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Date Of Christ's Birth Discussed






The day on which Jesus Christ died is plainly distinguishable, but the
day of His birth is open to very much question, and, literally, is
only conjectural; so that the 25th December must be taken purely as
the day on which His birth is celebrated, and not as His absolute
natal day. In this matter we can only follow the traditions of the
Church, and tradition alone has little value.

In the second and early third centuries of our aera, we only know that
the festivals, other than Sundays and days set apart for the
remembrance of particular martyrs, were the Passover, Pentecost, and
the Epiphany, the baptism or manifestation of our Lord, when came a
voice from Heaven saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well
pleased. This seems always to have been fixed for the 6th of January,
and with it was incorporated the commemoration of His birth.

Titus Flavius Clemens, generally known as Clemens of Alexandria, lived
exactly at this time, and was a contemporary of Origen. He speaks
plainly on the subject, and shows the uncertainty, even at that early
epoch of Christianity, of fixing the date:[1] There are those who,
with an over-busy curiosity, attempt to fix not only the year, but the
date of our Saviour's birth, who, they say, was born in the
twenty-eighth year of Augustus, on the 25th of the month Pachon,
i.e. the 20th of May. And in another place he says: Some say that
He was born on the 24th or 25th of the month Pharmuthi, which would
be the 19th or 20th of April.



But, perhaps, the best source of information is from the Memoires
pour servir a l'histoire ecclesiastique des six premiers Siecles, by
Louis Sebastian le Nain de Tillemont, written at the very commencement
of the eighteenth century,[2] and I have no hesitation in appending a
portion of his fourth note, which treats Upon the day and year of
the birth of Jesus Christ.



It is thought that Jesus Christ was born in the night, because it was
night when the angel declared His birth to the shepherds: in which S.
Augustin says that He literally fulfilled David's words, Ante
luciferum genuite.

The tradition of the Church, says this father, is that it was upon
the 25th of December. Casaubon acknowledges that we should not
immediately reject it upon the pretence that it is too cold a season
for cattle to be at pasture, there being a great deal of difference
between these countries and Judaea; and he assures us that, even in
England, they leave the cows in the field all the year round.

S. Chrysostom alleges several reasons to prove that Jesus Christ was
really born upon the 25th of December; but they are weak enough,
except that which he assures of, that it has always been the belief of
the Western Churches. S. Epiphanius, who will have the day to have
been the 6th of January, places it but at twelve days' distance. S.
Clement of Alexandria says that, in his time, some fixed the birth of
Jesus Christ upon the 19th or 20th April; others, on the 20th of May.
He speaks of it as not seeing anything certain in it.

It is cited from one John of Nice, that it was only under Pope Julius
that the Festival of the Nativity was fixed at Rome upon the 25th of
December. Father Combesisius, who has published the epistle of this
author, confesses that he is very modern: to which we may add that he
is full of idle stories, and entirely ignorant of the history and
discipline of antiquity. So that it is better to rest upon the
testimony of S. Chrysostom, who asserts that, for a long time before,
and by very ancient tradition, it was celebrated upon the 25th of
December in the West, that is, in all the countries which reach from
Thrace to Cadiz, and to the farthest parts of Spain. He names Rome
particularly; and thinks that it might be found there that this was
the true day of our Saviour's birth, by consulting the registers of
the description of Judaea made at that time, supposing them still to be
preserved there. We find this festival placed upon the 25th of
December in the ancient Roman Calendar, which was probably made in the
year 354....

