Ancient Ceremonials That Still Survive
The study of ancestral customs which are still extant is delightful, but of so wide and diversified a character that it can be dealt with here only under typical aspects; and at once a question arises where it will be best to begin. There is much to be said for making the English coronation the starting-point.
And, first, attention may be directed to the three swords always borne before the sovereign in his approach to Westminster Abbey for his sacring. One of them, which has its edge blunted, betokens the quality of mercy; the second, spiritual jurisdiction; the third, temporal power.
Inside the Abbey also the sword plays a great part. It is the duty of the Lord Great Chamberlain to gird on the monarch a sword brought from the altar, and to touch his heels with a pair of gilt spurs from the same place, to which they are restored. The king then ungirds the sword and offers it in the scabbard at the altar; and the Bearer of the Sword- the peer who first receives it-offers a price for it. Thus redeemed, he carries it naked before the king during the rest of the solemnity.
As for the spurs, they are, of course, symbolical of the king's knighthood; and how truly the procedure, before described is a survival of medieval practice will appear yet more clearly when it is stated that it is nearly identical with the ceremony anciently performed in the bestowal of a simple knighthood.
In many towns and cities-Chester, Liverpool, Macclesfield, Exeter, Barn-staple, Portsmouth, to name only a few-it has been or was long the custom, which has largely but not entirely fallen into disuse, to display a glove during the fair. According to Mr. S. William Beck, author of "Gloves and their Associations," it was part of the royal prerogative to set up markets, and fairs were established by virtue of the king's glove, which was the authority under which any free mart or market was held.
Fairs are almost everywhere declining or things of the past, so much so that the Chester glove, a wooden object, is now in the limbo of the Liverpool Museum. For the ceremony of hoisting the glove, therefore, it will be well to turn aside from large places to some little borough like Honiton in Devon, which has given its name to a wonderful lace. This, then, is what happens at Honiton on the third Tuesday in July, or, at any rate, did happen till a few years ago. At the last stroke of twelve (midday) the town crier-a custom in himself-issues from the gate of the market-house, arrayed in all the splendour of a gold-laced cocked hat, blue coat and trousers, and red waistcoat. He carries a pole, at the end of which is a glove with fingers extended, and decorated with a garland of flowers. Tucked under his arm is his official bell. In a stately manner befitting the important occasion he takes his stand in the middle of the main street, rings his bell, and cries:
O yez! O yez!! O yez!!!
Between the sentences the crier pauses so as to enable the boys crowding around him to repeat the announcement. Then away he stalks, carrying the pole, to an inn in the upper part of the street; and after the glove has been suspended from a balcony, coppers that have been heated for the purpose are thrown from a window into the street for the young fry to scramble for.
If the coronation spurs are a symbol of knighthood, that is not to say that they were not used in ordinary life. Even more in demand were horseshoes, a fact reflected in certain tenures. Thus the lord of Mansfield in Nottinghamshire held his manor by the service of shoeing the king's palfrey or saddle - horse, whenever it should please his royal master to be entertained at his mansion. He was to shoe all four feet with the king's nails and shoeing material, and if he was so unlucky as to lame the animal, he had to present the king with another palfrey worth four marks. This, it may be supposed, is a dead letter, but preserved to this day in the City of London is a very similar custom, to which space is often accorded in the Press. The custom is as follows. Each year six horseshoes, sixty-one nails, and two hatchets are paid to the sovereign for the possession of lands in Shropshire and London. The delivery takes place in the Law Courts before the King's Remembrancer, and on the table are laid two small bundles of faggots, the large ten-nailed horseshoes, and the finely-made nails, together with a shining steel hatchet and a bill-hook, both with handles of rosewood. The bill-hook and the hatchet purport to be quit rent for land known as the Moors in Shropshire, and the nails and horseshoes for property described as the Forge in the parish of St. Clement Danes.
First the Secondary of the City of London, a gentleman whose office has always been an honorary one, reads the warrant by which the quit rents are tendered. Then follows the production of the two faggots-twigs about three inches long tied with red tape-and with them the hatchet and the bill-hook.
