Christmas Past: More Lords of Misrule

Last week I posted an excerpt from an 1845 London Journal article discussing the erstwhile Christmas tradition of the Lord of Misrule. The relevant section of the article was rather long so I didn’t quote the whole thing, but here’s the remainder. This time the author reproduces two more historical accounts involving the Lord of Misrule, wrapping up with comments that shed light on the gift-giving aspect of Christmas in the mid-nineteenth century.


In 1594 there was a celebrated Christmas festival held in Gray’s Inn, London, and a Lord of Misrule was duly appointed. His name was Henry Holmes, and he was dubbed with the following titles:— “The high and mighty Prince Henry, Prince of Purpoole, Archduke of Stapuha and Bernardia; Duke of High and Low Holborn; Marquis of Saint Giles and Tottenham; Count Palatine of Bloomsbury and Clerkenwell; Great Lod of the Cantons of Islington, Kentish Town, Paddington, and Knightsbridge; Knight of the most Heroical Order of the Helmet, and Sovereign of the same.” If these were not titles enough we are sadly mistaken; they best the honourable distinction of him whom Sir Walter Scott thus addressed:—

Still is thy name of high account
And still thy verse has charms
Sir David Lyndsay of the Mount
Lord Lion King at Arms

Warten, in his History of English Poetry, places on record the following statement:—“At a Christmas celebrated in the hall of the Middle Temple, in the year 1605, the jurisdiction, privileges, and parade of the Lord of Misrule are thus circumstantially described. He was attended by his Lord Keeper, Lord Treasurer, with eight white staves, a captain of his band of pensioners, and of his guard; and with two chaplains, who were as seriously impressed with an idea of his regal dignity, that when they preached before him, on the preceding Sunday, in the Temple Church, on ascending the pulpit they saluted him with three bows. He dined both in the Hall and in his Priory chamber, under a Cloth of Estate or canopy. The pole-aces for his Gentlemen Pensioners were borrowed from Lord Salisbury. Lord Holland, his temporary Justice in Eyre, supplied him with venison on demand, and the Lord Mayor and Sheriffs with wine. On Twelfth-day, at going to church, he received many petitions, which he gave to his Master of Requests; and, like other kings, he had a favourite, whom, with others, all gentlemen of quality, he knighted at returning from Church.”

The Christmas prince on this occasion was Mr. Francis Vivian, and he expended from his own pocket the large sum of £2000 to maintain his temporary dignity. The whole proceeding was so curious that we deemed the account worth transferring to our columns.

The Lord of Misrule not only presides over the Christmas festivities, but also over the Christmas gifts. And Christmas Gifts, gentle reader, are but no means the least important item in the observances of the season. Now do the very juvenile branches of the family expect toys of all descriptions; while those who have reached their teens look out for presents of a more valuable nature. Watches are the objects of the latter’s hopes; and the young gentlemen of a still more advanced age—say twenty—and even those who have just gained their majority, or who have only recently passed that important mile-stone of life’s journey—have to thank their kind parents, good uncles, or fond grandfathers, for a handsome present of horses. Amongst all grade there are Christmas gifts; and all have an equal moral value when measured by the standard of the respective means and social positions of the donors. Books are amongst the best of Christmas gifts,—books suited to the ages, tastes, and situations of those who receive them.

Thus, in his capacity of president over the Christmas Gifts, the Lord of Misrule is an useful person, as we have shown him to be of importance in contributing to our amusement. Now that the year 1845 is drawing so rapidly towards a close,—now that it will soon be fathered to the bosom of the past and lie upon the ashes of the thousands that have preceded it,—let us congregate about our hearths, and make merry in its last moments. Hope is ever stronger at Christmas than at any other period, and does not admit of vain regrets or useless reflections. Indeed, the desire of being happy now rules us so completely, that w do not indulge out sorrow, unless we can take a melancholy pleasure in it.

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