We find by S. Basil's homily upon the birth of our Lord that a
festival in commemoration of it was observed in Cappadocia, provided
that this homily is all his; but I am not of opinion that it appears
from thence either that this was done in January rather than December
or any other month in the year, or that this festival was joined with
that of the Baptism. On the contrary, the Churches of Cappadocia seem
to have distinguished the Feast of the Nativity from that of the
Epiphany, for S. Gregory Nazianzen says, that after he had been
ordained priest, in the year 361, upon the festival of one mystery, he
retired immediately after into Pontus, on that of another mystery, and
returned from Pontus upon that of a third. Now we find that he
returned at Easter, so that there is all imaginable reason to believe
that he was ordained at Christmas, and retired upon the Epiphany. S.
Basil died, in all probability, upon the 1st of January in the year
379, and S. Gregory Nyssen says that his festival followed close upon
those of Christmas, S. Stephen, S. Peter, S. James, and S. John. We
read in an oration ascribed to S. Amphilochius, that he died on the
day of the Circumcision, between the Nativity of Jesus Christ and His
Baptism. S. Gregory Nyssen says that the Feast of Lights, and of the
Baptism of Jesus Christ, was celebrated some days after that of His
Nativity. The other S. Gregory takes notice of several mysteries which
were commemorated at Nazianzium with the Nativity, the Magi, etc., but
he says nothing, in that place, of the Baptism. And yet, if the
festival of Christmas was observed in Cappadocia upon the 25th of
December, we must say that S. Chrysostom was ignorant of it, since he
ascribes this practice only to Thrace and the more Western
provinces....

In the year 377, or soon after, some persons who came from Rome,
introduced into Syria the practice of celebrating our Lord's Nativity
in the month of December, upon the same day as was done in the West;
and this festival was so well received in that country that in less
than ten years it was entirely established at Antioch, and was
observed there by all the people with great solemnity, though some
complained of it as an innovation. S. Chrysostom, who informs us of
all this, speaks of it in such a manner as to make Father Thomassin
say, not that the birth of Jesus Christ had till then been kept upon a
wrong day, but that absolutely it had not been celebrated there at
all.

S. Chrysostom seems to say, that this festival was received at the
same time by the neighbouring provinces to Antioch; but this must not
be extended as far as to Egypt, as we learn from a passage in Cassian.
This author seems to speak only of the time when he was in Scetae
(about 399), but also of that when he wrote his tenth conference
(about the year 420 or 425). But it appears that, in the year 432,
Egypt had likewise embraced the practice of Rome: for Paul of Emesa,
in the discourse which he made then at Alexandria upon the 29th of
Coiac, which is the 25th of December, says it was the day on which
Jesus Christ was born. S. Isidore of Pelusium, in Egypt, mentions the
Theophany and the Nativity of our Saviour, according to the flesh, as
two different festivals. We were surprised to read in an oration of
Basil of Seleucia, upon S. Stephen, that Juvenal of Jerusalem, who
might be made bishop about the year 420, was the first who celebrated
there our Saviour's Nativity.

The Armenian Church still keeps up the eastern 6th of January as
Christmas day--and, as the old style of the calendar is retained, it
follows that they celebrate the Nativity twenty-four days after we do:
and modern writers make the matter more mixed--for Wiesseler thinks
that the date of the Nativity was 10th January, whilst Mr. Greswell
says it occurred on the 9th April B.C. 4.

It is not everybody that knows that our system of chronology is four
years wrong--i.e. that Jesus Christ must have been born four years
before Anno Domini, the year of our Lord. It happened in this way.
Dionysius Exiguus, in 533, first introduced the system of writing the
words Anno Domini, to point out the number of years which had
elapsed since the Incarnation of our Lord; in other words he
introduced our present chronology. He said the year 1 was the same as
the year A.U.C. (from the building of Rome) 754; and this statement he
based on the fact that our Saviour was born in the twenty-eighth year
of the reign of Augustus; and he reckoned from A.U.C. 727, when the
emperor first took the name of Augustus. The early Christians,
however, dated from the battle of Actium, which was A.U.C. 723, thus
making the Nativity 750. Now we believe that that event took place
during Herod's reign, and we know that Herod died between the 13th
March and 29th March, on which day Passover commenced, in A.U.C. 750,
so that it stands to reason that our chronology is wrong.

Some think that the date of 25th December, which certainly began in
the Roman Church, was fixed upon to avoid the multiplication of
festivals about the vernal equinox, and to appropriate to a Christian
use the existing festival of the winter solstice--the returning sun
being made symbolical of the visit of Christ to our earth; and to
withdraw Christian converts from those pagan observances with which
the closing year was crowded, whilst the licence of the Saturnalia
was turned into the merriment of Christmas.