"Tenants and occupiers of the waste land... step forward and do your service," cries the Clerk; and in response the City Solicitor stands forth, places one of the bundles of twigs on a wooden block, and deals it a sharp blow with the red-handled hatchet, the severed twigs being scattered all over the court. The same official then takes the bill-hook and makes a feint at cutting the second bundle, as if the implement were blunt. A second effort is more successful.
Next it is the turn of the horseshoes and the nails. The horseshoes are supposed to be 700 years old and of the heavy make worn by Flemish horses. The City Solicitor throws them on one another with a clang, and goes on to count the nails, which are also ancient. Finally he calls out "Sixty-and-one. " Thereupon the Remembrancer replies, "Good Number," even as he had cried "Good Service" after the cleaving of the faggots.
Horseshoes have been widely, and for centuries, employed as charms, which suggests a glance at the tributary shoes-huge shoes-which adorn the walls of the old castle at Oakham, Rutlandshire. No other explanation seems forthcoming of a custom that is the very opposite of that which has just been discussed. Every prince of the blood, every peer of the realm, on crossing the border into Rutland, has from time immemorial been expected to pay one horseshoe as toll.
Should a nobleman omit to comply with the traditional requirement, he may look to receive an intimation from the lord of the manor of Oakham that he ought without delay to deliver his horseshoe and will be thought better of if it is a gilt one. The Prince of Wales, his royal brothers, and the Princess Mary have all paid their scot, and may range the little county without fear of distraint or a sense of shortcoming.
Horseshoes imply horse, or rather his caricature, the hobbyhorse. Hamlet mentions this strange contrivance, "whose epitaph is, For 0, for 0 the hobbyhorse is forgot"-evidently the refrain of an old song - and the saying was never truer than it is now, for nearly everywhere the hobby-horse is forgotten. At Padstow in Cornwall, however, it survives with undiminished vigour, and that not singly, but as a family -sound security for the continuance of the tradition. It may be doubted whether many outside the limits of the duchy are conversant with the characteristics, the "points," of a hobby-horse. Let it be said, then, that its head is formed of wooden snappers made to open and shut. These jaws are armed with teeth; and when the operator pulls a string, they come together with a sharp report - a fearful joy to the juveniles, who are half persuaded of the monster's rapacity. The longevity of snappers is surprising. In 1902, when a pair was being scraped to receive a new coat of paint, the date 1802 was found cut in the wood.
The rude counterfeit is garnished with a mane, and from the back of the hoop with its canvas covering projects a tail. The hoop is surmounted by a cap shaped like a sugar-loaf, with a tuft and a mask for the enclosed operator. The latter has an attendant, who is known at Padstow as the dancer, and is dressed sometimes as a man and sometimes as a woman. It falls to him to open the ball by reciting three verses of the Day-song. Thereupon horse and dancer spring into action to the accompaniment of a drum and other instruments played by members of a "gang," some ten or a dozen in number. The dancer carries what is called a "club." In reality it consists of a soft pad tied to a piece of wood forming the handle. On this pad there is usually painted some sort of device such as a roughly-fashioned face or the ancient arms and motto of the Duchy of Cornwall.
At Padstow, as at Minehead in Somerset, there are plain indications that the hobby-horse was part of a general May-day festival, which included the conventional morris dancers, Robin Hood; Maid Marian, Little John, Friar Tuck, and so on. His appearance at that season, however, may be regarded as an accident. The custom of men going round with a horse's head inartistically carved in wood, and known as the "hoodening horse," is, or was until very lately, kept up in Thanet and a few other places in East Kent at Christmas; and among the old harvest customs of Northumberland was the interesting one of a guest appearing with a horse's head.
That May-day festivals are derived from the Roman Floralia has often been asserted, the May Queen being identified with the goddess Flora. But the Celt advances his claim to at least a share in the invention of the summer festival. On the first of May, says an ancient fable, Gwyn ab Nudd, King of the Tylwyth Teg, or Welsh fairies, contends with Gwyther mab-Griedawl for the possession of the lovely Earth-maiden, Creidylad, daughter of Lludd, the Celtic Jupiter. This contest, if the Celtic version be accepted, has been celebrated for ages in May-games throughout the land. It is worth mentioning that Creidylad, the mythic Summer Queen, is the beautiful heroine who has come down to us in the pages of Shakespeare as Cordelia, the daughter of Llyr or Lear.
