Christmas Past: Leaping Lords of Misrule

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phrase has an obvious similarity to the song of the 12 Days of Christmas, the earliest known version of which would not be published until nearly two hundred years after Stubs wrote these words.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.

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Christmas Past: Exeter Mummers

A Regency Twelfth Night party: the Exeter Mummers might have looked similar

The December 1883 edition of the Western Antiquary contains an article entitled “Christmas Pastimes in Exeter Sixty Years Ago”. The author’s main topic is mumming, and the piece gives an insight into festive traditions of circa 1823 — traditions that were apparently viewed as old-fashioned even in the late Victorian era. I’ve reproduced some excerpts below.

Railways, penny newspapers, telegrams, and the “wondrous brain-power” of political leaders in these days have annihilated most of the old customs indulged in by out forefathers. “The Mummers” were an institution recognised at Christmas time. A few lads occupied their spare time after leaving work, towards Christmas, in preparing for the heroic drama of St. George. The “getting up” was not such as Mr. Planché would approve of, or the dialogue such as would pass muster before even the humblest critic of the modern drama. “The Mummers” did not seek criticism so much as coppers.

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Christmas Past: The Game of General Kettle and Sir Loin

William Wallace Pyle’s 1860 book Christmas: Its Custom and Carols spends much of its time delving into the history of festive celebrations, but also finds room for covering what would, at the time, have been contempoarry Christmas pastimes. One example can be found in the book’s chapter on games: “Nor do we know that a better illustration could be afforded of the actually existing state of Christmas Games,” says Pyle, “than in the following given in last season’s Illustrated London News“.

So, what does a typical festive game of 1860 entail? Why, pretending to be a kitchen utensil and snogging people, of course.

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How I Spent November 2020

2020-11-29 16.49.51

The nights are drawing in, the air is growing chill, and time is running out for me to finish my to-do list for this year. I’ve been crackling on with some writing projects – most of which will not see publication until a while down the road – and likely I’ll be doing the same for much of December.

I’ll be giving myself less time for blogging next month, but to keep my schedule up I’ll be launching a new series of posts, Christmas Past, where I dig up clippings about festive celebrations of days gone by.
Until then…

Articles of mine published elsewhere this month:

Article topics for December and beyond:


November 2020: A Month in Horror


When it comes to horror, November is a little like Boxing Day: the decorations are still up, but let’s face it, much of the spirit has faded. Yet there were still some genre happenings of late.

First of all, the ever-reliable Shudder unveiled a new crop of films. Blood Vessel follows a group of survivors adrift at sea in the final year of World War II as they find terror aboard a seemingly abandoned ship.; Lingering is a South Korean film about a haunted hotel; and Leap of Faith is a documentary in which director William Friedkin discusses his most famous film, The Exorcist.

In other news, the long-running Supernatural (which premiered back in 2005) concluded this month. I’ll admit that I’ve never watched the series, although even a bystander like myself could hardly fail to notice the loud reactions to a certain romantic coupling.

Supernatural should most definitely not be confused with the similarly-titled Paranormal, an Egyptian television drama based on a series of books by Ahmed Khaled Tawfik. Den of Geek calls it “weird but addictive” while Egyptian Streets praises the series for its authenticity.

Sadly, there were again some familiar faces from the horror genre who did not make it to the end of the month.

Daria Nicolodi was an actress and screenwriter whose career involved multiple collaborations with her sometime partner, director Dario Argento. She co-wrote Suspiria, one of Argento’s best-loved films, and also performed in the likes of Deep Red, Inferno, Tenebrae and Phenomena. She passed away on 25 November, at the age of 70.

Dave Prowse was best known as the man who portrayed Darth Vader onscreen (and, to British people of a certain generation, as the Green Cross Man) but he also had a few roles for Hammer: he portrayed two distinct Frankenstein monsters in Horror of Frankenstein and Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell, and appeared as a strongman in Vampire Circus. On top of this, he played a Minotaur in the 1972 Doctor Who story “The Time Monster”. He passed away on 28 November, aged 85.

Jon Watkins Fails Demonology: Never Mind the Molochs


Yes, I’m still making my way through the list of demons that was compiled by Leonard Ashley and then screwed up by fundamentalist Christian Jon Watkins. See also the first and second parts of this series…

Karau – A demon who is known for causing death in the world, he effects people by tragedies & illness.

Apparently, this is a being from the folklore of the South American Yupa people, and is mentioned in Johannes Wilbert’s 1974 book Yupa Folktales.

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