The very warm cover suggests a seasonable book, A Righte Merrie Christmasse, by John Ashton, who, fancying that some of its customs and privileges might be forgotten, collects all that has been done or could be done at this annual event. Some of ye anciente goinges on make one wonder whether feasts were better kept when they spelt with such unreasonable euphony. It must have been " merrie in halle" when the wassail song was ordinarily sung as depicted by A. C Behrend in his exquisite copper etching.
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A righte Merrie Christmasse!!!
The Story of Christ-tide
Cover Design: @mei - Fotolia.co
Xxx , yyy
Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck
86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9
TO THE READER
I do not craue mo thankes to haue, than geuen to me all ready be; but this is all, to such as shall peruse this booke. That, for my sake, they gently take what ere they finde against their minde, when he, or she, shal minded be therein to looke.Tusser.
It is with a view of preserving the memory of Christmas that I have written this book.
In it the reader will find its History, Legends, Folk-lore, Customs, and Carols—in fact, an epitome of Old Christ-tide, forming a volume which, it is hoped, will be found full of interest.
Date of Christ's Birth discussed—Opinions of the Fathers—The Eastern Church and Christ-tide—Error in Chronology—Roman Saturnalia—Scandinavian Yule—Duration of Christ-tide.
The day on which Jesus Christ died is plainly distinguishable, but the day of His birth is open to very much question, and, literally, is only conjectural; so that the 25th December must be taken purely as the day on which His birth is celebrated, and not as His absolute natal day. In this matter we can only follow the traditions of the Church, and tradition alone has little value.
In the second and early third centuries of our æra, we only know that the festivals, other than Sundays and days set apart for the remembrance of particular martyrs, were the Passover, Pentecost, and the Epiphany, the baptism or manifestation of our Lord, when came "a voice from Heaven saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." This seems always to have been fixed for the 6th of January, and with it was incorporated the commemoration of His birth.
Titus Flavius Clemens, generally known as Clemens of Alexandria, lived exactly at this time, and was a contemporary of Origen. He speaks plainly on the subject, and shows the uncertainty, even at that early epoch of Christianity, of fixing the date:"There are those who, with an over-busy curiosity, attempt to fix not only the year, but the date of our Saviour's birth, who, they say, was born in the twenty-eighth year of Augustus, on the 25th of the month Pachon," i.e. the 20th of May. And in another place he says: "Some say that He was born on the 24th or 25th of the month Pharmuthi," which would be the 19th or 20th of April.
But, perhaps, the best source of information is from the Mémoires pour servir à l'histoire ecclésiastique des six premiers Siècles, by Louis Sebastian le Nain de Tillemont, written at the very commencement of the eighteenth century,and I have no hesitation in appending a portion of his fourth note, which treats "Upon the day and year of the birth of Jesus Christ."
"It is thought that Jesus Christ was born in the night, because it was night when the angel declared His birth to the shepherds: in which S. Augustin says that He literally fulfilled David's words, Ante luciferum genuite.
"The tradition of the Church, says this father, is that it was upon the 25th of December. Casaubon acknowledges that we should not immediately reject it upon the pretence that it is too cold a season for cattle to be at pasture, there being a great deal of difference between these countries and Judæa; and he assures us that, even in England, they leave the cows in the field all the year round.
"S. Chrysostom alleges several reasons to prove that Jesus Christ was really born upon the 25th of December; but they are weak enough, except that which he assures of, that it has always been the belief of the Western Churches. S. Epiphanius, who will have the day to have been the 6th of January, places it but at twelve days' distance. S. Clement of Alexandria says that, in his time, some fixed the birth of Jesus Christ upon the 19th or 20th April; others, on the 20th of May. He speaks of it as not seeing anything certain in it.
"It is cited from one John of Nice, that it was only under Pope Julius that the Festival of the Nativity was fixed at Rome upon the 25th of December. Father Combesisius, who has published the epistle of this author, confesses that he is very modern: to which we may add that he is full of idle stories, and entirely ignorant of the history and discipline of antiquity. So that it is better to rest upon the testimony of S. Chrysostom, who asserts that, for a long time before, and by very ancient tradition, it was celebrated upon the 25th of December in the West, that is, in all the countries which reach from Thrace to Cadiz, and to the farthest parts of Spain. He names Rome particularly; and thinks that it might be found there that this was the true day of our Saviour's birth, by consulting the registers of the description of Judæa made at that time, supposing them still to be preserved there. We find this festival placed upon the 25th of December in the ancient Roman Calendar, which was probably made in the year 354....
