by, as having the more kingly sound, if it has not been that Casaubon represents these three, “together with Misael, Achael, Cyriacus, and Stephanus, (the names of the four shepherds that came to visit our Lord in Bethlehem,) had been used (and he tells how) for a charm to cure the biting of serpents and other venomous beasts.” Patrick gives other prayers to these three kings, one of them from the “Hours of the Virgin,” and also quotes this miraculous anecdote; that one John Aprilius, when he was hanged, implored the patronage of the three kings of Cologne; the consequence of which seems to have been, that after he had been hung three days and was cut down, he was found alive; whereupon he came to Cologne half naked, with his halter about his neck, and returned thanks to his deliverers.


Such are the scenes, that, at the front and side
Of the Twelfth-cake-shops, scatter wild dismay;
As up the slipp'ry curb, or pavement wide,
We seek the pastrycooks, to keep Twelfth-day;
While ladies stand aghast, in speechless trance,
Look round – dare not go back – and yet dare not advance.

In London, with every pastrycook in the city, and at the west end of the town, it is “high change” on Twelfth-day. From the taking down of the shutters in the morning, he, and his men, with additional assistants, male and female, are fully occupied by attending to the dressing out of the window, executing orders of the day before, receiving fresh ones, or supplying the wants of chance customers. Before dusk the important arrangement of the window is completed. Then the gas is turned on, with supernumerary argand-lamps and manifold wax-lights, to illuminate countless cakes of all prices and dimensions, that stand in rows and piles on the counters and sideboards, and in the windows. The richest in flavour and heaviest in weight and price are placed on large and massy salvers; one, enormously superior to the rest in size, is the chief object of curiosity; and all are decorated with all imaginable images of things animate and inanimate. Stars, castles, kings, cottages, dragons, trees, fish, palaces, cats, dogs, churches, lions, milk-maids, knights, serpents, and innumerable other forms in snow-white confectionary, painted with variegated colours, glitter by “excess of light” from mirrors against the walls festooned with artificial “wonders of Flora.” This “paradise of dainty devices,” is crowded by successive and successful desirers of the seasonable delicacies, while alternate tapping of hammers and peals of laughters, from the throng surrounding the house, excite smiles from the inmates.

The cause of these sounds may be inferred from something like this passing outside.

Constable. Make way, make way! Clear the way! You boys stand aside!

Countryman. What is all this; Is any body ill in the shop?

1st Boy. Nobody, sir; it's only Twelfth day!

2nd Boy. This is a pastrycook's, sir; look at the window! There they stand! What cakes!

3d Boy. What pretty ones these are!

4th Boy. Only see that!

5th Boy. Why it's as large as the hindwheel of a coach, and how thick!

6th Boy. Ah! It's too big to come out at the door, unless they roll it out.

7th Boy. What elegant figures, and what lots of sweetmeats!

8th Boy. See the flowers; they look almost like real ones.

Countryman. What a crowd inside!

9th Boy. How the people of the house are packing up all the good things!

Countryman. What a beautiful lady that is behind the counter!

10th Boy. Which?

Countryman. Why the young one!

10th Boy. What her? Oh, she's the pastrycook's daughter, and the other's her mother.

Countryman. No, no; not her; I mean her, there.

10th Boy. Oh, her; she's the shopwoman; all the pastrycooks always try to get handsome ladies to serve in the shop!

11th Boy. I say, I say! Halloo! Here's a piece of work! Look at this gentlemen – next to me – his coat-tail's nailed to the window! Look, look!

Countryman. Aye, what?

All the boys. Ah! Ah! Ah! Huzza.

Countryman. Who nailed my coat-tail? Constable!

12th Boy. That's the boy that's got the hammer!

2nd Boy. What me? Why that's the boy – there; and there's another boy hammering! And there's a man with a hammer!

1st Boy. Who pinned that woman to the gentleman? Why there's a dozen pinned together.

Countryman. Constable! Constable!

2nd Boy. Here comes the constable. Hark at him!

Const. Clear away from the doors! Let the customers go in! Make way! Let the cakes come out! Go back, boy!

13th Boy. If you please, Mr. Constable, I'm going to buy a cake!

Const. Go forward, then!

Man with cakes. By your leave! By your leave.

Const. Clear the way!

All the Boys. Huzza! Huzza! More people pinned – and plenty nailed up!


To explain, to those who may be ignorant of the practice. On Twelfth-night in London, boys assemble round the inviting shops of the pastry cooks, and dexterously nail the coat-tails of spectators, who venture near enough, to the bottoms of the window frames; or pin them together strongly by their clothes. Sometimes eight or ten persons find themselves thus connected. The dexterity and force of the nail driving is so quick and sure, that a single blow seldom fails of doing the business effectually. Withdrawal of the nail without a proper instrument is out of the question; and, consequently, the person nailed must either leave part of his coat, as a cognizance of his attachment, or quit the spot with a hole in it. At every nailing and pinning shouts of laughter arise from the perpetrators and the spectators. Yet it often happens to one who turns and smiles at the duress of another, that he also finds himself nailed. Efforts at extraction increase mirth, nor is the presence of a constable, who is usually employed to attend and preserve free “ingress, egress, and regress,” sufficiently awful to deter the offenders.

Scarcely a shop in London that offers a halfpenny plain bun to the purchase of a hungry boy, is without Twelfth-cakes and finery in the windows on Twelfth-day. The gingerbread-bakers – there are not many, compared with their number when the writer was a consumer of their manufactured goods, — even the reduced gingerbread-bakers periwig a few plum-buns with sugar-frost to-day, and coaxingly interpolate them along their new made sixes, bath-cakes, parliament, and ladies' fingers. Their staple-ware has leaves of untarnished dutch-gilt stuck on; their upright cylinder-shaped show-glasses, containing peppermint-drops, elecampane, sugar-sticks, hard-bake, brandy-balls, and bulls'-eyes, are carefully polished; their lolly-pops are fresh encased, and look as white as the stems of tobacco-pipes; and their candlesticks are ornamented with fillets and bosses of writing paper; or, if the candles rise from the bottom of inverted glass cones, they shine more sparkling for the thorough cleaning of their receivers in the morning.

How to eat Twelfth-cake requires no recipe; but how to provide it, and draw the characters, on the authority of Rachel Revel's “Winter Evening Pastimes,” may be acceptable. First, buy your cake. Then, before your visitors arrive, buy your characters, each of which should have a pleasant verse beneal. Next look at your invitation list, and count the number of ladies you expect; and afterwards the number of gentlemen. Then, take as many female characters as you invited ladies; fold them up, exactly of the same size, and number each on the back; taking care to make the king No. 1 and the queen No. 2. Then prepare and number the gentlemen's characters. Cause tea and coffee to be handed to your visitors as they drop in. When all are assembled and tea over, put as many lady characters in a reticule as there are ladies present; next put the gentlemen's characters in a hat. Then call on a gentleman to carry the reticule to the ladies as they sit, from which each lady is to draw one ticket, and to preserve it unopened. Select a lady to bear the hat to the gentlemen for the same purpose. There will be one ticket left in the reticule, and another in the hat, which the lady and gentlemen who carried each is to interchange as having fallen to each. Next, arrange your visitors according to their numbers; the king No. 1, the queen No. 2, and so on. The king is then to recite the verse on his ticket; and the queen the verse on hers; and so the characters are to proceed in numerical orders. This done, let the cake and refreshments go round, and hey! For merriment!