This festival of the Saturnalia (of which the most complete account is
given by Macrobius in his Conviviorum Saturnaliorum) dated from the
remotest settlement of Latium, whose people reverenced Saturnus as the
author of husbandry and the arts of life. At this festival the utmost
freedom of social intercourse was permitted to all classes; even
slaves were allowed to come to the tables of their masters clothed in
their apparel, and were waited on by those whom they were accustomed
to serve. Feasting, gaming, and revelry were the occupations of all
classes, without discrimination of age, or sex, or rank. Processions
crowded the streets, boisterous with mirth: these illuminated the
night with lighted tapers of wax, which were also used as gifts
between friends in the humbler walks of life. The season was one for
the exchange of gifts of friendship, and especially of gifts to
children. It began on the 17th December, and extended virtually, to
the commencement of the New Year.

Prynne[3] speaks thus of Christmas: If we compare our Bacchanalian
Christmasses and New Year's Tides with these Saturnalia and Feasts of
Janus, we shall finde such near affinytie betweene them both in regard
of time (they being both in the end of December and on the first of
January), and in their manner of solemnizing (both of them being spent
in revelling, epicurisme, wantonesse, idlenesse, dancing, drinking,
stage playes, and such other Christmas disorders now in use with
Christians), were derived from these Roman Saturnalia and Bacchanalian
Festivals; which should cause all pious Christians eternally to
abominate them.

The Anglo-Saxons and early English knew not the words either of
Christmas or Christ-tide. To them it was the season of Yule. Bede (de
temporum ratione, c. 13), regards it as a term for the winter
solstice. Menses Giuli a conversione solis in auctum dici, quia unus
eorum praecedit, alius subsequitur, nomina acceperunt: alluding to the
Anglo-Saxon Calendar, which designated the months of December and
January as aeerre-geola and aeftera-geola, the former and the latter
Yule. Both Skeat and Wedgwood derive it from the old Norse jol,
which means feasting and revelry. Mr. J.F. Hodgetts, in an article
entitled Paganism in Modern Christianity (Antiquary, December
1882, p. 257), says:--

The ancient name (Yule) for Christmas is still used throughout all
Scandinavia. The Swedes, Danes, and Norwegians wish each other a 'glad
Yule,' as we say 'A merry Christmas to you.' This alone would serve to
draw our attention to Scandinavia, even if no other reason existed for
searching there for the origin of our great Christian Feast. The grand
storehouses of Pagan lore, as far as the Northern nations of Teutonic
race are concerned, are the two Eddas, and if we refer to the part, or
chapter, of Snorri Sturlson's Edda, known as Gylfa Ginning, we shall
find the twelfth name of Odin, the Father of the Gods, or Allfather,
given as Ialg or Ialkr (pronounced yolk or yulg). The
Christmas tree, introduced into Russia by the Scandinavians, is
called elka (pronounced yolka), and in the times just preceding,
and just after, the conquest of Britain by the English, this high
feast of Odin was held in mid-winter, under the name of Ialka tid,
or Yule-tide. It was celebrated at this season, because the Vikings,
being then unable to go to sea, could assemble in their great halls
and temples and drink to the gods they served so well. Another reason
was, that it fell towards the end of the twelve mystic months that
made up the mythical, as well as the cosmical, cycle of the year, and
was therefore appropriately designated by the last of the names by
which Odin is called in the Edda.

