This text was taken from Godwin's Life of Chaucer by William Godwin, London: T. Davison, White-Friars; 1804.
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DIVERSIONS OF THE FOURTEENTH CENTURY CONTINUED. — BURLESQUE FESTIVALS. — SUMPTUOUS ENTERTAINMENTS. — SHOWS. — HUNTING AND HAWKING. — ARCHERY. — ATHLETIC EXCERCISES. — ROBBERY. — TOURNAMENTS.
The tone of manners and of the popular mind in these early ages cannot be fully understood, without adverting to the Feast of Fools, of the Ass, and of Innocents, which were duly celebrated at the return of certain periods, and were long cherished with peculiar affection by the populace of this, and the neighbouring countries. The indecorums practiced on these occasions cannot fail to be extremely astonishing to readers of the present day, and come greatly heightened to our imagination by the uncouth and extravagant alliance which subsisted between them and most solemn ordinances of the established
religion. These festivities had in them something of the form of a dramatical exhibition, and therefore naturally offer themselves to our consideration in this place. They have been conjectured by eminent antiquaries to be a remnant of the old Roman Saturnalia;a and those who are aware of the multitude of paractices prevailing in Christian Rome, which were borrowed from the religious customs and institutions of pagan Rome before the commencement of our vulgar era,b will not regard this as a forced or improbable conjecture.
On the annual return of the Feast of Fools, the ceremony was commenced by the election of a pontiff or prelate of fools. This dignitary was suitably attended by a conclave or chapter of his own order. Ecclasiastics and layen, rich and poor, joined promiscuously in the burlesque and tumultuous procession. Those who formed it were attired in the most ridiculous manner; some masked, some with
their faces painted so as to produce a hideous effect, and others accoutered like women, and indulging themselves in a variety of wanton and indecent gestures. Thus prepared, they proceeded to the cathedral, or principal church, of which they took possession; while the bishop of fools, habited in the ecclesiastical garments, pronounced mass, and gave his benediction to the audience. The service was interrupted from time to time by the singing of lascivious songs; and some of the assistants played at dice on the altar, while others celebrated the holy communion. Another part of the ceremony was the shaving, probably with the monastic tonsure, on a stage erected for that purpose, the precentor of fools, who during the operation amused the spectators with absurd gestures and contortions, and ribald jests. Filth and the bodies of dead animals were then thrown from hand to hand, and in the faces of the performers and audience. The bishop, having quitted the church, was drawn in an open carriage through the different streets of the town, and
the cavalcade was every where welcomed with riotous mockery, festivity, and joy.c
The Feast of the Ass differed in some particulars from the Feast of Fools. A wooden ass, inclosing a speaker, was the central figure of the procession. Balaam was mounted on this ass with and immense pair of spurs, and otherwise equipped in the most farcical manner. The angel was to appear, the ass to be unmercifully beaten, and at last to save himself from further chastisement by the dignity and good sense of his remonstrances. The miraculous brute was then to be led in triumph, in commemoration of the signal victory he had obtained over the unholy prophet. On this occasion the whole band of the ancient patriarchs attended, to do honour to this new medium of inspiration. Six Jews, and six Gentiles, among the latter of whom was the poet Virgil, made a part of his train. As the procession moved on, these personages chanted certain prayers, and conversed in character
on the birth and kingdom of Christ. At length they arrived at the church, where mass was said as in the Feast of Fools, and at the end of each paragraph or stanza, by way of a burthen, the audience sung out a melodious braying, in imitation of the voice of the animal whose achievement they celebrated.d
These festivals, as will easily be imagined, were most cherished and cultivated in the darkest ages. The Feast of Innocents was continued to a considerably later period. This seems to have been observed in all collegiate churches through England and Frnce. On the anniversary of St. Nicholas,e the patron of scholars, and on that of the Holy Innocents,f one of the children of the choir, habited in Episcopal robes, with the mitre and crosier, assumed the title and state of a bishop, and exacted ecclaesiastical obedience from his fellows who were attired like priests. They took possession of the church, and performed all the offices and ceremonies usually celebrated
by the bishop and his prebendaries. They also presented Moralities and shows of Miracles, with farces and other sports, but such only as were supposed compatible with decorum.g Some of their proceedings are thus described in an order of council made for their suppression, in the latter part of the reign of Henry VIII. "Whereas heretofore dyvers and many superstitiou and chyldysh observances have been used, and yet to this day are observed and kept in many and sundry places of this realm -- ; children be strangelie decked and apparayled to counterfeit priests, bishops and women, and to sedde with songs and dances from house to house, blessing the people, and gathering of money; and boyes do singe masse and preache in the pulpits, with such other unfitinge and inconvenient usages, which tend rather to derysyon than enie true glorie to God, or honor of his sayntes --."h Dr. Colet however,