They come! They come! Each blue-eyed sport,
The Twelfth-night king and all his court –
'Tis Mirth fresh crown'd with mistletow!
Music with her merry fiddles,
Joy “on light fantastic toe,”
Wit with all his jests and riddles,
Singing and dancing as they go.
And Love, young Love, among the rest,
A welcome – nor unbidden guest.

Twelfth-day is now only commemorated by the custom of choosing king and queen. “I went,” says a correspondent in the Universal Magazine for 1774, “to a friend's house in the country to partake of some of those innocent pleasures that constitute a merry Christmas. I did not return till I had been present at drawing king and queen, and eaten a slice of the Twelfth-cake, made by the fair hands of my good friend's consort. After tea yesterday, a noble cake was produced, and two bowls, containing the fortunate chances for the different sexes. Our host filled up the tickets; the whole company, except the king and queen, were to be ministers of state, maids of honour, or ladies of the bed-chamber. Our kind host and hostess, whether by design or accident, became king and queen. According to Twelfth-day law, each party is to support their character till midnight.” The maintenance of character is essential to the drawing. Within the personal observation of the writer of these sheets, character has never been preserved. It must be admitted, however, that the Twelfth-night characters sold by the pastry cooks, are either commonplace or gross – when genteel they are inane; when humorous, they are vulgar.

Young folks anticipate Twelfth-night as a full source of innocent glee to their light little hearts. Where, and what is he who would negative hopes of happiness for a few short hours in the day-spring of life? A gentle spirit in the London Magazine beautifully sketches a scene of juvenile enjoyment this evening: “I love to see an acre of cake spread out – the sweet frost covering the rich earth below – studded all over with glittering flowers, like ice-plants, and red and green knots of sweetmeat, and hollow yellow crusted crowns, and kings and queens, and their paraphernalia. I delight to see a score of happy children sitting huddled all round the dainty fare, eyeing the cake and each other, with faces sunny enough to thaw the white snow. I like to see the gazing silence which is kept so religiously while the large knife goes its round, and the glistening eyes which feed beforehand on the huge slices, dark with citron and plums, and heavy as gold. And then, when the “Characters” are drawn, it is nothing to watch the peeping delight which escapes from their little eyes? One is proud, as king; another stately, as queen; then there are two whispering grotesque secrets which they cannot contain (those are sir Gregory Goose and sir Tunbell Clumsy.) The boys laugh out at their own misfortunes; but the little girls (almost ashamed of their prizes) sit blushing and silent. It is not until the lady of the house goes round, that some of the more extravagant fictions are revealed. And then, what a roar of mirth! Ha, ha! The ceiling shakes, and the air is torn. They bound from their seats like kids, and insist on seing [sic] Miss Thompson's card. Ah! What merry spite is proclaimed – what ostentatious pity! The little girl is almost in tears; but the large lump of allotted cake is placed seasonably in her hands, and the glass of sweet wine 'all round' drowns the shrill urchin laughter, and a gentler delight prevails.” Does not this make a charming picture.


There is some difficulty in collecting accounts of the manner wherein Twelfth-night is celebrated in the country. In “Time's Telescope,” an useful and entertaining annual volume, there is a short reference to the usage in Cumberland, and other northern parts of England. It seems that on Twelfth-night, which finishes their Christmas holidays, the rustics meet in a large room. They begin dancing at seven o'clock, and finish at twelve, when they sit down to lobscouse, and ponsondie; the former is made of beef, potatoes, and onions fried together; and in ponsondie we recognize the wassail or waes-hael of ale, boiled with sugar and nutmeg, into which are put roasted apples, — the anciently admired lambs'-wool. The feast is paid for by subscription: two women are chosen, who with two wooden bowls placed one within the other, so as to leave an opening and a space between them, go round to the female part of the society in succession, and what one puts into the uppermost bowl the attendant collectress slips into the bowl benealth it. Allare expected to contribute something, but not more than a shilling, and they are best esteemed who give most. The men choose two from themselves, and follow the same custom, except that as the gentlemen are not supposted to be altogether so fair in their dealings as the ladies, one of the collectors is furnished with pen, ink, and paper, to set down the subscriptions as soon as received.

If a satirical prophecy in “Vox Graculi,” 4to. 1623, may be relied on as authority, it bears testimony to the popularity of Twelfth-night at that period. On the 6th of January the author declares, that “this day, about the houres of 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10, yea, in some places till midnight well nigh, will be such a massacre of spice-bread, that, ere the next day at noon, a two-penny browne loafe will set twenty poore folks teeth on edge. Which hungry humour will hold so violent, that a number of good fellowes will not refuse to give a statute-marchant of all the lands and goods they enjoy, for half-a-crown's worth of two-penny pasties.” He further affirms, that there will be “on this night much masking in the Strand, Cheapside, Holbourne, or Fleet-street.”

The twelve days of Christmas,” as the extent of its holidays, were proverbial; but among labourers, in some parts, the Christmas festivities did not end till Candlemas. Old Tusser, in his “Five Hundred Points of good Husbandry,” would have the merriments end in six days; he begins January with this advice to the countryman:

When Christmas is ended,
bid feasting adue,
Goe play the good husband,
thy stock to renue:
Be mindful of rearing,
in hope of a gaine,
Dame Profit shall give thee
reward for thy paine.

This was the recommendation of prudence tempered by kindness; a desire for diligence in the husbandman, with an allowance of reasonable pastime to sweeten his labour.

From Naogeorgus, in “The Popish Kingdome,” a poem before quoted, and which will be frequently referred to for its lore regarding our ancient customs, it is to be gathered, that the king of Twelfth-night, after the manner of royalty, appointed his officers. He himself attained his dignity thus:

Then also every householder,
to his abilitie,
Doth make a mightie cake, that may
suffice his companie:
Herein a pennie doth he put,
before it come to fire,
This he divides according as
his householde doth require,
And every peece distributeth,
as round about they stand,
Which in their names unto the poore
is given out of hand.
But who chaunceth on the peece
wherein the money lies,
Is counted king amongst them all
and is with showtes and cries
Exalted to the heavens up.

Mr. Fosbroke notices, that “the cake was full of plums, with a bean in it for the king, and a pea for the queen, so as to determine them by the slices. Sometimes a penny was put in the cake, and the person who obtained it, becoming king, crossed all the beams and rafters of the house against devils. A chafing-disk with burning frankincense was also lit, and the odour snuffed up by the whole family, to keep off disease for the year. After this, the master and mistress went round the house with a pan, a taper, and a loaf, against witchcraft.”