There are different opinions as to the duration of Christ-tide. The
Roman Church holds that Christmas properly begins at Lauds on
Christmas Eve, when the Divine Office begins to be solemnised as a
Double, and refers directly to the Nativity of our Lord. It terminates
on the 13th of January, the Octave day of the Epiphany. The evergreens
and decorations remain in churches and houses until the 2nd of
February, the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

But I think that if we in England are bound by ecclesiastical law as
to the keeping of Christ-tide, it should, at least, be an English
use--such as was observed before the domination of Rome in England.
And, previous to the Natale, or Festival of the Nativity, the early
Church ordained a preparatory period of nine days, called a
Novena. These take the commencement of Christ-tide back to the 16th
December, on which day the Sarum use ordained the Anthem, which
commences, O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodidisti, and at the
present time this day is marked in the Calendar of the English Church
Service Book as O Sapientia. That this was commonly considered the
commencement of Christ-tide is shown by the following anecdote of the
learned Dr. Parr:--A lady asked him when Christmas commenced, so that
she might know when to begin to eat mince pies. Please to say
Christmas pie, madam, replied the Doctor. Mince pie is
Presbyterian. Well, Christmas pie--when may we begin to eat them?
Look in your Prayer-book Calendar for December and there you will
find 'O Sapientia.' Then Christmas pie--not before.

The Festival was considered of such high importance by the
Anglo-Saxons that the ordinary Octave was not good enough; it must be
kept up for twelve days. And Collier (Eccl. Hist., 1840, vol. i.
p. 285) says that a law passed in the days of King Alfred, by virtue
of which the twelve days after the Nativity of our Saviour are made
festivals. This brings us to the feast of the Epiphany, 6th January,
or Twelfth Day, when Christmas ends--for the Epiphany has its own
Octave to follow, and I think the general consensus of opinion is in
favour of this ending.




A Righte Merrie Christmasse Historic Christ-tides in 790, 878, and 1065


The earliest historic Christmas in England was 790, when the Welsh
suddenly attacked the soldiers of Offa, King of Mercia, who were
celebrating Christ-tide, and slew many of them; and in 878, when
Alfred was doing likewise at Chippenham, that Guthrum and his Danes
fell upon him, destroyed his forces, and sent him a fugitive. In 1065,
at this season, Westminster Abbey was consecrated, but King Edward was
not there, being too ill. Next year, in this same Church of St. Peter,
was William I. crowned on Christmas day by Aldred, archbishop of York;
for he would not receive the crown at the hands of Stigand, archbishop
of Canterbury, because he was hated, and furthermore judged to be a
verie lewd person, and a naughtie liver. In 1085 he kept his
Christ-tide at Gloucester, where he knighted his son Henry.

William II. followed the example of his father, and kept the festival
in state; as did Henry I. at Westminster, Windsor, and elsewhere. But
that of 1127 at Windsor was somewhat marred by a quarrel between two
prelates. It seems that Thurston, archbishop of York (in prejudice of
the right of William, archbishop of Canterbury), would have set the
crown on the king's head as he was going to hear Mass, but was pushed
back with some violence by the followers of the other archbishop, and
his chaplain, who was bearing the archiepiscopal crozier, was
ignominiously and contemptuously thrust out of doors, cross and all.
The strife did not end there, for both the prelates, together with the
bishop of Lincoln, went to Rome to lay their case before the Pope for
his decision.

Stephen, for a short time, kept Christ-tide royally; but the internal
dissensions of his kingdom prevented him from continuing celebrating
the festival in state. Henry II. kept his first Christ-tide at
Bermondsey, where, to conciliate his subjects, he solemnly promised to
expel all foreigners from England, whereupon some tarried not, but
went incontinently. A curious event happened at Christmas 1158, when
the king, then at Worcester, took the crown from his head and
deposited it on the altar, never wearing it afterwards. In 1171 he
spent the feast at Dublin, where, there being no place large enough,
he built a temporary hall for the accommodation of his suite and
guests, to which latter he taught the delights of civilisation in good
cookery, masquings, and tournaments. The most famous Christ-tide that
we hear of in the reign of Richard I. is that in 1190, when the two
Kings of England and France held their Christmasse this yeare at
Messina, and still the King of England used great liberalitie in
bestowing his treasure freelie amongst knights and other men of warre,
so that it was thought he spent more in a moneth than anie of his
predecessours ever spent in a whole yeare.

