Ordinance Against Out-door Revelry

These Christmas revelries were sometimes carried to excess, and needed

curbing with the strong hand of the law, an early instance of which we

find in Letter Book I. of the Corporation of the City of London, fol.

223, 6 Henry V., A.D. 1418.

The Mair and Aldermen chargen on þe kynges byhalf, and þis Cite, þat

no manere persone, of what astate, degre, or condicoun þat euere he

be, duryng þis holy tyme o
Christemes be so hardy in eny wyse to walk

by nyght in eny manere mommyng, pleyes, enterludes, or eny oþer

disgisynges with eny feynyd berdis,[65] peyntid visers, diffourmyd or

colourid visages in eny wyse, up peyne of enprisonement of her bodyes

and makyng fyne after þe discrecioun of þe Mair and Aldremen;

ontake[66] þat hit be leful to eche persone for to be honestly mery as

he can, within his owne hous dwellyng. And more ouere þei charge on þe

Kynges byhalf, and þe Cite, þat eche honest persone, dwellyng in eny

hye strete or lane of þis Citee, hang out of her house eche night,

duryng þis solempne Feste, a lanterne with a candell þer in, to

brenne[67] as long as hit may endure, up[68] peyne to pay ivd, to þe

chaumbre at eche tyme þat hit faillith.

And to cite another case, much later in date, the Commissioners for

Causes Ecclesiastical kept strict watch on some of the Christmas

revellers of 1637. They had before them one Saunders, from

Lincolnshire, for carrying revelry too far. Saunders and others, at

Blatherwick, had appointed a Lord of Misrule over their festivities.

This was perfectly lawful, and could not be gainsaid. But they had

resolved that he should have a lady, or Christmas wife; and probably

there would have been no harm in that, if they had not carried the

matter too far. They, however, brought in as bride one Elizabeth

Pitto, daughter of the hog-herd of the town. Saunders received her,

disguised as a parson, wearing a shirt or smock for a surplice. He

then married the Lord of Misrule to the hog-herd's daughter, reading

the whole of the marriage service from the Book of Common Prayer. All

the after ceremonies and customs then in use were observed, and the

affair was carried to its utmost extent. The parties had time to

repent at leisure in prison.

The old English disport of mumming at Christmas is of great

antiquity--so great that its origin is lost. Fosbroke, in his

Encyclopaedia of Antiquities (ed. 1843, ii. 668), says, under the

heading Mummers: These were amusements derived from the Saturnalia,

and so called from the Danish mumme, or Dutch momme--disguise in a

mask. Christmas was the grand scene of mumming, and some mummers were

disguised as bears, others like unicorns, bringing presents. Those who

could not procure masks rubbed their faces with soot, or painted them.

In the Christmas mummings the chief aim was to surprise by the oddity

of the masks, and singularity and splendour of the dresses. Everything

was out of nature and propriety. They were often attended with an

exhibition of gorgeous machinery.[69] It was an old custom also to

have mummeries on Twelfth night. They were the common holiday

amusements of young people of both sexes; but by 6 Edward III. the

mummers, or masqueraders, were ordered to be whipped out of London.

The original mumming was in dumb show, and was sometimes of

considerable proportions, vide one in 1348, where there were eighty

tunics of buckram, forty-two visors, and a great variety of other

whimsical dresses were provided for the disguising at court at the

Feast of Christmas. A most magnificent mummery or disguising was

exhibited by the citizens of London in 1377, for the amusement of

Richard, Prince of Wales, in which no fewer than 130 persons were

disguised; which, with that in 1401, I have already described. Philip

Stubbes, the Puritan, says: In 1440, one captain John Gladman, a man

ever true and faithful to God and the King, and constantly sportive,

made public disport with his neighbours at Christmas. He traversed the

town on a horse as gaily caparisoned as himself, preceded by the

twelve months, each dressed in character. After him crept the pale

attenuated figure of Lent, clothed in herring skins, and mounted on a

sorry horse, whose harness was covered with oyster shells. A train,

fantastically garbed, followed. Some were clothed as bears, apes, and

wolves; others were tricked out in armour; a number appeared as

harridans, with blackened faces and tattered clothes, and all kept up

a promiscuous fight. Last of all marched several carts, whereon a

number of fellows, dressed as old fools, sat upon nests, and pretended

to hatch young fools.