So far Mr. Fosbroke abridges Naogeorgus's account, which goes on to say, that

—— in these days beside,
They judge what weather all the yeare
Shall happen and betide.
Ascribing to each day a month,
and at this present time,
The young in every place doe flocke,
and all apparel's fine,
With pypars through the streets they runne,
and singe at every dore.
* * * * *
There cities are, where boyes and gyrles,
together still do run,
About the streete with like, as soone
as night beginnes to come,
And bring abrode their wassel bowles,
who well rewarded bee,
With cakes and cheese, and great good cheare,
and money plenteousiee.

Queen Elizabeth's Progresses by Mr. Nichols, contain an entertainment to her at Sudley, wherein were Melibæus, the king of the Bean, and Nisa, the queen of the Pea.

Mel. Cut the cake: who hath the beane, shall be King; and where the peaze is, she shall be Queene.

Nis. I have the peaze, and must be the Queene.

Mel. I have the beane, and King; I must commande.”

Pinkerton's “Ancient Scotish Poems,” contain a letter from sir Thomas Randolph, queen Elizabeth's chamberlain of the Exchequer, to Dudley lord Leicester, dated from Edinburgh on the 15th January, 1563, wherein he mentions, that Lady Flemyng was “Queen of the Beane” on Twelfth-day in that year: and in Ben Jonson's Masque of Christmas, Baby-cake, one of the characters, is attended by “an Usher, bearing a greak cake with a bean, and a pease.” Herrick, the poet of our festivals, has several allustions to the celebration of this day by our ancestors: the poem here subjoined, recognises its customs with strict adherence to truth, and in pleasant strains of joyousness.

Twelfe-Night, or King and Queene.

Now, now the mirth comes
With the cake full of plums,
Where beane's theking of the sport
Beside, we must know,
The pea also
Must revell, as queene in the court here.

Begin then to chuse,
This night as ye use,
Who shall for the present delight here,
Be a king by the lot,
And who shall not
Be Twelfe-day queene for the night here.

Which knowne, let us make
Joy-sops with the cake;
And let now a man then be seen here,
Who unurg'd will not drinke,
To the base from the brink,
A health to the king and the queene here.

Next crowne the bowle ful.
With gentle lambs-wooll;
Adde sugar, nutmet, and ginger.
With store of ale, too;
And thus ye must doe
To make the wassaile a swinger.

Give them to the king
And queene wassailing;
And though with ale ye be whet here;
Yet part ye from hence,
As free from offense,
As when ye innocent met here.

A citation by Brand represents the ancient Twelfth-night-cake to have been composed of flour, honey, ginger, and pepper. The maker thrust in, at random, a small coin as she was kneeding it. When baked, there was divided into as many parts as there were persons in the family, and each had his share. Portions of it were also assigned to Christ, the Virgin, and the three Magi, and were given in alms.


On Twelfth-day the people of Germany and the students of its academies chose a king with great ceremony and sumptuous feastings.

In France, the Twelfth-cake is plain, with a bean; the drawer of the slice containing the bean is king or queen. All drink to her or his majesty, who reigns, and receives homage from all, during the evening. There is no other drawing, and consequently the sovereign is the only distinguished character. In Normandy they place a child under the table, which is so covered with a cloth that he cannot see; and when the cake is divided, one of the company taking up the first piece, cries out, 'Fabe Domini pour qui?” The child answers, “Pour le bon Dieu:” and in this manner the pieces are allotted to the company. If the bean be found in the piece for the “bon Dieu,” the king is chosen by drawing long or short straws. Whoever gets the bean chooses the king or queen, according as it happens to be a man or woman. According to Brand, under the old order of things, the Epiphany was kept as the French court by one of the courtiers being chosen king, and the other nobles attended an entertainment on the occasion; but, in 1792, during the revolution, La Fête de Rois was abolished; Twelfth-day was ordered to be called La Fête de Sans-Culottes; the old feast was declared anti-civic; and any priest keeping it was deemed a royalist. The Literary Pocket Book affirms, that at La Fête de Rois the French monarch and his nobles waited on the Twelfth-night king, and that the custom was not revived on the return of the Bourbons, but that instead of it the royal family washed the feet of some people and gave them alms.


There is a difference of opinion as to the origin of Twelfth-day. Brand says, “that though its customs vary in different countries, yet they concur in the same end, that is, to do honour to the Eastern Magi.” He afterwards observes, “that the practice of choosing 'king,' on Twelfth-day, is similar to a custom that existed among the ancient Greeks and Romans, who, on the festival days of Saturn, about this season of the year, drew lots for kingdoms and like kings exercised their temporary authority.” Indeed, it appears, that the question is almost at rest. Mr. Fosbroke affirms that “the king of Saturnalia was elected by beans, and that from thence came our king and queen on this day.” The coincidence of the election by beans having been common to both customs, leave scarcely the possibility of doubt that ours is a continuation of the heathen practice under another name. Yet “some of the observances on this day are the remains of Drudical, and other superstitious ceremonies.” On these points, if Mr. Fosbroke's Dictionary of Antiquities be consulted by the curious inquirer, he will there find the authorities, and be in other respects gratified.


The Epiphany is called Twelfth-day, because it falls on the twelfth day after Christmas-day. Epiphany signifies manifestation, and is applied to this day because it is the day whereon Christ was manifested to the Gentiles. Bourne in his Vulgar Antiquities, which is the substructure of Brand's Popular Antiquities, remarks that this is the greatest of the twelve holidays, and is therefore most jovially observed, by the visiting of friends and Christmas gambols, than any other.

Finally, on observances of this festival not connected with the Twelfth-night king and queen. It is a custom in many parishes in Gloucestershire on this day to light up twelve small fires and one large one; this is mentioned by Brand: and M. Fosbroke relates, that in some countries twelve fires of straw are made in the fields “to burn the old witch,” and that the people sing, drink, and dance around it, and practise other ceremonies in continuance. He takes “the old witch” to be the Druidical God of Death. It is stated by sir Henry Piers, in genl. Vallancey's “Collectanea,” that, at Westmeath, “on Twelve-eve in Christmas, they use to set up as high as they can a sieve of oats, and in it a dozen of candles set round, and in the centre one larger, all lighted; this in memory of our saviour and his apostles, lights of the world.” Sir Henry's inference may reasonably be doubted; the customs is probably of higher antiquity than he seems to have suspected.

A very singular merriment in the Isle of Man is mentioned by Waldron, in his history of that place. He says, that “during the whole twelve days of Christmas, thee is not a barn unoccupied, and that every parish hires fiddlers at the public charge. On Twelfth-day, the fiddler lays his head in some one of the girls' laps, and a third person asks, who such a maid, or such a maid shall marry, naming the girls then present one after another; to which he answers according to his own whim, or agreeable to the intimacies he has taken notice of during this time of merriment. But whatever he says is as absolutely depended on as an oracle; and if he happens to couple two people who have an aversion to each other, tears and vexation succeed the mirth. This they call cutting off the fiddler's head; for, after this, he is dead for the whole year.”