dean of St. Paul's, and founder of St. Paul's school, drawn up in the year 1512, that his scholars "shall every Childermas (Innocents') day come to Paule's churche, and hear the childe byshop's sermon; and after be at high masse: and each of them offer a penny to the childe bishop, and with them the maisters and surveyors of the scole."i It was been conjectured that the biennial ceremony at Eton College of the procession ad montem , originated in this ancient and popular practice.k
The three festivals of Easter, Whitsuntide and Christmas were anciently commemorated, by the kings and great nobility of England, with the utmost expence and magnificence. Our elder annalists apparently consider it as one indispensible part of their office, to record
where and how the sovereigns of this realm celebrated these periodical seasons of conviviality. One portion of the gaiety and amusement on these occasions consisted in the exhibition of these plays, mummeries and disguisings. The Chester Mysteries, already mentioned, are accordingly denominated, from the season for which they were written, Whitsun plays. That the convivialities of these important periods might be conducted in a suitable manner, and proceed in uninterrupted succession, in was a frequent practice to appoint a temporary officer to preside over them, who was variously styled the Lord, and the Abbot, of Misrule. This mock-officer, as might be expected, was looked to rather to increase the sport, than to watch over the decorum of the festival. Accordingly in a journal, preserved in the Collectanea of Leland, the writer syas, "this Christmass [an. 5 Hen VII, A.D. 1489], I saw no disgysyngs [at court], and but right few pleys; but ther was an abbot of misrule, that made muche sport, and did right well
his office."l As lately as the reign of Edward VI, in the year 1551, this magistracy was in so high repute, that George Ferrers, one of the most considerable writers in that celebrated repository of English poetry, the Mirror of Magistrates, was appointed by the privy council to exercise it during the twelve days of Christmas. "Who," says the old chronicler, "being of better credit and estimation than commonlie his predecessors had beene before, received all his commissions and warrants by the name of the maister of the king's pastimes. Which gentleman of sundrie sights and devices of rare invention, and in act of divers interludes, and metters of pastime plaied by persons, as not onelie satisfied the common sort but also were verie well liked and allowed by the councell, and other of skill in the like pastimes: but best of all by the young king himselfe, as appeered by his
princelie liberalitie in rewarding that service."m
A whimsical account has been preserved of the election and mode of proceeding of an officer bearing the same title, not resident at court, or attending upon the ouses of the opulent, but chosen by persons of inferior rank dwelling in their several parishes. This deserves to be cited, as particularly illustrative of the tastes and manners of our ancestors. "Fist of all," says the author, "the wilde heades of the parish, flocking together, chuse thema graund captaine of mischiefe, whom they innoble with the title of Lord of Misrule; and him they crowne with great solemnity, and adopt for their king. This king annoynted chooseth forth twentie, fourty, threescore, or an hundred, like to himself, to waite upon his lordly majesty, and to guarde his noble person. Then every one of these men he investeth with his liveries of greene, yellow, or some other light wanton colour,
and, as though they were not gawdy ynough, they bedecke themselves with scarffes, ribbons, and laces, hanged all over with gold ringes, pretious stones and other jewels. This done, they tie aboute either legge twentie or fourtie belles, with riche handkerchiefs in their handes, and sometimes laide acrosse over their shoulders and neckes. Thus all thinges set in order, then have their their hobby horses, their dragons, and other atickes, together with their baudie pipers, and thudring, their belles jyngling, their handkerchiefs fluttering aboute their heades like madde men, their hobbie horses and other monsters skirmishing amongst the church, though the minister be at prayer or preaching, dauncing and singing with such a confused noise that no man can heare his own voice: and thus these terrestrial furies spend the Sabbath day. Then they have certaine papers wherein is painted some babelerie
or other of imagerie worke, and these they call my Lord of Musrule's badges or cognizances. These they give to every on that will give them money to maintain them in this their heathenish devilrie; and who will not show himself buxome to them and give them money, they shall be mocked and shouted shamefully; yea, and many times carried upon a cowlstaffe, and dived over heade and eares in water, or otherwise most horribly abused."n
The courseness of manner, the broad humour, and the ribaldry, displayed on these occasions, are essential features of the character of our ancestors in these early ages. Historians, who from a misjudged delicacy of sentiment suppress them, by no means discharge the office which they have rashly and unadvisedly undertaken, and are in danger of painting all scenes with insipidity, and all ages alike. Critics, who do not bear these
features in their memory, are by no means qualified to do justice to our ancient poets; and will often impute their flat or indecorous passages for a fault, where, if they saw the subject in its full extent, they would be impressed with admiration and awe of the men who, in the midst of so much rudeness and ill taste, preserved in so high a degree the purity of their thoughts. Chaucer, however superior he may be considered to the age in which he lived, had yet the frailties of a man, spent his days more or less in such scenes as have been described, and was acted upon, like other men, by what he heard and saw, by what inspired his contemporaries with approbation or with rapture.