"We find by S. Basil's homily upon the birth of our Lord that a festival in commemoration of it was observed in Cappadocia, provided that this homily is all his; but I am not of opinion that it appears from thence either that this was done in January rather than December or any other month in the year, or that this festival was joined with that of the Baptism. On the contrary, the Churches of Cappadocia seem to have distinguished the Feast of the Nativity from that of the Epiphany, for S. Gregory Nazianzen says, that after he had been ordained priest, in the year 361, upon the festival of one mystery, he retired immediately after into Pontus, on that of another mystery, and returned from Pontus upon that of a third. Now we find that he returned at Easter, so that there is all imaginable reason to believe that he was ordained at Christmas, and retired upon the Epiphany. S. Basil died, in all probability, upon the 1st of January in the year 379, and S. Gregory Nyssen says that his festival followed close upon those of Christmas, S. Stephen, S. Peter, S. James, and S. John. We read in an oration ascribed to S. Amphilochius, that he died on the day of the Circumcision, between the Nativity of Jesus Christ and His Baptism. S. Gregory Nyssen says that the Feast of Lights, and of the Baptism of Jesus Christ, was celebrated some days after that of His Nativity. The other S. Gregory takes notice of several mysteries which were commemorated at Nazianzium with the Nativity, the Magi, etc., but he says nothing, in that place, of the Baptism. And yet, if the festival of Christmas was observed in Cappadocia upon the 25th of December, we must say that S. Chrysostom was ignorant of it, since he ascribes this practice only to Thrace and the more Western provinces....
"In the year 377, or soon after, some persons who came from Rome, introduced into Syria the practice of celebrating our Lord's Nativity in the month of December, upon the same day as was done in the West; and this festival was so well received in that country that in less than ten years it was entirely established at Antioch, and was observed there by all the people with great solemnity, though some complained of it as an innovation. S. Chrysostom, who informs us of all this, speaks of it in such a manner as to make Father Thomassin say, not that the birth of Jesus Christ had till then been kept upon a wrong day, but that absolutely it had not been celebrated there at all.
"S. Chrysostom seems to say, that this festival was received at the same time by the neighbouring provinces to Antioch; but this must not be extended as far as to Egypt, as we learn from a passage in Cassian. This author seems to speak only of the time when he was in Scetæ (about 399), but also of that when he wrote his tenth conference (about the year 420 or 425). But it appears that, in the year 432, Egypt had likewise embraced the practice of Rome: for Paul of Emesa, in the discourse which he made then at Alexandria upon the 29th of Coiac, which is the 25th of December, says it was the day on which Jesus Christ was born. S. Isidore of Pelusium, in Egypt, mentions the Theophany and the Nativity of our Saviour, according to the flesh, as two different festivals. We were surprised to read in an oration of Basil of Seleucia, upon S. Stephen, that Juvenal of Jerusalem, who might be made bishop about the year 420, was the first who celebrated there our Saviour's Nativity."
The Armenian Church still keeps up the eastern 6th of January as Christmas day—and, as the old style of the calendar is retained, it follows that they celebrate the Nativity twenty-four days after we do: and modern writers make the matter more mixed—for Wiesseler thinks that the date of the Nativity was 10th January, whilst Mr. Greswell says it occurred on the 9th April B.C. 4.
It is not everybody that knows that our system of chronology is four years wrong—i.e. that Jesus Christ must have been born four years before Anno Domini, the year of our Lord. It happened in this way. Dionysius Exiguus, in 533, first introduced the system of writing the words Anno Domini, to point out the number of years which had elapsed since the Incarnation of our Lord; in other words he introduced our present chronology. He said the year 1 was the same as the year A.U.C. (from the building of Rome) 754; and this statement he based on the fact that our Saviour was born in the twenty-eighth year of the reign of Augustus; and he reckoned from A.U.C. 727, when the emperor first took the name of Augustus. The early Christians, however, dated from the battle of Actium, which was A.U.C. 723, thus making the Nativity 750. Now we believe that that event took place during Herod's reign, and we know that Herod died between the 13th March and 29th March, on which day Passover commenced, in A.U.C. 750, so that it stands to reason that our chronology is wrong.
Some think that the date of 25th December, which certainly began in the Roman Church, was fixed upon to avoid the multiplication of festivals about the vernal equinox, and to appropriate to a Christian use the existing festival of the winter solstice—the returning sun being made symbolical of the visit of Christ to our earth; and to withdraw Christian converts from those pagan observances with which the closing year was crowded, whilst the licence of the Saturnalia was turned into the merriment of Christmas.
This festival of the Saturnalia (of which the most complete account is given by Macrobius in his Conviviorum Saturnaliorum) dated from the remotest settlement of Latium, whose people reverenced Saturnus as the author of husbandry and the arts of life. At this festival the utmost freedom of social intercourse was permitted to all classes; even slaves were allowed to come to the tables of their masters clothed in their apparel, and were waited on by those whom they were accustomed to serve. Feasting, gaming, and revelry were the occupations of all classes, without discrimination of age, or sex, or rank. Processions crowded the streets, boisterous with mirth: these illuminated the night with lighted tapers of wax, which were also used as gifts between friends in the humbler walks of life. The season was one for the exchange of gifts of friendship, and especially of gifts to children. It began on the 17th December, and extended virtually, to the commencement of the New Year.