As the real or pretended originator of customs no historical character figures more prominently than John of Gaunt, who, however, cannot be held responsible for all the circumstances connected with them. The celebration of Hocktide at Hungerford, in Berkshire, is said to date back to his time and to commemorate valuable privileges secured by that prince to the favoured town. On the old summoning horn may be found graven that he "did give and grant the royal fishing in Hungerford towne," and as Hungerford has some of the best trout-fishing in the country, and it is a source of substantial revenue, the custom is useful as a guarantee of prescriptive right.
The custom is very extraordinary. Early on the great day the bellman perambulates the borough and commands all owners of lands and houses within the confines of the town to present themselves at the Hockney on pain of a penny poll-tax, or "head-penny." Not content with this notice, he ascends the balcony at the town hall and blows a blast on the ancient horn, probably the only integral part of the ceremony. Those who do not answer the summons and contumaciously refuse payment of the head-money are liable to the forfeiture of all rights and privileges in the old and still unreformed borough.
At nine o'clock the jury meet at the town hall to transact business, and as soon as they have been sworn in the two tithing-men set out on the interesting errand of collecting the poll-tax from the men and kisses from the wives and daughters of the burgesses. The tithing-men are known also, and more generally, as tutty-men, "tutty" being a local word signifying pretty. They carry their insignia of office-short poles decorated with blue ribbons and choice flowers, and behind them walks a man with a heavy load of tutty oranges, the rule being to bestow an orange on every woman kissed. The school and workhouse children are similarly treated. The tutty-men salute not only the young and pretty, but the old and faded, who would resent being passed over.
Next follows a dinner or luncheon of the hocktide jury, after which a great bowl of punch is placed on the table and various toasts are proposed. One, which is drunk in silence, is that of John of Gaunt. On these occasions it is customary for a number of "colts" to be shod. This means that a nail is driven into the heel of one of their boots until they call "punch!" - which immediately releases them from the attentions of the smith, and, incidentally, from the possession of whatever may be the price of a bowl of punch.
The generally accepted theory of the origin of hocktide observances is that they commemorate the massacre of the Danes on St. Brice's Day, or, as an alternative, the death of Hardicanute and the final liberation of Saxon England from the Danish yoke. Neither explanation, however, exactly fits the dates. Mention of the old summoning horn of Hungerford brings up the subject of horn tenure. Cliff Wood, near Bradford, is said to have been in John of Gaunt's time the haunt of a huge wild boar, the terror of the surrounding district. The beast was at length killed by a brave youth with a hunting-spear, and its slayer received as his reward the grant of certain lands in the neighbourhood on condition of the holder giving one blast upon his hunting-horn on S. Martin's day, and whenever John of Gaunt should pass through Bradford the man or his heirs was to be in attendance with his hunting spear and a dog. Notice our friend John of Gaunt again!
The interest of a "survival" depends largely on the length of time it has held its ground, and horn tenure is older than anything yet stated would suggest. At Pusey House, in Berkshire, is a horn bearing an inscription which sets forth that King "Knoud" (Canute) gave it as evidence of a grant of lands. The antique is accounted genuine.
As a subject customs have a tendency, like the hydra, to pullulate. Speaking of one does not fail, as we have already seen, to recall others, and already reference has been made to the bellman. We rather suspect that Norwich is, in a peculiar sense, the happy home of the bellman, where he has long been held in honour. The archives of the city show that in 1677 he proclaimed "that no person presume to take tobacco in the streets by day or night." Here, also, he maintains the quaint custom of publishing addresses. Every Christmas there is issued a great broadsheet headed, "The Bellman's Addresses humbly dedicated to the Mayor, Sheriff and Body Corporate his patrons, and all good and loyal citizens of Norwich." Some of these effusions are in prose, others in doggerel verse, and yet others in a mixture of prose and verse; and they form a collection of speeches directed to the King and Queen, the Prince of Wales, the Bishop, the Mayor, the Sheriff, the ex-Mayor, the ex-Sheriff, the Aldermen, and Council, the Members of Parliament, the Board of Guardians, the Magistrates, and others.
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