Nothing is more characteristic of these early times than the splendid style in which persons of royal and noble rank then lived, particularly on great and solemn festivals. This was a circumstance intimately connected with the nature of the feudal establishment. As, under this scheme of policy, all landed property was construed as vesting in the lord, so all the tenants of the soil were taught to
regard it as their highest privilege, to be deemed his domestic servants. Though the feudal system is now to be considered as extinct, yet, as has already been remarked, a thousand vestiges of its operation are found in our present institutions. It is from this source that we derive our lord chamberlain and lord steward, our grooms of the bedchamber whose privilege it is to help the king to his clothes, our masters of the horse of and of the hounds, and long catalogue of offices, which relatively to our present manners are sordid, but which are always bestowed upon persons of birth and rank. In the same manner the different electors of Germany are variously styled the arch-marshal, or farrier, the arch-sewer, or butler, and the arch-cupbearer of the Holy Roman Empire.
This system of manners unavoidably led to a profuse and magnificent style of living. Some idea may be formed of this from that memorable vestige of ancient hospitality Westminster Hall, which, we are told,o was
built by William Rufus for his dining-room. Hugh Le Despenser the elder, in the reign of Edward II, in a petition presented by him to the parliament, enumerates among the contents of his larder six hundred bacon-hogs, eighty carcases of beef, and six hundred of sheep, of which he complains that he had been despoiled by the depredations of his enemies.p There is an account extant of the expenditure of Thomas earl of Lancaster grandson to Henry III, for one year (the year 1313),q from which it appears that he paid in that period, on the score of his houshold-establisment alone, a sum equal to 109,635 of our present money. Among the items of this account are upward of one hundred and eighty-four tuns, or three hundred and sixty eight pipes of wine, which cost him however something less than five shillings and eight pence, or £.4:5:0 of our present money, per pipe. During the reign of Richard II,
ten thousand persons sat down to table every day in the royal houshold.r And of Richard earl of Warwick, the king-maker, it is related that, when he came to London, his retinue was so considerable that six oxen were often eaten by them for a breakfast.s
The English nation appears at this early period to have displayed a most vehement attachment to shows and spectacles, exhibited in the open air, and in places of numerous and promiscuous concourse. There is in spectacles of this nature an entirely different character from that of shows contrived by professional artists for their private emolument, and brought out in places where, a certain sum having been demanded for admission, the spectators are afterward seated at their ease, quiet and undisturbed. In the old English spectacles alluded to, the passers by or attendants made and essential part of the show; every thing was free and unconstrained; and every man was called upon for
a certain exertion to make good his post, and obtain his share of the amusement. There was a degree therefore of life, animation, gaity, and perhaps humour, required or called out on such occasions, very unlike the torpid and lethargic state, in so far at least as reqards muscular exertioina nd active power, of a spectator at a theatre.
