Tuesday, October 15, 2019

The Stuart period

Following the Tudor Era was the Stuart period from 1603 to 1714 , named so because it was the dynasty of the House of Stuart. The period ended with the death of Queen Anne and the accession of King George I from the German House of Hanover.

Like the Tudor holiday, most of the Stuarts, the commoners, celebrated for 12 days. However, the celebration by the royal court of the time lasted longer - beginning on the 1st of November and ending on the 2nd of February.

For the common people's celebration, the Lord of Misrule oversaw the entire holiday - not just the 12th Night, like the Tudors. He was the master of ceremonies and made sure everyone had lots of fun! 

The Feast of the 12th Night was the largest of the season. It was known for outrageous merry making, much drinking, and eating. 

The Stuarts sang carols just as we do today. In fact some of our favorite Christmas carols were sung in Stuart times, including The Twelve Days of Christmas, The First Nowell, I saw Three Ships, God Rest ye Merry Gentlemen, and While Shepherds Watched.

Although the customs and activities described here focus on a Stuart Christmas, they were not unique to the Stuart era. In fact, most of the Yuletide customs have their origins in pagan times and have Celtic roots. Homes were decked with greenery. There was much rich food and gift-giving.

Christmas Party Games were very popular with the Stuarts. They included:

Hot cockles - where one person was blindfolded and knelt with his or her head on the lap of someone sitting on a chair. They placed their hand in the small of their back, palm upwards, and called out ‘hot cockles hot’. The other players hit the palm of the hand and the blindfolded player had to guess who struck the blow.
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Cross and Pyle - a similar game to heads and tails. You spun a coin and guessed the outcome. Grown-ups bet on the fall of the coin.

Forfeits - where a token or item such as a handkerchief was collected from each player. Each player had to win back his or her possession by a forfeit. You might sing a song, dance a jig or recite a poem.

Question and command - where a commander may order his or her subjects to answer any 'lawful’ question. Any player who cannot answer must pay a fine or forfeit.

Others included 'Hood-man blind' (blind-man's bluff), 'Hoop and Hide' (hide and seek), 'Closkeys' (nine pins),  and 'Paille Maille' (a cross between golf and croquet).

The last game of the evening played towards midnight was 'Yawning for the Cheshire cheese' - Everyone sat in a circle and yawned. Whoever yawned the longest, widest and loudest won a large Cheshire cheese.

A very unique feature of Stuart's Twelfth Night was a surprise pie. This was a large pastry case with a lid, baked empty. When the pie was cool, holes were cut in the bottom and it was filled with live birds and frogs. (More Halloween appropriate than Christmas, IMHO.)

Of course, all this came to an abrupt end in 1644 when Christmas celebrations were banned by Oliver Cromwell. Singing carols and participating in festivities were outlawed. Doing so could get one arrested. For 16 years Christmas celebrations continued although very muted.

However, thanks to King Charles II, Christmas celebrations were reinstated when he ascended to the throne in 1661.

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