John kept Christ-tide in 1200 at Guildford, and there gave to his
servants manie faire liveries and suits of apparell. The archbishop of
Canturburie did also the like at Canturburie, seeming in deed to
strive with the king, which of them should passe the other in such
sumptuous appareling of their men: whereat the king (and not without
good cause) was greatlie mooved to indignation against him, although,
for a time, he coloured the same. John took a speedy and very curious
revenge. From thence he returned and came to Canturburie, where he
held his Easter, which fell that yeare on the day of the Annunciation
of our Ladie, at which feast he sat crowned, together with his wife,
queen Isabell, the archbishop of Canturburie bearing the charges of
them and their trains while they remained there. Next year he held
the feast at Argenton in Normandy.

Henry III. celebrated the Nativity right royally in 1253 at York,
whither came Alexander the young King of Scots, and was there made
knight by the King of England; and, on Saint Stephan's day, he married
the ladie Margaret, daughter to the King of England, according to the
assurance before time concluded. There was a great assemblie of noble
personages at that feast. The Queene dowager of Scotland, mother to
King Alexander, a Frenchwoman of the house of Coucie, had passed the
sea, and was present there with a faire companie of lords and
gentlemen. The number of knights that were come thither on the King of
England's part were reckoned to be at the point of one thousand. The
King of Scots had with him three score knights, and a great sort of
other gentlemen comparable to knights. The King of Scots did homage to
the King of England, at that time, for the realme of Scotland, and all
things were done with great love and favour, although, at the
beginning, some strife was kindled about taking up of lodgings. This
assemblie of the princes cost the archbishop verie deerelie in
feasting and banketting them and their traines. At one dinner it was
reported he spent at the first course three score fat oxen.

Edward I. had, at two separate times, as Christmas guests Llewellyn of
Wales and Baliol of Scotland. Edward II. kept one feast of the
Nativity at York in 1311, revelling with Piers Gaveston and his
companions; but that of 1326 was spent in prison at Kenilworth, whilst
his wife and son enjoyed themselves at Wallingford. Strange and sad
guests, too, must the captive King of France and David of Scotland
have been at Edward III.'s Christ-tide feast in 1358 at Westminster.

Richard II. came to the throne 21st June 1377, a boy of eleven years,
and I think Stow has made a mistake in a year in the following
account, because at the date he gives he would have been king instead
of prince.

One other show, in the year 1377, made by the citizens for the
disport of the young prince Richard, son to the Black Prince, in the
feast of Christmas, in this manner:--On the Sunday before Candlemas,
in the night, one hundred and thirty citizens, disguised and well
horsed, in a mummery, with sound of trumpets, sackbuts, cornets,
shalmes, and other minstrels, and innumerable torch lights of wax,
rode from Newgate through Cheape, over the bridge, through
Southwarke, and so to Kennington beside Lambheth, where the young
prince remained with his mother and the Duke of Lancaster, his uncle,
the Earls of Cambridge, Hertford, Warwicke, and Suffolke, with divers
other lords. In the first rank did ride forty-eight in the likeness
and habit of Esquires, two and two together, clothed in red coats and
gowns of say or sandal, with comely visors on their faces; after them
came forty-eight Knights, in the same livery of colour and stuff; then
followed one richly arrayed like an Emperor; and, after him some
distance, one stately attired like a Pope, whom followed twenty-four
Cardinals; and, after them, eight or ten with black visors, not
amiable, as if they had been legates from some foreign princes. These
maskers, after they had entered Kennington, alighted from their
horses, and entered the hall on foot; which done, the prince, his
mother, and the lords, came out of the chamber into the hall, whom the
said mummers did salute, showing by a pair of dice upon the table
their desire to play with the prince, which they so handled, that the
prince did always win when he cast them. Then the mummers set to the
prince three jewels, one after the other, which were a bowl of gold, a
cup of gold, and a ring of gold, which the prince won at three casts.
Then they set to the prince's mother, the duke, the earls, and other
lords, to every one a ring of gold, which they did also win. After
which they were feasted, and the music sounded, the prince and lords
danced on the one part with the mummers, which did also dance; which
jollity being ended, they were again made to drink, and then departed
in order as they came.

