The Lord of Misrule & London, December 30th

black and white illustration of John Stow memorial in St Andrew's Church
John Stow memorial in St Andrew’s Church

The Roman festival of Saturnalia, held between 17th and 23rd of December, included reversing rules so that slaves, ruled and masters served. In the medieval period, the disorder of Christmas was continued with the election of Lords of Misrule, Masters of the Revels, and Boy Bishops.

John Stows, London’s first great historian, wrote of the Lord of Misrule in London:

Now for sports and pastimes yearly used.

First, in the feast of Christmas, there was in the king’s house, wheresoever he was lodged, a lord of misrule, or master of merry disports, and the like had ye in the house of every nobleman of honour or good worship, were he spiritual or temporal. Amongst the which the mayor of London, and either of the sheriffs, had their several lords of misrule, ever contending, without quarrel or offence, who should make the rarest pastimes to delight the beholders. These lords beginning their rule on Alhollon eve, continued the same till the morrow after the Feast of the Purification, commonly called Candlemas day. In all which space there were fine and subtle disguisings, masks, and mummeries, with playing at cards for counters, nails, and points, in every house, more for pastime than for gain.

Against the feast of Christmas every man’s house, as also the parish churches, were decked with holm, ivy, bays, and whatsoever the season of the year afforded to be green. The conduits and standards in the streets were likewise garnished; amongst the which I read, in the year 1444, that by tempest of thunder and lightning, on the 1st of February, at night, Powle’s steeple was fired, but with great labour quenched; and towards the morning of Candlemas day, at the Leaden hall in Cornhill, a standard of tree being set up in midst of the pavement, fast in the ground, nailed full of holm and ivy, for disport of Christmas to the people, was torn up, and cast down by the malignant spirit (as was thought), and the stones of the pavement all about were cast in the streets, and into divers houses, so that the people were sore aghast of the great tempests.’

John Stow, author of the ‘Survey of London‘ first published in 1598. Available at the wonderful Project Gutenberg: ‘https://www.gutenberg.org/files/42959/42959-h/42959-h.htm’

Cover page of The Survey of London by John Stow from Project Gutenberg

You might also like to see the following posts, which include information about John Stow and London’s customs:

2 Replies to “The Lord of Misrule & London, December 30th”

  1. It seems like a Rehersal of the Carnival…
    A very important tradition in the North of France.
    The famous Carnaval de Dunquerque this years starts on January 6th and lasts for 3 months!

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