Prynnespeaks thus of Christmas: "If we compare our Bacchanalian Christmasses and New Year's Tides with these Saturnalia and Feasts of Janus, we shall finde such near affinytie betweene them both in regard of time (they being both in the end of December and on the first of January), and in their manner of solemnizing (both of them being spent in revelling, epicurisme, wantonesse, idlenesse, dancing, drinking, stage playes, and such other Christmas disorders now in use with Christians), were derived from these Roman Saturnalia and Bacchanalian Festivals; which should cause all pious Christians eternally to abominate them."
The Anglo-Saxons and early English knew not the words either of Christmas or Christ-tide. To them it was the season of Yule. Bede (de temporum ratione, c. 13), regards it as a term for the winter solstice. "Menses Giuli a conversione solis in auctum dici, quia unus eorum præcedit, alius subsequitur, nomina acceperunt": alluding to the Anglo-Saxon Calendar, which designated the months of December and January as æerre-geola and æftera-geola, the former and the latter Yule. Both Skeat and Wedgwood derive it from the old Norse jól, which means feasting and revelry. Mr. J.F. Hodgetts, in an article entitled "Paganism in Modern Christianity" (Antiquary, December 1882, p. 257), says:—
"The ancient name (Yule) for Christmas is still used throughout all Scandinavia. The Swedes, Danes, and Norwegians wish each other a 'glad Yule,' as we say 'A merry Christmas to you.' This alone would serve to draw our attention to Scandinavia, even if no other reason existed for searching there for the origin of our great Christian Feast. The grand storehouses of Pagan lore, as far as the Northern nations of Teutonic race are concerned, are the two Eddas, and if we refer to the part, or chapter, of Snorri Sturlson's Edda, known as Gylfa Ginning, we shall find the twelfth name of Odin, the Father of the Gods, or Allfather, given as Iàlg or Iàlkr (pronounced yolk or yulg). The Christmas tree, introduced into Russia by the Scandinavians, is called ëlka (pronounced yolka), and in the times just preceding, and just after, the conquest of Britain by the English, this high feast of Odin was held in mid-winter, under the name of Iàlka tid, or Yule-tide. It was celebrated at this season, because the Vikings, being then unable to go to sea, could assemble in their great halls and temples and drink to the gods they served so well. Another reason was, that it fell towards the end of the twelve mystic months that made up the mythical, as well as the cosmical, cycle of the year, and was therefore appropriately designated by the last of the names by which Odin is called in the Edda."
There are different opinions as to the duration of Christ-tide. The Roman Church holds that Christmas properly begins at Lauds on Christmas Eve, when the Divine Office begins to be solemnised as a Double, and refers directly to the Nativity of our Lord. It terminates on the 13th of January, the Octave day of the Epiphany. The evergreens and decorations remain in churches and houses until the 2nd of February, the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
But I think that if we in England are bound by ecclesiastical law as to the keeping of Christ-tide, it should, at least, be an English use—such as was observed before the domination of Rome in England. And, previous to the Natale, or Festival of the Nativity, the early Church ordained a preparatory period of nine days, called a Novena. These take the commencement of Christ-tide back to the 16th December, on which day the Sarum use ordained the Anthem, which commences, "O Sapientia, quæ ex ore Altissimi prodidisti," and at the present time this day is marked in the Calendar of the English Church Service Book as "O Sapientia." That this was commonly considered the commencement of Christ-tide is shown by the following anecdote of the learned Dr. Parr:—A lady asked him when Christmas commenced, so that she might know when to begin to eat mince pies. "Please to say Christmas pie, madam," replied the Doctor. "Mince pie is Presbyterian." "Well, Christmas pie—when may we begin to eat them?" "Look in your Prayer-book Calendar for December and there you will find 'O Sapientia.' Then Christmas pie—not before."
The Festival was considered of such high importance by the Anglo-Saxons that the ordinary Octave was not good enough; it must be kept up for twelve days. And Collier (Eccl. Hist., 1840, vol. i. p. 285) says that a law passed in the days of King Alfred, "by virtue of which the twelve days after the Nativity of our Saviour are made festivals." This brings us to the feast of the Epiphany, 6th January, or "Twelfth Day," when Christmas ends—for the Epiphany has its own Octave to follow, and I think the general consensus of opinion is in favour of this ending.
Historic Christ-tides in 790, 878, and 1065—William I., 1066-1085—William II.—Henry I., 1127—Stephen—Henry II., 1158-1171—Richard I., 1190—John, 1200—Henry III., 1253—Edwards I., II., and III.—Richard II., 1377-1398—Henry IV.-V., 1418—Henry VIII., his magnificent Christ-tides.
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, being 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 .nglondaftir 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, yt 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.
Historic Christ-tides—Edward VI., 1551—Mary—Elizabeth—James I.—The Puritans—The Pilgrim Fathers—Christmas's Lamentation—Christ-tide in the Navy, 1625.
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 unclesomewhat 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 £300 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 ye 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.
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