When he came to the throne as Richard II. he had very enlarged ideas
on expenditure, and amongst others on Christmas feasts. He held one at
Lichfield in 1398, where the Pope's Nuncio and several foreign
noblemen were present, and he was obliged to enlarge the episcopal
palace in order to accommodate his guests. Stow tells us: This yeere
King Richarde kept his Christmas at Liechfield, where he spent in the
Christmas time 200 tunns of wine, and 2000 oxen with their
appurtenances. But then he is said to have had 2000 cooks, and
cookery was then elevated into a science: so much so, that the
earliest cookery book that has come down to us is The Forme of
Cury, which was compiled of the chef Mairt Cok of Kyng Richard the
Secunde, Kyng of .nglond[4] aftir the Conquest. Twenty-eight oxen,
three hundred sheep, an incredible number of fowls, and all kinds of
game were slaughtered every morning for the use of his household. It
seems incredible, but see what old John Hardyng, the metrical
chronicler, says:--

Truly I herd Robert Ireleffe saye,
Clerke of the grene cloth, y^{t} to the household,
Came euery daye for moost partie alwaye,
Ten thousand folke by his messis tould,
That folowed the hous aye as thei would,
And in the kechin three hundred seruitours,
And in eche office many occupiours;

And ladies faire with their gentilwomen,
Chamberers also and launderers,
Three hundred of them were occupied then.


Of the Christ-tides of Henry IV. there are no events recorded, except
that Stow states that in the 2nd of his reign, he then keeping his
Christmas at Eltham, twelve aldermen and their sons rode in a mumming,
and had great thanks, but Henry V. had at least one sweet Christmas
day. It was in the year 1418, when he was besieging Rouen, and
Holinshed thus describes the sufferings of the garrison. If I should
rehearse (according to the report of diverse writers) how deerelie
dogs, rats, mise, and cats were sold within the towne, and how
greedilie they were by the poore people eaten and devoured, and how
the people dailie died for fault of food, and young infants laie
sucking in the streets on their mother's breasts, lieng dead, starved
for hunger; the reader might lament their extreme miseries. A great
number of poore sillie creatures were put out at the gates, which were
by the Englishmen that kept the trenches, beaten and driven backe
againe to the same gates, which they found closed and shut against
them. And so they laie betweene the wals of the citie and the trenches
of the enimies, still crieing for helpe and releefe, for lacke whereof
great numbers of them dailie died.

Howbeit, King Henrie, moved with pitie, upon Christmasse daie, in
the honor of Christes Nativitie, refreshed all the poore people with
vittels, to their great comfort and his high praise.

There are no notable Christ-tides until we come to the reign of Henry
VIII. In the second year of his reign he kept Christmas quietly at
Richmond, the queen being near her confinement, which event taking
place on the first of January, she was sufficiently recovered to look
at the festivities on Twelfth day. Against the twelfe daie, or the
daie of the Epiphanie, at night, before the banket in the hall at
Richmond, was a pageant devised like a mounteine, and set with stones;
on the top of which mounteine was a tree of gold, the branches and
boughes frised with gold, spreading on everie side over the mounteine,
with roses and pomegranates, the which mounteine was, with vices,
brought up towards the king, and out of the same came a ladie
apparelled in cloth of gold, and the children of honour called the
henchmen, which were freshlie disguised, and danced a morice before
the king; and, that done, re-entered the mounteine, which was then
drawen backe, and then was the wassail or banket brought in, and so
brake up Christmasse.

However the queen was better next year, and In this yeare the king
kept his Christmasse at Greenewich, where was such abundance of viands
served to all comers of anie honest behaviour, as hath beene few times
seene. And against New Yeeres night was made in the hall a castell,
gates, towers, and dungeon, garnished with artillerie and weapon,
after the most warlike fashion: and on the front of the castell was
written Le forteresse dangereux, and, within the castell were six
ladies cloathed in russet sattin, laid all over with leaves of gold,
and everie one knit with laces of blew silke and gold. On their heads,
coifs and caps all of gold. After this castell had beene caried about
the hall, and the queene had beheld it, in came the king with five
other, apparelled in coats, the one half of russet sattin, the other
halfe of rich cloth of gold; on their heads caps of russet sattin
embrodered with works of fine gold bullion.