It appears from the Gentleman's Magazine, that on Twelfth-day 1731, the king and the prince at the chapel royal, St. James's, made their offerings at the altar, of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, according to custom, and that at night their majesties, &c. played at hazard for the benefit of the groom-porter. These offerings which clearly originate from the Roman church, and are not analogous to any ceremony of the church of England, continue to be annually made; with this difference, however, that the king is represented by proxy in the person of some distinguished officer of the household. In other respects the proceedings are conducted with the usual state.


The holly with its red berries, and the “fond ivy,” still stick about our houses to maintain the recollection of the seasonable festivities. Let us hope that we may congratulate each other on having, while we kept them, kept ourselves within compass. Merriment without discretion is an abuse for which nature is sure to punish us. She may suffer our violence for a while in silence; but she is certain to resume her rights at the expense of our health, and put us to heavy charges to maintain existence.


Volume 2.


The bean found out, and monarch crown'd,
He dubs a fool, and sends him round,
To raise the frolic when it’s low —
Himself commands the wine to flow.
Each watches for the king to quaff,
When, all at once, up springs the laugh;
They cry “The king drinks!“ and away
They shout a long and loud huzza!
And when it’s ended comes the dance,
And—thus is Twelfth-night spent in France.

January 6.

Epiphany. — Old Christmas-day.

Holiday at the Public-offices.


It is only in certain rural parts of France that the merriments represented above still prevail. The engraving is from an old print, “I. Marriette ex.” inscribed as in the next column.


Les Divertissements du Roi-boit.

Loin dicy mille soins facheux,
Qua porte avec soy la coronne;
Celle quá table Bacchus donne
Na fit jamais de malheureux.”

This print may be regarded a faithful picture of the almost obsolete usage.

During the holidays, and especially on Twelfth-night, school-boys dismiss “the cares and the fears” of academic rule; or they are regarded but as a passing cloud, intercepting only for an instant the sunshine of joy wherewith their sports are brightened. Gerund-grinding and parsing are usually prepared for at the last moment, until when “the master’s chair” is only “remembered to be forgotten.” There is entire suspension of the authority of that class, by whom the name of “Busby” is venerated, till “Black Monday” arrives, and chaises and stages convey the young Christmas-keepers to the “seat of government.”


Hm! sui generis, alone,
Busby! the great substantive noun!
Whose look was lightning, and whose word
Was thunder to the boys who heard,
Is, as regards Ins long vocation,

Pictured by this his great location.
Look on it well, boys, and digest
The symbols! — learn — and shun the rest.

The name of Busby! — not the musical doctor, but late magisterial doctor of Westminster school — celebrated for severe discipline, is a “word of fear” to all living who know his fame! It is perpetuated by an engraved representation of his chair, said to have been designed by sir Peter Lily, and presented by that artist to king Charles II. The arms, and each arm, are appalling; and the import of the other devices are, or ought to be, known by every tyro. Every prudent person lays in stores before they are wanted, and Dr. Busby’s chair may as well be “in the house” on Twelfth-day as on any other; not as a mirth-spoiler, but as a subject which we know to-day that we have “by us,” whereon to inquire and discuss at a more convenient season. Dr. Busby was a severe, but not an ill-natured man. It is related of him and one of his scholars, that during the doctor’s absence from his study, the boy found some plums in it, and being moved by lickerishness, began to eat some; first, however, he waggishly cried out, “I publish the banns of matrimony between my mouth and these plums; if any here present know just cause or impediment why they should not be united, you are to declare it, or hereafter hold your peace;” and then he ate. But the doctor had overheard the proclamation, and said nothing till the next morning, when causing the boy to be “brought up,” and disposed for punishment, he grasped the well-known instrument, and said, “I publish the banns of matrimony between this rod and this boy: if any of you know just cause or impediment why they should not be united, you are to declare it.”— The boy himself called out, “I forbid the banns!” “For what cause?“ inquired the doctor. “Because,” said the boy, “the parties are not agreed!” The doctor enjoyed the validity of the objection urged by the boy’s wit, and the ceremony was not performed. This is an instance of Dr. Busby’s admiration of talent: and let us hope, in behalf of its seasonableness here, that it was at Christmas time.


The King drinks.

We recur once more to this subject for the sake of remarking that there is an account of a certain curate, “who having taken his preparations over evening, when all men cry (as the manner is) The king drinketh, chanting his masse the next morning, fell asleep in his memento; and when he awoke, added, with a loud voice, The king drinketh.” This mal-apropos exclamation must have proceeded from a foreign ecclesiastic: we have no account of the ceremony to which it refers having prevailed in merry England.


An excellent pen-and-ink picture of “Merry England1 represents honest old Froissart, the French chronicler, as saying of some English in his time, that “they amused themselves sadly after the fashion of their country;“ whereon the portrayer of Merry England observes, “They have indeed a way of their own. Their mirth is a relaxation from gravity, a challenge to ‘Dull Care’ to ‘be gone;’ and one is not always clear at first, whether the appeal is successful. The cloud may still hang on the brow; the ice may not thaw at once. To help them out in their new character is an act of charity. Any thing short of banging or drowning is something to begin with. They do not enter into amusements the less doggedly because they may plague others. They like a thing the better for hitting them a rap on the knuckles, for making their blood tingle. They do not dance or sing, but they make good cheer — 'eat, drink, and are merry.’ No people are fonder of field-sports, Christmas gambols, or practical jests. Blindman’s-buff, hunt-the-slipper, hot-cockles, and snapdragon, are all approved English games, full of laughable surprises and ‘hairbreadth ‘scapes,’ and serve to amuse the winter fireside after the roast beef and plum-pudding, the spiced ale and roasted crab, thrown (hissing-hot) into the foaming tankard. Punch (not the liquor, but the puppet) is not, I fear, of English origin; but there is no place, I take it, where he finds himself more at home or meets a more joyous welcome, where he collects greater crowds at the corners of streets, where he opens the eyes or distends the cheeks wider, or where the bangs and blows, the uncouth gestures, ridiculous anger and screaming voice of the chief performer excite more boundless merriment or louder bursts of laughter among all ranks and sorts of people. An English theatre is the very throne of pantomime ; nor do I believe that the gallery and boxes of Drury-lane or Covent-garden filled on the proper occasions with holiday folks (big or little) yield the palm for undisguised, tumultuous, inextinguishable laughter to any spot in Europe. I do not speak of the refinement of the mirth (this is no fastidious speculation) but of its cordiality, on the return of these long-looked-for and licensed periods; and I may add here, by way of illustration, that the English common people are a sort of grown children, spoiled and sulky, perhaps, but full of glee and merriment, when their attention is drawn off by some sudden and striking object.

