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Anecdotes Of European Manners
by [?]

The following circumstances probably gave rise to the tyranny of the feudal power, and are the facts on which the fictions of romance are raised. Castles were erected to repulse the vagrant attacks of the Normans; and in France, from the year 768 to 987, these places disturbed the public repose. The petty despots who raised these castles pillaged whoever passed, and carried off the females who pleased them. Rapine, of every kind were the privileges of the feudal lords! Mezeray observes, that it is from these circumstances romancers have invented their tales of knights errant, monsters, and giants.

De Saint Foix, in his “Historical Essays,” informs us that “women and girls were not in greater security when they passed by abbeys. The monks sustained an assault rather than relinquish their prey: if they saw themselves losing ground, they brought to their walls the relics of some saint. Then it generally happened that the assailants, seized with awful veneration, retired, and dared not pursue their vengeance. This is the origin of the enchanters, of the enchantments, and of the enchanted castles described in romances.”

To these may be added what the author of “Northern Antiquities,” Vol. I. p. 243, writes, that as the walls of the castles ran winding round them, they often called them by a name which signified serpents or dragons; and in these were commonly secured the women and young maids of distinction, who were seldom safe at a time when so many bold warriors were rambling up and down in search of adventures. It was this custom which gave occasion to ancient romancers, who knew not how to describe anything simply, to invent so many fables concerning princesses of great beauty guarded by dragons.

A singular and barbarous custom prevailed during this period; it consisted in punishments by mutilations. It became so general that the abbots, instead of bestowing canonical penalties on their monks, obliged them to cut off an ear, an arm, or a leg!

Velly, in his History of France, has described two festivals, which give a just idea of the manners and devotion of a later period, 1230, which like the ancient mysteries consisted of a mixture of farce and piety: religion in fact was their amusement! The following one existed even to the Reformation:–

In the church of Paris, and in several other cathedrals of the kingdom, was held the Feast of Fools or madmen. “The priests and clerks assembled elected a pope, an archbishop, or a bishop, conducted them in great pomp to the church, which they entered dancing, masked, and dressed in the apparel of women, animals, and merry-andrews; sung infamous songs, and converted the altar into a beaufet, where they ate and drank during the celebration of the holy mysteries; played with dice; burned, instead of incense, the leather of their old sandals; ran about, and leaped from seat to seat, with all the indecent postures with which the merry-andrews know how to amuse the populace.”

The other does not yield in extravagance. “This festival was called the Feast of Asses, and was celebrated at Beauvais. They chose a young woman, the handsomest in the town; they made her ride on an ass richly harnessed, and placed in her arms a pretty infant.[1] In this state, followed by the bishop and clergy, she marched in procession from the cathedral to the church of St. Stephen’s; entered into the sanctuary; placed herself near the altar, and the mass began; whatever the choir sung was terminated by this charming burthen, Hihan, hihan! Their prose, half Latin and half French, explained the fine qualities of the animal. Every strophe finished by this delightful invitation:–

Hez, sire Ane, ca chantez,
Belle bouche rechignez,
Vous aures du foin assez,
Et de l’avoine si plantez.

They at length exhorted him, in making a devout genuflexion, to forget his ancient food, for the purpose of repeating without ceasing, Amen, Amen. The priest, instead of Ite missa est, sung three times, Hihan, hihan, hihan! and the people three times answered, Hihan, hihan, hihan! to imitate the braying of that grave animal.[2]