We still have our mummers in very many a country village; but the

sport is now confined to the village boys, who, either masked or with

painted faces, ribbons, and other finery (I have known them tricked

out with paper streamers, obtained from a neighbouring paper mill),

act a play(!), and, of course, ask for money at its conclusion. By

some, it is considered that this play originated in the commemoration

of the doughty deeds of the Crusaders.

The earliest of these plays that I can find is in a fifteenth century

MS.--temp. Edward IV.--and the characters are the nine worthies:

Ector de Troye. Thow Achylles in bataly me slow,

Of my worthynes men speken I now.

Alisander. And in romaunce often am I leyt,

As conqueror gret thow I seyt.

Julius Caesar. Thow my cenatoures me slow in c[=o]llory,

Fele londes byfore by conquest wan I.

Josue. In holy Chyrche 3e mowen here and rede,

Of my worthynes and of my dede.

Dauit. After y^{t} slayn was Golyas,

By me the sawter than made was.

Judas Macabeus. Of my wurthynesse 3yf 3e wyll wete,

Secke the byble, for ther it is wrete.

Arthour. The round tabyll I sette w^{t} Knyghtes strong,

Zyt shall I come a3en, thow it be long.

Charles. With me dwellyd Rouland Olyvere,

In all my conquest fer and nere.

Godefry de Boleyn. And I was Kyng of Jherusalem,

The crowne of thorn I wan fro hem.

Of the comparatively modern play acted by the mummers space only

enables me to give two examples, although I could give many more. The

first is the simplest, and only requires three principal actors, and

this is still played in Oxfordshire.[70]

[Footnote 70: Notes and Queries, 6th series xii. 489.]

A Knight enters with his sword drawn, and says:

Room, room, make room, brave gallants all,

For me and my brave company!

Where's the man that dares bid me stand?

I'll cut him down with my bold hand!

St. George. Here's the man that dares bid you stand;

He defies your courageous hand!

The Knight. Then mind your eye, to guard the blow,

And shield your face, and heart also.

(St. George gets wounded in the combat, and falls.)

Doctor, Doctor, come here and see,

St. George is wounded in the knee;

Doctor, Doctor, play well your part.

St. George is wounded in the heart!

(The Doctor enters.)

I am a Doctor, and a Doctor good,

And with my hand I'll stop the blood.

The Knight. What can you cure, Doctor?

The Doctor. I can cure coughs, colds, fevers, gout,

Both pains within and aches without;

I will bleed him in the thumb.

St. George. O! will you so? then I'll get up and run!

Some more Mummers or Minstrels come in, and they sing the following

stanza, accompanied by the Hurdy Gourdy:--

My father, he killed a fine fat hog,

And that you may plainly see;

My mother gave me the guts of the hog,

To make a hurdy gourdy.

Then they repeat the song in full chorus, and dance.

The other example is far more elaborate, and was read by J.S. Udal,

Esquire, in a paper on Christmas Mummers in Dorsetshire before the

Folk-lore Society, 13th April 1880. He said: I will now proceed to

give the entire rendering of the first version as it was obtained for

me, some few years ago, by an old Dorsetshire lady, who is now dead,

and in this the dramatis personae are as follow:--



ANTHONY, the Egyptian King.











Here comes I, Father Christmas, welcome, or welcome not,

I hope Old Father Christmas will never be forgot.

Although it is Old Father Christmas, he has but a short time to stay

I am come to show you pleasure, and pass the time away.

I have been far, I have been near,

And now, I am come to drink a pot of your Christmas beer;

And, if it is your best,

I hope, in heaven your soul will rest.

If it is a pot of your small,

We cannot show you no Christmas at all.

Walk in, Room, again I say,

And, pray, good people, clear the way.

Walk in, Room.

Enter ROOM.

God bless you all, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It's Christmas time, and I am come again.

My name is Room, one sincere and true,

A merry Christmas I wish to you.

King of Egypt is for to display,

A noble champion without delay.

St. Patrick too, a charming Irish youth,

He can fight, or dance, or love a girl with truth.

A noble Doctor, I do declare, and his surprising tricks, bring up

the rear.

And let the Egyptian King straightway appear.


Here comes I, Anthony, the Egyptian King.

With whose mighty acts, all round the globe doth ring;

No other champion but me excels,

Except St. George, my only son-in-law.

Indeed, that wondrous Knight, whom I so dearly love,

Whose mortal deeds the world dost well approve,

The hero whom no dragon could affright,

A whole troop of soldiers couldn't stand in sight.

Walk in, St. George, his warlike ardour to display,

And show Great Britain's enemies dismay.

