December 14, 2013

Twelve Days of Tudor Christmas: Lord of Misrule

This holiday season, I am posting an updated version of my Twelve Days of Tudor Christmas series (originally posted on The Tudor Tattler) to get us in the Christmas spirit! I was also honored by Oxburgh House, who have used my research on the twelve days of Christmas in a new exhibit, showing Christmas celebrations throughout time. Read more about this fascinating exhibit here (and visit if you're close!).

In Tudor times, the Twelve Days of Christmas (made popular by the traditional song) actually began on Christmas day and went through New Years to the 6th of January. However, to get into the Christmas spirit, I am going to have our Twelve Days of Christmas lead up to Christmas Day.

The first of twelve traditions I will discuss is the Lord of Misrule.

The start to the Christmas season at the Royal court, and often within towns and villages, began with the appointment of the Lord of Misrule. This "Lord" was generally a peasant who was appointed by the local Parrish. He led the celebrations, presiding over large drinking parties and feasting, including the "Feast of Fools." In this role reversal, the Lord of Misrule mocked the King, ruling in his stead for twelve days. At the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas, his rule came to an end and the King "resumed" his duties.

This tradition was passed down for generations until 1512, when Henry VIII abolished it. I suppose he didn't want to share his power with anyone, especially a "fool." When Mary I came to power, she reinstated the tradition, but Elizabeth I abolished it again.

Another form of the Lord of Misrule surrounded Twelfth Night. Twelfth Night was the last night of the Twelve Days of Christmas, and was marked by a large feast. During the feast, a bean was baked into a cake. The person who found the bean became the "Lord of Misrule," and presided over the banquet. Roles were reversed, with the King and nobles becoming "peasants." At midnight, the Lord of Misrule's reign ended and the world returned to normal.

Tomorrow we will look at Tudor Christmas Decorations.

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