The comfort, on which the English lay so much stress, arises from the same source as their mirth. Both exist by contrast and a sort of contradiction. The English are certainly the most uncomfortable of all people in themselves, and therefore it is that they stand in need of every kind of comfort and accommodation. The least thing puts them out of their way, and therefore every thing must be in its place. They are mightily offended at disagreeable tastes and smells, and therefore they exact the utmost neatness and nicety. They are sensible of heat and cold, and therefore they cannot exist, unless every thing is snug and warm, or else open and airy, where they are. They must have ‘all appliances and means to boot.’ They are afraid of interruption and intrusion, and therefore they shut themselves up in in-door enjoyments and by their own firesides. It is not that they require luxuries (for that implies a high degree of epicurean indulgence and gratification,) but they cannot do without their comforts; that is, whatever tends to supply their physical wants, and ward off physical pain and annoyance. As they have not a fund of animal spirits and enjoyments in themselves, they cling to external objects for support, and derive solid satisfaction from the ideas of order, cleanliness, plenty, property, and domestic quiet, as they seek for diversion from odd accidents and grotesque surprises, and have the highest possible relish not of voluptuous softness, but of hard knocks and dry blows, as one means of ascertaining their personal identity.”


Twelfth-day, in the times of chivalry, was observed at the court of England by grand entertainments and tournaments. The justings were continued till a period little favourable to such sports.

In the reign of James I., when his son prince Henry was in the 16th year of his age, and therefore arrived to the period for claiming the principality of Wales and the duchy of Cornwall, it was granted to him by the king and the high court of parliament, and the 4th of June following appointed for his investiture “the Christmas before which,” sir Charles Cornwallis says, “his highnesse, not onely for his owne recreation, but also that the world might know what a brave prince they were likely to enjoy, under the name of Meliades, lord of the isles, (an ancient title due to the first-borne of Scotland,) did, in his name, by some appointed for the same purpose, strangely attired, accompanied with drummes and trumpets, in the presence, before the king and queene, and in the presence of the whole court, deliver a challenge to all knights of Great Britaine.” The challenge was to this effect, “That Meliades, their noble master, burning with an earnest desire to trie the valour of his young yeares in foraigne countryes, and to know where vertue triumphed most, had sent them abroad to espy the same, who, after their long travailes in all countreyes, and returne,” had nowhere discovered it, “save in the fortunate isle of Great Britaine which ministring matter of exceeding joy to their young Meliades, who as they said) could lineally derive his pedegree from the famous knights of this isle, was the cause that he had now sent to present the first fruits of his chivalrie at his majesties’ feete; then after returning with a short speech to her majestie, next to the earles, lords, and knights, excusing their lord in this their so sudden and sho[?], warning, and lastly, to the ladies; they, after humble delivery of their chartle concerning time, place, conditions, number of weapons and assailants, tooke their leave, departing solemnly as they entered.”

Then preparations began to be made for this great fight, and each was happy who found himself admitted for a defendant, much more an assailant. “At last to encounter his highness, six assailants, and fifty-eight defendants, consisting of earles, barons, knights, and esquires, were appointed and chosen; eight defendants to one assailant, every assailant being to fight by turnes eight severall times fighting, two every time with push and pike of sword, twelve strokes at a time; after which, the barre for separation was to be let downe until a fresh onset.” The stummons ran in these words

To our verie iovrng good ffreind sir Gilbert Houghton, knight, geave theis with speed:

After our hartie comrnenctacions unto you. The prince, his highnes, hath comanded us to signifie to you that whereas he doth intend to make a challenge in his owns person at the Barriers, with sixe other assistants, to bee performed some tyme this Christmas; and that he hath made choice of you for one of the defendants (whereof wee have comandement to give you knowledge), that theruppon you may so repaire hither to prepare yourselfe, as you may bee fitt to attend him. Hereunto expecting your speedie answer wee rest, from Whitehall this 25th of December, 1609. Your very loving freindes, Notingham. | T. Suffolke. | E. Worcester.”

On New-year’s Day, 1610, or the day after, the prince’s challenge was proclaimed at court, and “his highnesse, in his own lodging, in the Christmas, did feast the earles, barons, and knights, assailants and defendants, untill the great Twelfth appointed night, on which this great fight was to be performed.”

On the 6th of January, in the evening, “the barriers” were held at the palace of Whitehall, in the presence of the king and queen, the ambassadors of Spain and Venice, and the peers and ladies of the land, with a multitude of others assembled in the banqueting-house at the upper end whereof was the king’s chair of state, and on the right hand a sumptuous pavilion for the prince and his associates, from whence, “with great bravery and ingenious devices, they descended into the middell of the roome, and there the prince performed his first feats of armes, that is to say, at Barriers, against all commers, being assisted onlie with six others, viz, the duke of Lenox, the earle of Arundell, the earle of Southampton, the lord Hay, sir Thomas Somerset, and sir Richard Preston, who was shortly after created lord Dingwell.”

To answer these challengers came fifty-six earles, barons, knights, and esquiers. They were at the lower end of the roome, where was erected “a very delicat and pleasant place, where in privat manner they and their traine remained, which was so very great that no man imagined that the place could have concealed halfe so many.” From thence they issued, in comely order, to the middell of the rooms, where sate the king and the queens, and the court, “to behold the barriers, with the several showes and devices of each combatant.” Every challenger fought with eight several defendants two several combats at two several weapons, viz, at push of pike, and with single sword. “The prince performed this challenge with wonderous skill and courage, to the great joy and admiration of the beholders,” he not being full sixteene yeeres of age untill the 19th of February.” These feats, and other “triumphant shewes,” began before ten o’clock at night, and continued until three o’clock the next morning, “being Sonday.” The speeches at “the barriers” were written by Ben Jonson. The next day (Sunday) the prince rode in great pomp to convoy the king to St James’, whither he had invited him and all the court to supper, whereof the queen alone was absent; and then the prince bestowed prizes to the three combatants best deserving; namely, the earl of Montgomery, sir Thomas Darey (son to lord Darey), and sir Robert Gourdon.2 In this way the court spent Twelfth-night in 1610.


On Twelfth-night, 1753, George II. played at hazard for the benefit of the groom porter. All the royal family who played were winners, particularly the duke of York, who won 3000£. The most considerable losers were the duke of Grafton, the marquis of Hartington, the earl of Holderness, earl of Ashburnham, and the earl of Hertford. The prince of Wales (father of George III.) with prince Edward and a select company, danced in the little drawing room till eleven o’clock, and then withdrew.3


Old Christmas-day.