Walk in, St. George.


Here am I, St. George, an Englishman so stout,

With those mighty warriors I long to have a bout;

No one could ever picture me the many I have slain,

I long to fight, it's my delight, the battle o'er again.

Come then, you boasting champions,

And here, that in war I doth take pleasure,

I will fight you all, both great and small,

And slay you at my leisure.

Come, haste, away, make no delay,

For I'll give you something you won't like,

And, like a true-born Englishman,

I will fight you on my stumps.

And, now, the world I do defy,

To injure me before I die.

So, now, prepare for war, for that is my delight.

Enter ST. PATRICK, who shakes hands with ST. GEORGE.

My worthy friend, how dost thou fare, St. George?

Answer, my worthy Knight.


I am glad to find thee here;

In many a fight that I have been in, travelled far and near,

To find my worthy friend St. Patrick, that man I love so dear.

Four bold warriors have promised me

To meet me here this night to fight.

The challenge did I accept, but they could not me affright.


I will always stand by that man that did me first enlarge,

I thank thee now, in gratitude, my worthy friend, St. Geaerge;

Thou did'st first deliver me out of this wretched den,

And now I have my liberty, I thank thee once again.


I'll give St. George a thrashing, I'll make him sick and sore,

And, if I further am disposed, I'll thrash a dozen more.


Large words, my worthy friend,

St. George is here,

And likewise St. Patrick too;

And he doth scorn such men as you.

I am the man for thee,

Therefore, prepare yourself to fight with me;

Or, else, I'll slay thee instantly.


Come on, my boy! I'll die before

I yield to thee, or twenty more.

(They fight, and ST. PATRICK kills CAPTAIN BLUSTER.)


Now one of St. George's foes is killed by me,

Who fought the battle o'er,

And, now, for the sake of good St. George,

I'll freely fight a hundred more.


No, no, my worthy friend,

St. George is here,

I'll fight the other three;

And, after that, with Christmas beer,

So merry we will be.


No beer, or brandy, Sir, I want, my courage for to rise,

I only want to meet St. George, or take him by surprise;

But I am afraid he never will fight me,

I wish I could that villain see.


Tremble, thou tyrant, for all thy sin that's past,

Tremble to think that this night will be thy last.

Thy conquering arms shall quickly by thee lay alone

And send thee, passing, to eternal doom.

St. George will make thy armour ring;

St. George will soon despatch the Gracious King.


I'll die before I yield to thee, or twenty more.

(They fight, ST. GEORGE kills the GRACIOUS KING.)


He was no match for me, he quickly fell.


But I am thy match, and that my sword shall tell,

Prepare thyself to die, and bid thy friends farewell.

I long to fight such a brave man as thee,

For it's a pleasure to fight so manfully

(a line missing.)

Rations so severe he never so long to receive.

So cruel! for thy foes are always killed;

Oh! what a sight of blood St. George has spilled!

I'll fight St. George the hero here,

Before I sleep this night.

Come on, my boy, I'll die before

I yield to thee, or twenty more.

St. George, thou and I'll the battle try,

If thou dost conquer I will die.

(They fight, ST. GEORGE kills the GENERAL.)


Where now is Colonel Spring? he doth so long delay,

That hero of renown, I long to show him play.


Holloa! behold me, here am I!

I'll have thee now prepare,

And by this arm thou'lt surely die,

I'll have thee this night, beware.

So, see, what bloody works thou'st made,

Thou art a butcher, sir, by trade.

I'll kill, as thou did'st kill my brother,

For one good turn deserves another.

(They fight, ST. GEORGE kills the COLONEL.)


Stay thy hand, St. George, and slay no more; for I feel for the wives

and families of those men thou hast slain.


So am I sorry. I'll freely give any sum of money to a doctor to

restore them again. I have heard talk of a mill to grind old men

young, but I never heard of a doctor to bring dead men to life again.


There's an Irish doctor, a townsman of mine, who lived next door to

St. Patrick, he can perform wonders. Shall I call him, St. George?


With all my heart. Please to walk in, Mr. Martin Dennis. It's an ill

wind that blows no good work for the doctor. If you will set these men



their pins, I'll give thee a hundred pound, and here is the money.


So I will, my worthy knight, and then I shall not want for whiskey for

one twelvemonth to come. I am sure, the first man I saw beheaded, I

put his head on the wrong way. I put his mouth where his poll ought to

be, and he's exhibited in a wondering nature.