These six assaulted the castell. The ladies seeing them so lustie and
couragious, were content to solace with them, and upon further
communication to yeeld the castell, and so they came downe and dansed
a long space. And after, the ladies led the knights into the castell,
and then the castell suddenlie vanished out of their sights. On the
daie of the Epiphanie at night, the king, with eleven other, were
disguised, after the manner of Italie; called a maske, a thing not
seene before, in England; they were apparelled in garments long and
broad, wrought all with gold, with visors and caps of gold. And, after
the banket done, these maskers came in, with six gentlemen disguised
in silke, bearing staffe torches, and desired the ladies to danse:
some were content, and some refused. And, after they had dansed, and
communed togither, as the fashion of the maske is, they tooke their
leave and departed, and so did the queene and all the ladies.

In 1513, The king kept a solemne Christmasse at Greenwich, with
danses and mummeries in most princelie manner. And on the Twelfe daie
at night came into the hall a mount, called the rich mount. The
mount was set full of rich flowers of silke, and especiallie full of
broome slips full of cods, the branches were greene sattin, and the
flowers flat gold of damaske, which signified Plantagenet. On the top
stood a goodlie beacon giving light; round about the beacon sat the
king and five others, all in cotes and caps of right crimsin velvet,
embrodered with flat gold of damaske, their cotes set full of spangles
of gold. And foure woodhouses (? wooden horses) drew the mount till
it came before the queene, and then the king and his companie
descended and dansed. Then, suddenlie, the mount opened, and out came
six ladies in crimsin sattin and plunket, embrodered with gold and
pearle, with French hoods on their heads, and they dansed alone. Then
the lords of the mount tooke the ladies and dansed together; and the
ladies re-entered, and the mount closed, and so was conveied out of
the hall. Then the king shifted him, and came to the queene, and sat
at the banket, which was verie sumptuous.

1514, This Christmasse, on New Yeares night, the king, the Duke of
Suffolke, and two other were in mantels of cloath of silver, lined
with blew velvet; the silver was pounced in letters, that the velvet
might be seene through; the mantels had great capes like to the
Portingall slops, and all their hosen, dublets, and coats were of the
same fashion cut, and of the same stuffe. With them were foure ladies
in gowns, after the fashion of Savoie, of blew velvet, lined with
cloath of gold, the velvet all cut, and mantels like tipets knit
togither all of silver, and on their heads bonets of burned gold: the
foure torch-bearers were in sattin white and blew. This strange
apparell pleased much everie person, and in especiall the queene. And
thus these foure lords and foure ladies came into the queenes chamber
with great light of torches, and dansed a great season, and then put
off their visors, and were all well knowne, and then the queene
hartily thanked the king's grace for her goodlie pastime and desport.

Likewise on the Twelve night, the king and the queene came into the
hall at Greenewich, and suddenlie entered a tent of cloath of gold; and
before the tent stood foure men of armes, armed at all points, with
swords in their hands; and, suddenlie, with noise of trumpets entered
foure other persons all armed, and ran to the other foure, and there
was a great and fierce fight. And, suddenlie, out of a place like a
wood, eight wild men, all apparelled in greene mosse, made with sleved
silke, with ouglie weapons, and terrible visages, and there fought
with the knights eight to eight: and, after long fighting, the armed
knights drove the wild men out of their places, and followed the chase
out of the hall, and when they were departed, the tent opened, and
there came out six lords and six ladies richlie apparelled, and dansed
a great time. When they had dansed their pleasure, they entered the
tent againe, which was conveied out of the hall: then the king and
queene were served with a right sumptuous banket.

