I’ve been looking at an 1845 edition of the London Journal that has an article on Christmas celebrations, a sizeable stretch of which is spent discussing the Lord of Misrule. Here, the author reproduces a long excerpt from a still earlier text: Philip Stubbs’ 1583 publication The Anatomie of Abuses. Interestingly, Stubs mentions the Lord of Misrule being accompanied by “pipers piping, drummers thundering, girls dancing”; this phrase has an obvious similarity to the song of the 12 Days of Christmas, the earliest known version of which would not be published until nearly two hundred years after Stubs wrote these words.
Could it be that the Lord of Misrule himself is immortalised in the song’s line about ten lords a-leaping? It seems likely to me, although a quick search online turned up no references to a connection. (I did come across theories that the ten lords a-leaping represent either the Ten Commandments or some species of bird, but these strikes me as less plausible).
Incidentally, I believe that he “Stowe” referred to here is John Stow, whose 1603 Survey of London is quoted from earlier in the article.
In former times,—and the custom is not yet extinct,—a master of the festivities was chosen. Who has not heard of the famous LORD OF MISRULE? He is the true “Chief of the Disports,”—the “Master of Merry Revels,” Ye who have hitherto omitted this invaluable agent from your Christmas family, fail not to constitute his authority, by honourable and fair election, this year. We charge ye to do this; and if he be a clever, jovial, merry fellow , —as every Lord of Misrule should be, —he will add to your mirth, we promise ye.Continue reading “Christmas Past: Leaping Lords of Misrule”