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Historic Christ-tides






Only one is noted in the reign of Edward VI., that of 1551, of which
Holinshed writes, Wherefore, as well to remove fond talke out of
men's mouths, as also to recreat and refresh the troubled spirits of
the young king; who seemed to take the trouble of his uncle[5]
somewhat heavilie; it was devised, that the feast of Christ's
nativitie, commonlie called Christmasse, then at hand, should be
solemnlie kept at Greenwich, with open houshold and frank resorte to
Court (which is called keeping of the hall), what time of old
ordinarie course there is alwaies one appointed to make sport in the
Court, called commonlie lord of misrule: whose office is not unknowne
to such as have beene brought up in noble men's houses, and among
great house-keepers, which use liberall feasting in that season. There
was, therefore, by orders of the Councell, a wise gentleman, and
learned, named George Ferrers, appointed to that office for this
yeare; who, being of better credit and estimation than commonlie his
predecessors had beene before, received all his commissions and
warrants by the name of the maister of the king's pastimes. Which
gentleman so well supplied his office, both in shew of sundrie sights
and devises of rare inventions, and in act of diverse interludes, and
matters of pastime plaied by persons, as not onely satisfied the
common sort, but, also, were very well liked and allowed by the
councell, and others of skill in the like pastimes; but, best of all,
by the yoong king himselfe, as appeered by his princelie liberalitie
in rewarding that service.

On mondaie, the fourth of Januarie, the said lord of merie disports
came by water to London, and landed at the Tower wharffe, where he was
received by Vanse, lord of misrule to John Mainard, one of the
shiriffes of London, and so conducted through the citie with a great
companie of yoong lords and gentlemen to the house of Sir George
Barne, lord maior, where he, with the cheefe of his companie dined,
and, after, had a great banket: and at his departure the lord maior
gave him a standing cup with a cover of silver and guilt, of the value
of ten pounds, for a reward, and also set a hogshed of wine, and a
barrell of beere at his gate, for his traine that followed him. The
residue of his gentlemen and servants dined at other aldermen's
houses, and with the shiriffes, and then departed to the tower wharffe
againe, and so to the court by water, to the great commendation of the
maior and aldermen, and highlie accepted of the king and councell.

Mary does not seem to have kept up state Christ-tide except on one
occasion, the year after her marriage with Philip, when a masque was
performed before her.

Elizabeth continued the old tradition, but they are only mentioned and
known by the Expenses books. It is said that at Christmas 1559 she was
displeased with something in the play performed before her, and
commanded the players to leave off. There was also a masque for her
amusement on Twelfth Night.

Of James I.'s first Christ-tide in England we have the following in a
letter from the Lady Arabella Stuart to the Earl of Shrewsbury, 3rd
December 1603:--

The Queen intendeth to make a mask this Christmass, to which my lady
of Suffolk and my lady Walsingham have warrants to take of the late
Queen's apparell out of the Tower at their discretion. Certain
gentlemen, whom I may not yet name, have made me of theyr counsell,
intend another. Certain gentlemen of good sort another. It is said
there shall be 30 playes. The king will feast all the Embassadours
this Christmass.

The death of the infant Princess Mary in September 1607 did not
interfere with James I. keeping Christmas right royally in that year.
There were masques and theatricals--nay, the king wanted a play acted
on Christmas night--and card-playing went on for high sums, the queen
losing L300 on the eve of Twelfth night.

It was, probably, the exceeding license of Christ-tide that made the
sour Puritans look upon its being kept in remembrance, as vain and
superstitious; at all events, whenever in their power, they did their
best to crush it. Take, for instance, the first Christmas day after
the landing of the so-called Pilgrim Fathers at Plymouth Rock in
1620, and read the deliberate chilliness and studied slight of the
whole affair, which was evidently more than the ship's master could
bear.

Munday, the 25 Day, we went on shore, some to fell tymber, some to
saw, some to riue, and some to carry, so that no man rested all that
day, but towards night, some, as they were at worke, heard a noyse of
some Indians, which caused vs all to goe to our Muskets, but we heard
no further, so we came aboord againe, and left some twentie to keepe
the court of gard; that night we had a sore storme of winde and raine.
Munday the 25 being Christmas day, we began to drinke water aboord,
but at night, the Master caused vs to have some Beere, and so on board
we had diverse times now and then some Beere, but on shore none at
all.

That this working on Christmas day was meant as an intentional
slight--for these pious gentlemen would not work on the Sunday--is, I
think, made patent by the notice by William Bradford, of how they kept
the following Christmas.

One ye day called Christmas-day, ye Gov'r caled them out to worke (as
was used), but ye most of this new company excused themselves, and
said it went against their consciences to worke on ye day. So ye Gov'r
tould them that if they made it a mater of conscience, he would spare
them till they were better informed. So he led away y^{e} rest, and
left them: but when they came home at noone from their worke, he found
them in ye streete at play, openly; some pitching ye barr, and some at
stoole ball, and such like sports. So he went to them and tooke away
their implements, and told them it was against his conscience that
they should play, and others worke. If they made ye keeping of it
matter of devotion, let them kepe their houses, but there should be no
gameing or revelling in ye streets. Since which time nothing hath been
attempted that way, at least, openly.

But we shall hear more of the Puritans and Christ-tide, only my scheme
is to treat the season chronologically, and, consequently, there must
be a slight digression; and the following ballad, which must have been
published in the time of James I., because of the allusion to yellow
starch (Mrs. Turner having been executed for the poisoning of Sir
Thomas Overbury in 1615), gives us





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