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Ancient And Modern Saturnalia
by [?]

The Italian Polydore Vergil, who, residing here, had clearer notions of this facetious personage, considered the Christmas Prince as peculiar to our country. Without venturing to ascend in his genealogy, we must admit his relationship to that ancient family of foolery we have noticed, whether he be legitimate or not. If this whimsical personage, at his creation, was designed to regulate “misrule,” his lordship, invested with plenary power, came himself, at length, to delight too much in his “merry disports.” Stubbes, a morose puritan in the days of Elizabeth, denominates him “a grand captaine of mischiefe,” and has preserved a minute description of all his wild doings in the country; but as Strutt has anticipated me in this amusing extract, I must refer to his “Sports and Pastimes of the People of England,” p. 254.[134] I prepare another scene of unparalleled Saturnalia, among the grave judges and serjeants of the law, where the Lord of Misrule is viewed amidst his frolicsome courtiers, with the humour of hunting the fox and the cat with ten couple of hounds round their great hall, among the other merry disports of those joyous days when sages could play like boys.

For those who can throw themselves back amidst the grotesque humours and clumsy pastimes of our ancestors, who, without what we think to be taste, had whim and merriment–there has been fortunately preserved a curious history of the manner in which “A grand Christmas” was kept at our Inns of Court, by the grave and learned Dugdale, in his “Origines Juridicales:” it is a complete festival of foolery, acted by the students and law-officers. They held for that season everything in mockery: they had a mock parliament, a Prince of Sophie, or Wisdom, an honourable order of Pegasus, a high constable, a marshal, a master of the game, a ranger of the forest, lieutenant of the Tower, which was a temporary prison for Christmas delinquents, all the paraphernalia of a court, burlesqued by these youthful sages before the boyish judges.

The characters personified were in the costume of their assumed offices. On Christmas-day, the constable-marshal, accoutred with a complete gilded “harness,” showed that everything was to be chivalrously ordered; while the lieutenant of the Tower, in “a fair white armour,” attended with his troop of halberdiers; and the Tower was then placed beneath the fire. After this opening followed the costly feasting; and then, nothing less than a hunt with a pack of hounds in their hall!

The master of the game dressed in green velvet, and the ranger of the forest in green satin, bearing a green bow and arrows, each with a hunting horn about their necks, blowing together three blasts of venery (or hunting), they pace round about the fire three times. The master of the game kneels to be admitted into the service of the high-constable. A huntsman comes into the hall, with nine or ten couple of hounds, bearing on the end of his staff a pursenet, which holds a fox and a cat: these were let loose and hunted by the hounds, and killed beneath the fire.

These extraordinary amusements took place after their repast; for these grotesque Saturnalia appeared after that graver part of their grand Christmas. Supper ended, the constable-marshal presented himself with drums playing, mounted on a stage borne by four men, and carried round; at length he cries out, “a lord! a lord!” etc., and then calls his mock court every one by name.

Sir Francis Flatterer, of Fowlshurt.

Sir Randall Rackabite, of Rascal-hall, in the county of Rakehell.

Sir Morgan Mumchance, of Much Monkery, in the county of Mad Mopery.

Sir Bartholomew Bald-breech, of Buttock-bury, in the county of Break-neck.[135]

They had also their mock arraignments. The king’s-serjeant, after dinner or supper, “oratour-like,” complained that the constable-marshal had suffered great disorders to prevail; the complaint was answered by the common-serjeant, who was to show his talent at defending the cause. The king’s-serjeant replies; they rejoin, etc.: till one at length is committed to the Tower, for being found most deficient. If any offender contrived to escape from the lieutenant of the Tower into the buttery and brought into the hall a manchet (or small loaf) upon the point of a knife, he was pardoned; for the buttery in this jovial season was considered as a sanctuary. Then began the revels. Blount derives this term from the French reveiller, to awake from sleep. These were sports of dancing, masking comedies, etc. (for some were called solemn revels,) used in great houses, and were so denominated because they were performed by night; and these various pastimes were regulated by a master of the revels.