Very good answer, Doctor. Tell me the rest of your miracles, and raise

those warriors.


I can cure love-sick maidens, jealous husbands, squalling wives,

brandy-drinking dames, with one touch of my triple liquid, or one sly

dose of my Jerusalem balsam, and that will make an old crippled dame

dance the hornpipe, or an old woman of seventy years of age conceive

and bear a twin. And now to convince you all of my exertions,--Rise,

Captain Bluster, Gracious King, General Valentine, and Colonel Spring!

Rise, and go to your father!

(On the application of the medicine they all rise and retire.)

Enter OLD BET.

Here comes dame Dorothy,

A handsome young woman, good morning to ye.

I am rather fat, but not very tall,

I'll do my best endeavour to please you all.

My husband, he is to work, and soon he will return,

And something for our supper bring,

And, perhaps, some wood to burn.

Oh! here he comes!


Well! Jan.


Oh! Dorothy.


What have you been doing all this long day, Jan?


I have been a-hunting, Bet.


The devil! a-hunting is it? Is that the way to support a wife? Well,

what have you catched to-day, Jan?


A fine jack hare, and I intend to have him a-fried for supper; and

here is some wood to dress him.


Fried! no, Jan, I'll roast it nice.


I say, I'll have it fried.


Was there ever such a foolish dish!


No matter for that. I'll have it a-done; and if you don't do as I

do bid,

I'll hit you in the head.


You may do as you like for all I do care,

I'll never fry a dry jack hare.


Oh! you won't, wooll'ee?

(He strikes her and she falls.)

Oh! what have I done! I have murdered my wife!

The joy of my heart, and the pride of my life.

And out to the gaol I quickly shall be sent.

In a passion I did it, and no malice meant.

Is there a doctor that can restore?

Fifty pounds I'll give him, or twice fifty more.

(Some one speaks.)

Oh! yes, Uncle Jan, there is a doctor just below, and for God's sake

let him just come in. Walk in, Doctor.



Are you a doctor?


Yes, I am a doctor--a doctor of good fame. I have travelled through

Europe, Asia, Africa, and America, and by long practice and experience

I have learned the best of cures for most disorders instant

(incident?) to the human body; find nothing difficult in restoring a

limb, or mortification, or an arm being cut off by a sword, or a head

being struck off by a cannon-ball, if application have not been

delayed till it is too late.


You are the very man, I plainly see,

That can restore my poor old wife to me.

Pray tell me thy lowest fee.


A hundred guineas, I'll have to restore thy wife,

'Tis no wonder that you could not bring the dead to life.


That's a large sum of money for a dead wife!


Small sum of money to save a man from the gallows. Pray what big stick

is that you have in your hand?


That is my hunting pole.


Put aside your hunting pole, and get some assistance to help up your


(OLD BET is raised up to life again.)

Fal, dal, lal! fal, dal, lal! my wife's alive!

Enter SERVANT MAN who sings.

Well met, my brother dear!

All on the highway

Sall and I were walking along,

So I pray, come tell to me

What calling you might be.

I'll have you for some serving man.


I'll give thee many thanks,

And I'll quit thee as soon as I can;

Vain did I know

Where thee could do so or no,

For to the pleasure of a servant man.


Some servants of pleasure

Will pass time out of measure,

With our hares and hounds

They will make the hills and valleys sound

That's a pleasure for some servant man.


My pleasure is more than for to see my oxen grow fat,

And see them prove well in their kind,

A good rick of hay, and a good stack of corn to fill up my barn,

That's a pleasure of a good honest husband man.


Next to church they will go with their livery fine and gay,

With their cocked-up hat, and gold lace all round,

And their shirt so white as milk,

And stitched so fine as silk,

That's a habit for a servant man.


Don't tell I about thee silks and garments that's not fit to

travel the bushes.

Let I have on my old leather coat,

And in my purse a groat,

And there, that's a habit for a good old husband man.


Some servant men doth eat

The very best of meat,

A cock, goose, capon, and swan;

After lords and ladies dine,

We'll drink strong beer, ale, and wine;

That's a diet for some servant man.


Don't tell I of the cock, goose, or capon, nor swan; let I have a good

rusty piece of bacon, pickled pork, in the house, and a hard crust of

bread and cheese once now and then; that's a diet for a good old

honest husband man.

So we needs must confess

That your calling is the best,

And we will give you the uppermost hand;

So no more we won't delay,

But we will pray both night and day,

God bless the honest husband man. Amen.

[Exeunt OMNES.]