According to the alteration of the style, OLD Christmas-day falls On Twelfth-day, and in distant parts is even kept in our time as the festival of the nativity. In 1753, Old Christmas-day was observed in the neighbourhood of Worcester by the Anti-Gregorians, full as sociably, if not so religiously, as formerly. In several villages, the parishioners so strongly insisted upon having an Old-style nativity sermon, as they term it, that their ministers could not well avoid preaching to them and, at some towns, where the markets are held on Friday, not a butter basket, nor even a Goose, was to be seen in the market-place the whole day.4

To heighten the festivities of Christmas, 1825. the good folks of “London and its environs” were invited to Sadler’s Wells, by the following whimsical notice printed and distributed as a handbill

SOVEREIGNS WILL BE TAKEN, during the Christmas holidays, and as long as any body will bring them to SADLER’S WELLS; nay so little fastidious are the Proprietors of that delectable fascinating snuggely, that, however incredible it may appear, they, in some cases, have actually had the liberality to prefer Gold to Paper. Without attempting to investigate their motives for such extraordinary conduct, we shall do them the justice to say, they certainly give an amazing quantum o amusement, All in One Night, at the HOUSE ON THE HEATH, where, besides the THREE CRUMPlES, AND THE BARON AND HIS BROTHERS, an immense number of fashionables are expected on MERLIN’S MOUNT, and some of the first Cambrian families will countenance HARLEQUIN CYMRAEG, in hopes to partake of the Living Leek, which being served up the last thing before supper, will constitute a most excellent Christmas carminative, preventing the effects of night air on the crowds who will adorn this darling little edifice. In addition to a most effective LIGHT COMPANY engaged here, a very respectably sized Moon will be in attendance to light borne a greater number of Patrons than ever this popular petted Palace of Pantomime is likely to produce. We say nothing of warmth and comfort, acquired by recent improvements, because these matters will soon be subjects of common conversation, and omit noticing the happiness of Half-price, and the cheering qualities of the Wine-room, fearful of wounding in the bosom of the Manager that innate modesty which is ever the concomitant of merit we shall therefore conclude, by way of invitation to the dubious, in the language of an elegant writer, by asserting that the Proof of the Pudding is in—VERBUM SAT.”

Notes from Hone:

1. In the New Monthly Magazine, Dec. 1825. Return

2. Mr. Nichols's Progresses of James I. Return

3. Gentleman's Magazine. Return

4. Ibid. Return


William Hone, The Year Book of Daily Recreation and Information. London: Thomas Tegg, 1832. January 6.

Epiphany – Twelfth Day

In addition to the usage, still continued, of drawing king and queen on Twelfth night, Barnaby Googe’s versification describes a disused custom among the people, of censing a loaf and themselves as a preservative against sickness and witchcraft throughout the year.

Twise sisa nightes then from Christmasse,
they do count with diligence,
Wherein eche maister in his house
doth borne by franckensence:
And on the table settes a loafe,
when night approcheth nere,
Before the coles and frankensence
to be perfumed there:
First bowing downe his heade he standes,
and nose and eases, and eyes
He smokes, and with his mouth receyves
the fume that doth arise
Whom followeth streight his wife, and doth,
the same full solemly,
And of their children every one,
and all their family:
Which doth preserue they say their teeth.
and nose, and eyes, and eare,
From euery kind of maladie,
and sicknesse all the yeare.
When every one receyued hath
this odour great and small,
Then one take, up the pan with coales,
and franckensence and all,
An other takes the loafe, whom all
the reast do follow here,
And round about the house they go,
with torch or taper clere,
That neither bread nor meat do want,
nor witch with dreadful charme,
Haue power to hurt their children, or
to do their cattell harme.
There are that three nightes onely do
perfourme this foolish geare,
To this intent, aad thinke themselues
in safetie all the yeare.
(Citing Naogeorgus, Popish Kingdome.)

It appears that in the reign of Alfred a law was made relative to holidays which ordained the twelve days after the nativity to be kept as festivals. (Citing Collier's Eccles. Hist.)


The grand state of the Sovereign, on Twefth day, and the manner of keeping festival at court, in the reign of king Henry VII., are set forth in Le Neve’s MS. called the Royalle Book, “ to the following effect:—

As for Twelfth Day the king must go crowned in his royal robes, kirtle, surcoat, his furred hood about his neck, his mantle with a long train, and his cutlas before him; his armills upon his arms, of gold set full of rich stones; and no temporal man to touch it, but the king himself; and the squire for the body must bring it to the king in a fair kercheif, and the king must put them on himself; and he must have his sceptre in his right hand, and the ball with the cross in the left hand, and the crown upon his head. And he must offer that day gold, myrrh, and sense; then must the dean of the chapel send unto the archbishop of Canterbury by clerk or priest the king’s offering that day; and then must the archbishop give the next benefice that falleth in his gift to the same messenger. And then the king must change his mantle when he goeth to meat, and take off his hood and lay it about his neck, and clasp it before with a great rich ouche; and this must be of the same color that he offered in. And the queen in the same form when she is crowned.

The same day that he goeth crowned be ought to go to matins; to which array belongeth his kirtle surcoat, tabard, and his furred hood slyved over his head, and rolled about his neck; and on his head his cap of estate, and his sword before him.

At even-song he must go in his kirtle, and surcoat, and hood laid about his shoulders, and clasp the tippet and hood together before his breast with a great rich ouche, and his hat of estate upon his head.

As for the Void on the Twelfth night the king and the queen ought to have it in the hall. And as for the wassail, the steward, the treasurer and the controller shall come for it with their staves in their hands; the king’s sewer and the queen’s having fair towels about their necks, and dishes in their hands, such as the king and the queen shall eat of: the king’s carvers and the queen’s shall come after with chargers or dishes, such as the king or the queen shall eat of, and with towels about their necks. And no man shall bear any thing unless sworn for three months. And the steward, treasurer, comptroller, and marshal of the hall shall ordain for all the hall. And, if it be in the great chamber, then shall the chamberlain and ushers ordain after the above form; And if there be a Bishop, his own squire, or else the king’s, such as the officers choose to assign, shall serve him: And so of all the other estates, if they be dukes or earls; and so of duchesses and countesses. And then there must come in the ushers of the chamber with the pile of cups, the king’s cups and the queen’s, and the bishop’s, with the butlers and wine to the cupboard, and then a squire for the body to bear the cup, and another for the queen’s cup, such as is sworn for hire.

The [singers of the chapel] may stand at the one side of the hall: and when the steward cometh in at the hall door, with the wassail, he must cry thrice ”Wassaile,”&c., and then shall the chapel answer it anon with a good song: and thus in like wise if it please the king to keep the great chamber. And then when the king and queen have done they will go in to the chamber. And there belongeth, for the king, two lights with the void, and two lights with the cup; and for the queen as many.”


Twelfth Day Resumed

Some notion may be formed of the great revelries in all ranks of society, on Twelfth night, from this fact that in 1622 the gentlemen of Grays Inn, to make an end of Christmas, shot off all the chambers they had borrowed from the tower, being as many as filled four carts. The king (James I.) awakened with the noise started out of bed and cried “Treason! Treason!” The court was raised and almost in arms, the earl of Arundel with his sword drawn ran to the bed chamber to rescue the king’s person, and the city was in an uproar. (Citing Nichols's Progresses, James I. iv. 751.)

On January 6th, 1662, being Twelfth night, Mr. Evelyn records in his diary as follows :— This evening, according to custom, his majesty (Charles II.) opened the revels of that night by throwing the dice himself in the privy chamber, where was a table set on purpose, and lost his £100 (the year before he won £1500). The ladies also played very deep. I came away when the duke of Ormond had won about £1000 and left them still at passage, cards, &c., at other tables:— both there and at the groom porter’s, observing the wicked folly and monstrous excess of passion amongst some losers; sorry I am that such a wretched custom as play to that excess should be countenanced in a Court which ought to be an example to the rest of the kingdom.”


