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The King Of The Bean






But another sovereign had a great deal to do with Twelfth day, The
King of the Bean, who takes his title from a bean, or a silver penny,
baked in a cake, which is cut up and distributed, and he is king in
whose slice the bean is found. Naogeorgus gives us the following
account of Twelfth day:--

The wise men's day here foloweth, who out from Persia farre,
Brought giftes and presents unto Christ, conducted by a starre.
The Papistes do beleeve that these were kings, and so them call,
And do affirme that of the same there were but three in all.
Here sundrie friendes togither come, and meete in companie,
And make a king amongst themselves by voyce, or destinie:
Who, after princely guise, appoyntes his officers alway.
Then, unto feasting doe they go, and long time after play:
Upon their hordes, in order thicke, the daintie dishes stande,
Till that their purses emptie be, and creditors at hande.
Their children herein follow them, and choosing princes here,
With pompe and great solemnitie, they meete and make good chere:
With money eyther got by stealth, or of their parents eft,
That so they may be traynde to knowe, both ryot here and theft.
Then also every housholder, to his abilitie,
Doth make a mightie Cake, that may suffice his companie:
Herein a pennie doth he put, before it comes to fire,
This he devides according as his housholde 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 so chaunceth on the peece wherin the money lies,
Is counted king amongst them all, and is, with showtes and cries,
Exalted to the heavens up, who, taking chalke in hande,
Doth make a crosse on every beame, and rafters as they stande:
Great force and powre have these agaynst all injuryes and harmes
Of cursed devils, sprites, and bugges,[93] of coniurings and charmes.
So much this king can do, so much the Crosses brings to passe,
Made by some servant, maide, or childe, or by some foolish asse.
Twise sixe nightes then from Christmasse, they do count with diligence
Wherein eche maister, in his house, doth burne up Franckensence:
And on the Table settes a loafe, when night approcheth nere,
Before the Coles, and Franckensence, to be perfumed there:
First bowing downe his heade he standes, and nose, and eares, and eyes
He smokes, and with his mouth receyve 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 preserve, they say, their teeth, and nose, and eyes,
and eare,
From every kind of maladie, and sicknesse all the yeare.
When every one receyved hath this odour, great and small,
Then one takes up the pan with Coales, and Franckensence, and all,
Another takes the loafe, whom all the rest 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
Have powre to hurt their children, or to do their cattell harme.
There are, that three nightes onely do perfourme this foolish geare,
To this intent, and thinke themselves in safetie all the yeare.
To Christ dare none commit himselfe. And in these dayes beside,
They iudge what weather all the yeare shall happen and betide:
Ascribing to ech day a month. And, at this present time,
The youth in every place doe flocke, and all appareld fine,
With Pypars through the streetes they runne, and sing at every dore,
In commendation of the man, rewarded well therefore:
Which on themselves they do bestowe, or on the Church, as though
The people were not plagude with Roges and begging Fryers enough.
There Cities are, where boyes and gyrles togither still do runne,
About the streete with like, as soone as night beginnes to come,
And bring abrode their wassell bowles, who well rewarded bee,
With Cakes and Cheese, and great good cheare, and money plentiouslie.


The above gives us Twelfth day customs in the sixteenth century.
Herrick tells us how it was celebrated a hundred years later, when
they had added a queen to the festivities, as they had, previously,
given a consort to the Lord of Misrule.

Twelfe night, or King and Queene.

Now, now the mirth comes
With the cake full of plums,
Where Beane's the King of the sport here;
Besides, 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 not a man then be seen here
Who un-urg'd will not drinke
To the base, from the brink,
A health to the King and the Queene here.

Next, crowne the bowle full
With gentle lamb's-wooll;
Adde sugar, nutmeg, and ginger,
With store of ale too;
And thus ye must doe
To make the wassaile a swinger.

Give then to the King
And Queene wassailing;
And though, with ale, ye be whet here,
Yet part ye from hence
As free from offence
As when ye innocent met here.

This custom of having a Twelfth cake and electing a king and queen has
now died out, and is only known by tradition; so utterly died out
indeed, that in the British Museum Library there is not a single sheet
of Twelfth-night Characters to show the younger race of students
what they were like. The nearest approach to them preserved in that
national collection of literature are some Lottery squibs, which
imitated them; and Hone, writing in 1838, says: It must be admitted,
however, that the characters sold by the pastry cooks are either
commonplace or gross; when genteel, they are inane; when humorous,
they are vulgar.

A correspondent in the Universal Magazine for 1774 thus describes
the drawing for King and Queen at that date. He says: I went 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.

Here we see they had no sheets of Twelfth-night Characters (the loss
of which I deplore), but they were of home manufacture. Hone, in his
Every-Day Book, vol. i. p. 51, describes the drawing some fifty
years later. First, buy your cake. Then, before your visitors arrive,
buy your characters, each of which should have a pleasant verse
beneath. 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 have 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 ladies' characters in a reticule as there are ladies present;
next, put the gentlemen's characters in a hat. Then call 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 gentleman 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; then the queen the verse on hers, and so the
characters are to proceed in numerical order. This done, let the cake
and refreshments go round, and hey! for merriment!