These spectacles, public in the full extent of the word, may perhaps all be classes under the general denomination of pageants; and the most remarkable of them were those exhibited at the inauguration of the chief magistrates of London and other corporate towns, the ceremonial of May-day, of setting the Midsummer-watch, and the shows exhibited at the coronation, or some other remarkable incident in the family of the sovereign. At the lord-mayor's show, it was customary for the fronts of the houses before which the procession passed, to be covered with tapestry, arras and cloth of gold; and at proper distances certain temporary buildings were erected representing castles, palaces, gardens, rocks and forests. These scenes were peopled
with giants, dragons, saints, and buffoons; the Nine Worthiest were favourite characters on such occasions, who usually addressed the personages in honour of whom the exhibition was made, in respective monologues;u and there were also, as it appears,
—Hercules of monsters conquering,
Huge great giants in forest fighting
With lyons, bears, wolves, apes, foxes and
Baiards and brockes.v
The ceremonial of May-day is thus described by the old historian "In the moneth of May the citizens of London of all estates,
lightly in every parish, or sometimes two or three parishes joining together, had their severall mayings, and did fetch in maypoles with diverse warlike shewes; with good archers, morice dauncers, and other devices for pastime all the day long; and towards the evening they had stage playes and bonefiers in the streetes. These great mayings and maygames were made by the governors and maisters of the citie, with the triumphant setting up of the great shaft, or principall maypole in Cornehill before the parish-church of St. Andrew, therefore called St. Andrew Undershaft."w Among the pageants exhibited at this festival was one from the ancient story of Robin Hood. He presided as Lord of the May, and a woman, or probably a man equipped as a woman, represented Maid Marian, his faithful mistress, and was styled lady of the May. Robin Hood was regularly followed by the most noted characters among hi attendants, appropriately habited, together
with a large band of outlaws, in coats of green.x The first reformers were most zealous adversaries of these pageants, which they regarded as shreds and relics of popery; and bishop Latimer relates the following incident respecting them, in one of his sermons preached before Edward VI. "Coming to a certain town on a holiday to preach, I found the church door fast locked. I taryed there halfe and houre and more and at last the key was found, and one of the parish comes to me and sayes, Syr, this is a busy day with us, we cannot hear you; it is Robin Hoode's day; the parish are gone abroad to gather for Robin Hood; I pray you let them not. — I thought my rochet would have been regarded; but it would not serve; it was faine to give place to robin Hood and his men."y
The setting of the Midsummer-watch was another festival very solemnly observed, and is copiously described by the same historian. "In the moneths of June and July, on the
vigiles of festivall dayes, and on the same festivall dayes in the evenings after the sunne setting, there were usually made bonefiers in the streetes, every man bestowing wood or labour towards them: the wealthier sort also before their doores neare to the said bonefiers, would set out tables on the vigiles, furnished with sweete breade and good drinke, and on the festivall dayes with meates and drinks plentifully, whereunto they would invite their neighbours and passengers also to sit and bee merrie with them in great familiaritie, praysing God for his benefites bestowed on them. These were called bonefiers, as well of good amitie amongst neighbours that being before at controversie, were there by the labour of others reconciled, and made of bitter enemies, loving friendes, as also for the vertue that a great fire hath to purge the infection of the ayre. — Then had ye besides the standing watches, all in bright harness in every ward and streete of this citie and suburbs, a marching watch, that passed through the principle streets thereof." To furnish this watch with lights, there were appointed nine hundred
and forty men bearing cressets, each with an attendant: so that the number of cresset-men amounted to about two thousand, and the marching watch consisted of about two thousand more. The constables were equipped "in bright harnesse, some over gilte, and every one a jornet of scarlet thereupon, and chaine of golde. The mayor himselfe came after them, will mounted on horseback, with his sword-bearer before him in fayre armour well mounted also, his footmen and torchbearers about him, henchmen twaine upon great stirring horses following him. The sheriffes watches came one after the other in like order, but not so large in number; for where the mayor had besides his giant three pageants, each of the sheriffs had besides their giants but two pageants, each their morricedance."z One of these pageants, which is expressly said to be "according to ancient custome," is described in ordinance, dated 1564, as consisting of "four giants, one
unicorn, one dromedary, one luce, one camel, one ass, one dragon, six hobby-horses, and sixteen naked boys."a
The following is the description of a pageant exhibited on occasion of the marriage of Philip and Mary. "Now as the king came to London bridge, and as he entered at the draw-bridge, and as he entered at the draw-bridge, was a great spectacle set up, two images representing two giants, one named Corineus, and the other Gogmagog, holding betweene them certeine Latine verses, which for the vaine ostentation of flatterie, I overpasse. From London bridge they passed to the conduit in Gratious Street, which was finelie painted, -- and among other things the Nine Worthies, whereof king Henrie the Eight was one. He was painted in harnesse, having one in hand a sword, and in the other hand a booke, whereupon was written Verbum Dei , delivering the same booke (as it were) to his sonne king Edward, who was painted in a corner by him."b This last