This game, called in French Passe dix, was played with dice, is still a military game, and mentioned by the late Capt. Grose as “A camp game with three dice: and doublets making up ten or more, to pass or win; any other chances lose.” It is more largely described, in the “Complete Gamester, i 680,” thus: — “Passage is game at dice to be played at but by two, and it is performed with three dice. The caster throws continually till he hath thrown doublets under ten, and then he is out and loseth, or doublets above ten, and then he passeth and wins.” The stock or fund, as also the place where the game is played, is called the Pass-bank. (Citing Nares)


On Twelfth Day the Carnival at Rome begins and generally continues until the ensuing Lent. This celebrated amusement is described by Lady Morgan, in “Italy,” as follows:—

The Carnival commences on Twelfth- day; but its public festivities are reserved for the last week or ten days. Formerly, they commenced with an execution, a criminal being reserved fur the purpose. But this custom Cardinal Gonsalvi, to his great honour, abolished. The Carnival holds out some most favorable traits of the actual condition of the Italians; for, if the young and profligate abuse its days of indulgence, a large portion of the middle and inferior classes are exhibited to public observation in the touching and respectable aspect of domestic alliance and family enjoyment; which under all laws, all religions, and all governments, those classes best preserve. A group of three generations frequently presents itself, crowded into an open carriage, or ranged on hired chairs along the Corso, or towering emulously one above the other in galleries erected near the starting-post of the course; taking no other part in the brilliant tumult than as the delighted spectators of a most singular and-amusing scene. For several days before the beginning of these festivities, “the city of the dead” exhibits the agitation, bustle, and hurry of the living. The shops are converted into wardrobes; whole streets are lined with masks and dominos, the robes of sultans and jackets of pantaloons; canopies are suspended, balconies and windows festooned with hangings and tapestry; and scaffolds are erected for the accommodation of those who have not the interest to obtain admission to the houses and palaces along the whole line of the Corso.

At the sound of the cannon, which, fired from the Piazza di Venezia, each day announce the commencement of the amusements, shops are closed, palaces deserted, and the Corso’s long and narrow defile teems with nearly the whole of the Roman population. The scene then exhibited is truly singular, arid, for the first day or two, infinitely amusing. The whole length of the street, from the Porta del Popolo to the foot of the Capitol, a distance of considerably more than a mile, is patrolled by troops of cavalry; the windows and balconies are crowded from the first to the sixth story by spectators and actors, who from time to time descend and take their place and parts in the procession of carriages, or among the maskers on foot. Here and there the monk’s crown, and cardinal’s red skull-cap, are seen peeping among heads not more fantastic than their own. The chairs and scaffolding along the sides of the streets are filled to crushing, with, maskers, and country folk in their gala dresses (by far the most grotesque that the carnival produces). The centre of the Corso is occupied by the carriages of princes, potentates, the ambassadors of all nations, and the municipality of Rome; and the two lines of carriages, moving in opposite directions on each side, are filled by English peers, Irish commoners, Polish counts, Spanish Grandees, German barons, Scotch lairds, and French marquises; but, above all, by the hired jobs of the badauds and pizzicaroli of Rome. These form not the least curious and interesting part of the procession, and best represent the carnival, as it existed a century back. In an open carriage sits, bolt upright, la Signora padrona, or mistress of the family, her neck covered with rows of coral, pearl, or false gems; her white satin robe, and gaudy head-dress, left to “the pitiless pelting of the storm,” showered indiscriminately from all the houses, and by the pedestrians, on the occupants of carriages, In the form of sugar-plums, but in substance of plaster of Paris, or lime. opposite to her sits her caro sposo, or husband, dressed as a grand sultan, or Muscovite czar; while all the little signorini of the family, male and female, habited as harlequins, columbines, and kings and queens, are crammed into the carriage: even the coachman is supplied with a dress, and appears in the character of an elderly lady, or an Arcadian shepherdess; and the footman takes the guise of an English miss, or a French court lady, and figures in a Spencer and short petticoat, or, accoutred with a hoop and fan, salutes the passers-by with “ buon giour, messieurs.’

At the ave maria, or fall of day, the cannon again fire, as a signal to clear the street for the horse course. All noise then ceases; the carriages file off by the nearest avenue; their owners scramble to their windows, balconies, chairs, or scaffolds; while the pedestrians that have no such resources, driven by the soldiery from the open street, are crowded on the footways, to suffocation. But no terror, no discipline, can restrain their ardor to see the first starting of the horses.

A temporary barrier, erected near the Porta del Popolo, is the point from which the race commences; another, on the Piazza di Venezia, is the termination of the course. The horses are small and of little value. They have no rider, but are placed each in a stall behind a rope, which is dropped as soon as the moment for starting arrives, when the animals seldom require to be put in motion by force. A number of tinfoil and paper flags are stuck over their haunches; small pointed bodies are placed to operate as a spur; and the noise and the pain of these decorations serve to put the horse on its full speed, to which it is further urged by the shouting of the populace. At the sound of the trumpet (the signal for starting), - even at the approach of the officer who gives the order, the animals exhibit their impatience to be off, and they continue their race, or rather their flight, amidst the screams, plaudits, and vivats of the people of all ranks. This scene forms the last act of each day’s spectacle, when every one is obliged to quit his carnival habit; for it is only on one or two particular evenings that there is a masked carnival at the aliberte.

Twelfth Day Table Diversion.

John Nott, editor of the Cook and Confectioners’ Dictionary, 1726, describing himself as late cook to the dukes of Somerset, Ormond, and Batton, and the lords Lansdown and Ashburnham, preserves in that work, “some divertisements” which were used in old times, on twelfth day and other festivals. His account is to this effect:—

Ancient artists in cookery inform us that, in former days, when good housekeeping was in fashion, amongst the English nobility, they used either to begin or conclude their entertainments, and divert their guests, with such pretty devices as these following, viz.:

A castle made of paste-board, with gates, draw-bridges, battlements, and portcullises, all done over with paste, was set upon the table in a large charger, with salt laid round about it, as if it were the ground, in which were stuck egg-shells full of rose, or other sweet waters, the meat of the egg having been taken out by a great pin. Upon the battlements of the castle were planted kexes, covered over with paste, in the form of cannons, and made to look like brass, by covering them with dutch leaf-gold. These cannons being charged with gunpowder, and trains laid, so that you might fire as many of them as you pleased, at one touch; this castle was set at one end of the table.

Then, in the middle of the table, they would set a stag, made of paste, but hollow, and filled with claret wine, and a broad arrow stuck in his side; this was also set in a large charger, with a ground made of salt, having egg-shells of perfumed waters stuck in it, as before.

Then, at the other end of the table, they would have a ship made of pasteboard, and covered all over with paste, with masts, sails, flags, and streamers; and guns made of kexes, covered with paste and charged with gunpowder, with a train, as in the castle. This, being placed in a large charger, was set upright in, as it were, a sea of salt, in which were also stuck egg-shells full of perfumed waters.