The Twelfth cakes themselves were, in the higher class, almost as
beautiful as wedding cakes, but they might be had of all prices, from
sixpence to anything one's purse might compass; and the confectioner's
(they called them pastry cooks in those days) windows were well worth
a visit, and crowds did visit them, sometimes a little practical
joking taking place, such as pinning two persons together, etc.
Quoting Hone again: In London, with every pastry cook in the city,
and at the west end of the town, it is 'high change' on Twelfth day.
From the taking down 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 waxlights, 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 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, milkmaids, knights, serpents,
and innumerable other forms in snow-white confectionery, painted with
variegated colours, glitter by 'excess of light' from mirrors against
the walls, festooned with artificial wonders of Flora.

As the fashion of Twelfth cakes declined, the pastry cooks had to push
their sale in every way possible, not being very particular as to
overstepping the law, by getting rid of them by means of drawings,
raffles, and lotteries, which for a long time were winked at by the
authorities, until they assumed dimensions which could not be
ignored, and M. Louis Dethier was summoned at Bow Street on 26th
December 1860, under the Act 42 Geo. III. cap. 119, sec. 2, for
keeping an office at the Hanover Square Rooms for the purpose of
carrying on a lottery under the name, device, and pretence of a
distribution of Twelfth cakes. He had brought a similar distribution
to a successful conclusion in 1851, but that was the exceptional year
of the Great Exhibition, and he was not interfered with; but this was
for L10,000 worth of cakes to be drawn for on ten successive days,
beginning 26th December--tickets one shilling each. This was an
undoubted lottery on a grand scale. The case was completely proved
against Dethier, but he was not punished, as he abandoned his scheme,
putting up with the loss.

There were some curious customs in different parts of the kingdom on
Twelfth day, but I doubt whether many are in existence now. The
following, taken from Notes and Queries (3 ser. v. 109), was in
vogue in 1864. It is still the custom in parts of Pembrokeshire on
Twelfth night to carry about a wren.

The wren is secured in a small house made of wood, with door and
windows--the latter glazed. Pieces of ribbon of various colours are
fixed to the ridge of the roof outside. Sometimes several wrens are
brought in the same cage; and oftentimes a stable lantern, decorated
as above mentioned, serves for the wren's house. The proprietors of
this establishment go round to the principal houses in the
neighbourhood, where, accompanying themselves with some musical
instrument, they announce their arrival by singing the 'Song of the
Wren.' The wren's visit is a source of much amusement to children and
servants; and the wren's men, or lads, are usually invited to have a
draught from the cellar, and receive a present in money. The 'Song of
the Wren' is generally encored, and the proprietors very commonly
commence high life below stairs, dancing with the maid-servants, and
saluting them under the kissing bush, where there is one. I have
lately procured a copy of the song sung on this occasion. I am told
that there is a version of this song in the Welsh language, which is
in substance very near to the following:--

THE SONG OF THE WREN.

Joy health, love, and peace
Be to you in this place,
By your leave we will sing
Concerning our King:
Our King is well drest,
In silks of the best;
With his ribbons so rare,
No King can compare.
In his coach he does ride,
With a great deal of pride;
And with four footmen
To wait upon him.

We four were at watch,
And all nigh of a match;
With powder and ball,
We fired at his hall.
We have travelled many miles
Over hedges and stiles,
To find you this King,
Which we now to you bring.
Now Christmas is past,
Twelfth day is the last,
Th' Old Year bids adieu;
Great joy to the New.

Hone, in his Table Book, p. 26, gives a description of Holly Night
at Brough, Westmoreland, in 1838. Formerly the 'Holly Tree' at Brough
was really holly, but ash being abundant, the latter is now
substituted. There are two head inns in the town, which provide for
the ceremony alternately, although the good townspeople mostly lend
their assistance in preparing the tree, to every branch of which they
fasten a torch. About eight o'clock in the evening it is taken to a
convenient part of the town, where the torches are lighted, the town
band accompanying, and playing till all is completed, when it is
removed to the lower end of the town; and after divers salutes and
huzzas from the spectators, is carried up and down the town in stately
procession. The band march behind it, playing their instruments, and
stopping every time they reach the town bridge and the cross, where
the 'holly' is again greeted with shouts of applause. Many of the
inhabitants carry lighted branches and flambeaus; and rockets, squibs,
etc., are discharged on the joyful occasion. After the tree is thus
carried, and the torches are sufficiently burnt, it is placed in the
middle of the town, when it is again cheered by the surrounding
populace, and is afterwards thrown among them. They eagerly watch for
this opportunity; and, clinging to each end of the tree, endeavour to
carry it away to the inn they are contending for, where they are
allowed their usual quantum of ale and spirits, and pass a merry
night, which seldom breaks up before two in the morning.

According to Waldron, in his Description of the Isle of Man, 1859,
p. 156, the following singular custom is in force on Twelfth day. In
this island there is not a barn unoccupied on the whole twelve days
after Christmas, every parish hiring fiddlers at the public charge. On
Twelfth day the fiddler lays his head in the lap of some one of the
wenches, and the mainstyr fiddler asks who such a maid, or such a
maid, naming all the girls one after another, shall marry, to which he
answers according to his own whim, or agreeable to the intimacies he
has taken notice of during the time of merriment, and whatever he says
is absolutely depended upon as an oracle; and if he 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 a whole year.





Next: St Distaff's Day

Previous: Eve Of Twelfth Day



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