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, bein
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.