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Ancient And Modern Saturnalia
by [?]

Amidst “the grand Christmass,” a personage of no small importance was “the Lord of Misrule.” His lordship was abroad early in the morning, and if he lacked any of his officers, he entered their chambers to drag forth the loiterers; but after breakfast his lordship’s power ended, and it was in suspense till night, when his personal presence was paramount, or, as Dugdale expresses it, “and then his power is most potent.”

Such were then the pastimes of the whole learned bench; and when once it happened that the under-barristers did not dance on Candlemas day, according to the ancient order of the society, when the judges were present, the whole bar was offended, and at Lincoln’s-Inn were by decimation put out of commons, for example sake; and should the same omission be repeated, they were to be fined or disbarred; for these dancings were thought necessary, “as much conducing to the making of gentlemen more fit for their books at other times,” I cannot furnish a detailed notice of these pastimes; for Dugdale, whenever he indicates them, spares his gravity from recording the evanescent frolics, by a provoking etc. etc. etc.

The dance “round about the coal-fire” is taken off in the Rehearsal. These revels have also been ridiculed by Donne in his Satires, Prior in his Alma, and Pope in his Dunciad. “The judge to dance, his brother serjeants calls.”[136]

“The Lord of Misrule,” in the inns of court, latterly did not conduct himself with any recollection of “Medio tutissimus ibis,” being unreasonable; but the “sparks of the Temple,” as a contemporary calls them, had gradually, in the early part of Charles the First’s reign, yielded themselves up to excessive disorders. Sir Symonds D’Ewes, in his MS. diary in 1620, has noticed their choice of a lieutenant, or lord of misrule, who seems to have practised all the mischief he invented; and the festival days, when “a standing table was kept,” were accompanied by dicing, and much gaming, oaths, execrations, and quarrels: being of a serious turn of mind, he regrets this, for he adds, “the sport, of itself, I conceive to be lawful.”

I suspect that the last memorable act of a Lord of Misrule of the inns of court occurred in 1627, when the Christmas game became serious. The Lord of Misrule then issued an edict to his officers to go out at Twelfth-night to collect his rents in the neighbourhood of the Temple, at the rate of five shillings a house; and on those who were in their beds, or would not pay, he levied a distress. An unexpected resistance at length occurred in a memorable battle with the Lord Mayor in person:–and I shall tell how the Lord of Misrule for some time stood victor, with his gunner, and his trumpeter, and his martial array: and how heavily and fearfully stood my Lord Mayor amidst his “watch and ward:” and how their lordships agreed to meet half way, each to preserve his independent dignity, till one knocked down the other: and how the long halberds clashed with the short swords: how my Lord Mayor valorously took the Lord of Misrule prisoner with his own civic hand: and how the Christmas prince was immured in the Counter; and how the learned Templars insisted on their privilege, and the unlearned of Ram’s-alley and Fleet-street asserted their right of saving their crown-pieces: and finally how this combat of mockery and earnestness was settled, not without the introduction of “a god,” as Horace allows on great occasions, in the interposition of the king and the attorney-general–altogether the tale had been well told in some comic epic; but the wits of that day let it pass out of their hands.

I find this event, which seems to record the last desperate effort of a “Lord of Misrule,” in a manuscript letter of the learned Mede to Sir Martin Stuteville; and some particulars are collected from Hammond L’Estrange’s Life of Charles the First.