In 1515, The king kept a solemne Christmasse at his manor of Eltham;
and on the Twelfe night, in the hall was made a goodlie castell,
wounderously set out: and in it certeine ladies and knights; and when
the king and queene were set, in came other knights and assailed the
castell, where manie a good stripe was given; and at the last the
assailants were beaten awaie. And then issued out knights and ladies
out of the castell, which ladies were rich and strangelie disguised;
for all their apparell was in braids of gold, fret with moving
spangles of silver and gilt, set on crimsin sattin, loose and not
fastned; the men's apparell of the same sute made like Julis of
Hungarie, and the ladies heads and bodies were after the fashion of
Amsterdam. And when the dansing was done, the banket was served in of
five hundred dishes, with great plentie to everie bodie.

In 1517, the king kept his Christmasse at his manor of Greenwich, and
on the Twelfe night, according to the old custome, he and the queene
came into the hall; and when they were set, and the queene of Scots
also, there entered into the hall a garden artificiall, called the
garden of Esperance. This garden was towred at everie corner, and
railed with railes gilt; all the banks were set with flowers
artificiall of silke and gold, the leaves cut of green sattin, so that
they seemed verie flowers. In the midst of this garden was a piller of
antique worke, all gold set with pearles and stones, and on the top of
the piller, which was six square, was a lover, or an arch embowed,
crowned with gold; within which stood a bush of roses red and white,
all of silk and gold, and a bush of pomegranats of the like stuffe. In
this garden walked six knights, and six ladies richlie apparelled, and
then they descended and dansed manie goodlie danses, and so ascended
out of the hall, and then the king was served with a great banket.

In 1518 was the fearful plague of the sweating sickness, and the
chronicler says this maladie was so cruell that it killed some within
three houres, some merrie at dinner, and dead at dinner. It even
invaded the sanctity of the Court, and the king reduced his
entourage, and kept no Christmas that year.

In 1520, the king kept his Christmas at Greenwich with much
noblenesse and open Court. On Twelfe daie his grace and the earle of
Devonshire, with foure aids, answered at the tournie all commers,
which were sixteene persons. Noble and rich was their apparell, but in
feats of armes the king excelled the rest.

The next one recorded is that of 1524, when before the feast of
Christmasse, the lord Leonard Graie, and the lord John Graie, brethren
to the Marquesse Dorset, Sir George Cobham, sonne to the lord Cobham,
William Carie, Sir John Dudleie, Thomas Wiat, Francis Pointz, Francis
Sidneie, Sir Anthonie Browne, Sir Edward Seimor, Oliver Manners,
Percivall Hart, Sebastian Nudigate, and Thomas Calen, esquiers of the
king's houshold, enterprised a challenge of feats of armes against the
feast of Christmas, which was proclaimed by Windsore the herald, and
performed at the time appointed after the best manners, both at tilt,
tourneie, barriers, and assault of a castell erected for that purpose
in the tilt-yard at Greenewich, where the king held a roiall
Christmasse that yeare, with great mirth and princelie pastime.

Of the next Christ-tide we are told, In this winter there was great
death in London, so that the terme was adjourned: and the king kept
his Christmasse at Eltham, with a small number, and therefore it was
called the Still Christmasse.

In 1526, the king kept a solemne Christmasse at Greenewich with
revelles, maskes, disguisings and bankets; and the thirtith daie of
December, was an enterprise of iusts made at the tilt by six
gentlemen, against all commers, which valiantlie furnished the same,
both with speare and sword; and like iustes were kept the third daie
of Januarie, where were three hundred speares broken. That same night,
the king and manie yoong gentlemen with him, came to Bridewell, and
there put him and fifteene other, all in masking apparell, and then
tooke his barge and rowed to the cardinal's place, where were at
supper a great companie of lords and ladies, and then the maskers
dansed, and made goodlie pastime; and when they had well dansed, the
ladies plucked awaie their visors, and so they were all knowen, and to
the king was made a great banket.

This is the last recorded Christ-tide of this reign, and, doubtless,
as the king grew older and more sedate, he did not encourage the
sports which delighted him in his hot youth.





Next: Historic Christ-tides




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