Historic Christ-tides--edward Vi 1551

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,
ith 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


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


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


Christmas is my name, far have I gone,

Without regard; without regard.

Whereas great men by flocks there be flown,

To London-ward--to London Ward.

There they in pomp and pleasure do waste

That which Old Christmas was wonted to feast,

Well a day!

Houses where music was wont for to ring,

Nothing but bats and owlets do sing.

Well a day, Well a day.

Well a day, where should I stay?

Christmas beef and bread is turn'd into stones,

Into stones and silken rags;

And Lady Money sleeps and makes moans,

And makes moans in misers' bags;

Houses where pleasures once did abound,

Nought but a dog and a shepherd is found,

Well a day!

Places where Christmas revels did keep,

Now are become habitations for sheep.

Well a day, Well a day,

Well a day, where should I stay?

Pan, the shepherds' god, doth deface,

Doth deface Lady Ceres' crown,

And the tillage doth go to decay,

To decay in every town;

Landlords their rents so highly enhance,

That Pierce, the ploughman, barefoot may dance;

Well a day!

Farmers that Christmas would still entertain,

Scarce have wherewith themselves to maintain,

Well a day, etc.

Come to the countryman, he will protest,

Will protest, and of bull-beef boast;

And, for the citizen, he is so hot,

Is so hot, he will burn the roast.

The courtier, sure good deeds will not scorn,

Nor will he see poor Christmas forlorn?

Well a day!

Since none of these good deeds will do,

Christmas had best turn courtier too,

Well a day, etc.

Pride and luxury they do devour,

Do devour house keeping quite;

And soon beggary they do beget,

Do beget in many a knight.

Madam, forsooth, in her coach must wheel

Although she wear her hose out at heel,

Well a day!

And on her back wear that for a weed,

Which me and all my fellows would feed.

Well a day, etc.

Since pride came up with the yellow starch,

Yellow starch--poor folks do want,

And nothing the rich men will to them give,

To them give, but do them taunt;

For Charity from the country is fled,

And in her place hath nought left but need;

Well a day!

And corn is grown to so high a price,

It makes poor men cry with weeping eyes.

Well a day, etc.

Briefly for to end, here do I find,

I do find so great a vocation,

That most great houses seem to attain,

To attain a strong purgation;

Where purging pills such effects they have shew'd,

That forth of doors they their owners have spued;

Well a day!

And where'er Christmas comes by, and calls,

Nought now but solitary and naked walls.

Well a day, etc.

Philemon's cottage was turn'd into gold,

Into gold, for harbouring Jove:

Rich men their houses up for to keep,

For to keep, might their greatness move;

But, in the city, they say, they do live,

Where gold by handfulls away they do give;--

I'll away,

And thither, therefore, I purpose to pass,

Hoping at London to find the Golden Ass.

I'll away, I'll away,

I'll away, for here's no stay.

A little light upon this ballad may possibly be found in a letter from

John Chamberlain to Sir Dudley Carleton (21st December 1627):--Divers

lords and personages of quality have made means to be dispensed

withall for going into the Country this Christmas according to the

proclamation; but it will not be granted, so that they pack away on

all sides for fear of the worst.

As we are now getting near the attempted suppression of Christmas

under the Puritan regime, it may be as well to notice the extreme

licence to which the season's holiday and festivities had reached--and

perhaps a more flagrant case than the following can scarcely be given.

On 13th January 1626 the Commissioners of the Navy write to the Duke

of Buckingham that they have received information from persons who

have been on board the Happy Entrance in the Downs, and the

Nonsuch and Garland at Gore-end, that for these Christmas

holidays, the captains, masters, boatswains, gunners, and carpenters,

were not aboard their ships, nor gave any attendance to the service,

leaving the ships a prey to any who might have assaulted them. The

Commissioners sent down clothes for the sailors, and there were no

officers to take charge of them, and the pressed men ran away as fast

as the Commissioners sent them down. If they had beaten up and down,

they might have prevented the loss of two English ships taken by the

Dunkirkers off Yarmouth.

This, naturally, was a state of things which could not be allowed, and

on January 15 the Duke of Buckingham wrote to Sir Henry Palmer as to

the officers and men quitting their ships at Christmas time, and

called upon him presently to repair on board his own ship, and to

charge the officers of all the ships composing his fleet, not to

depart from their ships without order.