Then, betwixt the stag and castle, and the stag and ship, were placed two pies made of coarse paste, filled with bran, and over with saffron and the yolks of eggs: when these were baked, the bran was taken out, a hole was cut in the bottom of each, and live birds put into one and frogs into the other; then the holes were closed up with paste, and the lids neatly cut up, so that they might be easily taken off by the funnels and adorned with gilded laurels.

These being thus prepared, and placed in order on the table, one of the ladies was persuaded to draw the arrow out of the body of the stag, which being done, the claret wine issued forth like blood from a wound, and caused admiration in the spectators; which being over, after a little pause, all the guns on one side of the castle were, by a train, discharged against the ship; and afterwards, the guns of one side of the ship were discharged against the castle; then, having turned the chargers, the other sides were fired off, as in a battle: this causing a great smell of powder, the ladies or gentlemen took up the egg-shells of perfumed water and threw them at one another. This pleasant disorder being pretty well laughed over, and the two great pies still remaining untouched, some one or other would have to• see what was in them, up the lid of one pie, out would jump the frogs, which would make ladies skip and scamper; and, on lifting the lid of the other, out would fly the birds, which would naturally fly at the light, and so put out the candles. And so, with the leaping of the frogs below, the flying of the birds above, would cause a surprising and and diverting hurly-burly amongst the guests, in the dark. After which, the candles being lighted, the banquet would be brought in, the music sound, and the particulars of each person’s surprise and adventures furnish matter for diverting discourse.


The art of confectionery was anciently employed in all solemn feasts, with the most profuse delicacy. After each course was a “subtilty.” Subtilties were representations of castles, giants, saints, knights, ladies and beasts, all raised in pastry; upon which legends and coat armor were painted in their proper colors. At the festival, on the coronation of Henry VI., in 1429, there was “a subtilty of St. Edward, and St. Louis, armed, and upon either, his coat armor; holding between them a figure of king Henry, standing also in his coat armor; and an incription passing from both, saying, ‘Beholde twoe perfecte kynges vnder one coate armoure.” (Citing Fabyan-Dallaway's Heraldic Inq. 182.)


[Communicated by S. D.]

The following account of a penny dole, given formerly on twelfth day, at Walsall, in Staffordshire, is derived from “An abstract of the title - of the town of Walsall, in Stafford, to valuable estates at Bascott, &c., in the county of Warwick, with remarks by James Cottrell, 1818.”

In 1453 Thomas Moseley made a feoffment of certain estates, to William Lyle and William Maggot, and their heirs, in trust, for the use of the town of Walsall; but John Lyle, son of William Lyle, to whom these estates would have descended, instead of applying the produce of the estates for the use of the town, kept them, and denied that the property was in trust, pretending it to be his own inheritance; but the inhabitants of Walsall not choosing to be so cheated, some of them went to Moxhal, and drove away Lyle’s cattle, which unjustifiable act he did not resent, because he was liable to be brought to account for the trust estate in his hands. At length a suit was commenced by the town against Lyle, and the estates in question were adjudged for the use of the town of Walsall. Accordingly, in 1515, John Lyle of Moxhal, near Coleshill, Warwickshire, suffered a recovery, whereby these estates passed to Richard Hunt, and John Ford, and they, in 1516, made a feoffment of the land, to divers inhabitants of the town of Walsall, in trust, and so it continues in the hand of trustees to this day. In 1539 the first mention appears to have been made of the penny dole. On the twelfth eve, being the anniversary for the souls of Thomas Moseley, and Margaret his wife, the bellman went about with his bell, exciting all to kneel down and pray for the souls of Thomas Moseley, and Margaret, his wife; Thomas Moseley never gave this dole, either by feoffment or will; but, because he had been so good a benefactor, in giving his lands, &c., in Warwickshire, the town, by way of gratitude, yearly distributed a general dole of one penny each, to young and old, rich and poor; strangers, as well as townspeople; and this was the origin of the dole.

It would be a good thing,” says Mr. Cottrell, the author of the Abstract, “if this dole was given up, and the rents of these valuable estates, which are now considerable, were all applied to charitable purposes. The masters of the guild of St. John the Baptist, in Walsall, a religious fraternity, with laws and orders made among themselves, by royal licence, appear at this time to have been the trustees; for they received the rents of these estates, and kept court at Barcott. King John granted to every arch-deacon in England a power of gathering from every 'fyer householder,’ in every parish, one penny, which were called Peter pence; therefore I am inclined to think this religious fraternity were the beginners of this penny dole, which would enable them immediately to pay their Peter Pence or, perhaps they might stop it in the same manner as the bellman does the lord of the manor’s penny.”

The dole is now discontinued; and twelve alms-houses, were built with the money in the hands of the corporation.

The current tradition is, that Thomas Moseley, passing through Walsall, on twelfth eve, saw a child crying for bread, where others were feasting, and, struck by the circumstance, made over the estates at Barcott, &c., to the town of Walsall, on condition that every year one penny should be given each person on that day, so that no one might witness a like sadness.


Christmas Out Of Town.

For many a winter in Billiter Lane
My wife, Mrs. Brown, was ne’er heard to complain:
At Christmas the family met there to dine
On beef and plum-pudding, and turkey, and chine;
Our bark has now taken a contrary heel,
My wife has found Out that the sea is genteel;
To Brighton we duly go scampering down—
For nobody now spends his Christmas in town.

In Billiter Lane, at this mirth-moving time,
The lamp-lighter brought us his annual rhyme;
The tricks of Grimaldi were sure to be seen
We carved a twelfth-cake, and we drew king and queen:
Now we lodge on the Steine, in a bow-windowed box,
That beckons up stairs every zephyr that knocks;
The Sun hides his head, and the elements frown—
Still, nobody now spends his Christmas in town.

At Brighton I’m stuck up in Lucombe’s Loo-shop,
Or walk upon bricks, till I’m ready to drop;
Throw stones at an anchor,—look out for a skiff,
Or view the chain pier from the top of the cliff;
Till winds from all quarters oblige me to halt,
With sand in my eyes, and my mouth full of salt:
Yet, still, I am suffering with folks of renown—
For nobody now spends his Christmas in town.

The wind gallops in at the full of the moon,
And puffs up the carpet like Sadler’s balloon:
My drawing-room rug is besprinkled with soot,
And there is not a lock in the house that will shut.
At Mahomet’s steam bath I lean on my cane,
And mutter in secret,—” Ah, Billiter Lane !“
But would not express what I think for a crown—
For nobody now spends his Christmas in town.

The duke and the earl are not cronies-of mine;
His majesty never invites me to dine;
The marquess don’t speak when we meet on the pier;
Which makes me suspect that I’m nobody here:
If that be the case, — why then - welcome again
Twelfth-cake and snap-dragon in Billiter Lane;
Next winter I’ll prove to my dear Mrs. Brown
That Nobody now spends his Christmas in town.

See, also: January 4 – Prepare for Twelfth Day and January 5 – Eve of Epiphany. Also see Brand's Twelfth Day, Three Kings Of Cologne, The Religious Use of the Bean, and William Sandy's Twelfth Day Ceremonies.

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