particular, it seems, gave great offence to the queen, as savouring of Protestantism, and was ordered to be expunged. Queen Elizabeth, the next in succession of the English monarchs, had a strong propensity in behalf of ostentation and show. The particulars of the mummeries and devices with which she was received at Kenelworth Castle, the seat of her favourite earl of Leicester, are too well known to need to be recited here.c The pageant exhibited as she passed through London, from the Tower to Westminster, to her coronation, appears to have been singularly elaborate, and occupies no less than eight filio pages in the description of the chronicler Hillinshed. In closing his account of it, Hollinshed remarks, "two principall signes especially noted that the queene in all hir dooings dooth shew hir selfe most mindfull of God's goodnesse and mercie shewed unto hir." The first was the prayer which she uttered on leaving the
Tower. "The second was the receiving of the bible at the little conduit in Cheape." It was delivered to her by a child, gorgeously attired, who received it from a personage in a pageant, "finlei and well appareled, all clad in white silke, and directlie over hir head was set hir name and title in Latine and English, Temporis Filia , The Daughter of Time, and on hir brest was written in hir proper name, which was Veritas, Truth, a booke being in hir hand, upon the which was written Verbum Veritas , The Word of Truth." This book was "delivered unto her grace downe by a silken lace." Now, "when hir grace had learned that the bible in English should there be offered: she thanked the citie therefore, promised the reading thereof most diligentlie, and incontinent commanded that it should be offered: she thanked the citie therefore, promised the reading thereof most diligentlie and incontinent commanded that it should be brought. At the receipt whereof, how reverendlie did she with both hir hands take it, kisse it, and laie it upon hir brest to the great comfort of the lookers on?"d
In the sports and diversions hitherto described the public at large must be considered as spectators, while certain individuals exerted themselves, or certain objects were exhibited, for general amusement. But we must not hence conclude that our ancestors in the times here treated of were inactive. The fact was directly the reverse. They were a strenuous and hardy race, living much in the open air, muscular, alert and resolved, with an eye skilful and experienced to fix its mark, and an arm which was rarely found recreant and unequal to execute its master's purpose. There are few Englishmen so little acquainted with their country's story, as not readily to conjure up to themselves the stern baron and adventurous knight of ancient times, whom no danger could appal, and no hardship subdue; or the firma nd well-strung yeomanry, whose nerve of mind and strength of frame had so large a share in securing the victories of their native isle. We are at present considering them in relation, not to military prowess and execution, but to those games and pastimes which prepared them for both.
One of the amusements of our ancestors principally entitled to our attention is hunting. This is a leading pursiot with all barbarous and half-civilised nations; but it seems to have left in the history of no state such indelible vestiges of it peration, as in the history of England. The most memorable even connected with this topic is the formation of the New Forest by William the Conqueror, in the neighbourhood of Winchester, the seat of his principle residence. Not content with the extensive chases our kings already possessed in all parts of England, he resolved to form one larger, and with circumstances more memorable than them all. For this purpose he rigorously depopulated a district of thirty or forty miles in circumference, ruined many towns and villages, and demolished thirty-six parish-churches, to make a lair for the habitation of wild beasts.e His proceedings in the prosecution of this object are thus expressively described by the old historian. "The cruell
king loved wild beasts, as though hee had beene father of them, and by wicked counsel he brought to passe, that where men were wont to inhabite in townes and villages, and where God was wont to bee honoured, there all kinde of wilde beastes did sport themselves, so that men saide for certaine, that for the space of more then thirty miles, good profitable corne ground was turned into a chase; wherein be nine walks, nine keepers, two rangers, a bow bearer, and the earle of Arnedale [Arundel] is lord warden by inheritance."f The contemporaries of these cruel deeds delighted to remark, that Richard the second son of the Conqueror, during the life of his father, William II his third son, and Henry one of his nephews, perished untimely by different accidents on this unhallowed spot;g and in these events they recognized the hand of providence, avenging upon his posterity the impiety of the tyrant.h
The penalties awarded by the Conqueror against those who invaded the privileges of his forests, were not less severe than the measures by which those forests were established. The killing a deer, a boar, or even a hare, was punished with castration and loss of the delinquent's eyes; and that at a time when the killing a man could be atoned for by paying a moderate fine or compensation.
Henry I. is celebrated for laying out the park at Woodstock, supposed to have been the first park inclosed in England, in which he placed lions, leopards, lynxes, camels, "porpentines," and other animals such as
had never before been seen in this country;k but whether for the purpose of hunting, is uncertain. The kings of the Plantagenet race are said to have possessed sixty-eight forests, thirteen chases and about seven hundred and eighty-one parks in different parts of England.l All these circumstances sufficiently prove in how serious and important a light the occupation of hunting was viewed by the sovereigns and nobility of the island.
Hawking was so distinguished an amusement of these early times, that, in what has been written on the subject of ancient rural diversions, it has often obtained the precedence over hunting itself. This amusement was in high perfection and honour before the period of the Norman conquest: we are told of Edward the Confessor, that every day, after having attended divine service, he spent a portion of his time either in falconry or hunting;m and Harold his successor
is represented, in the contemporary tapestry of Bayeux, as brought before William of Normandy with his hawk on his hand.n The education of a hawk, so as completely to prepare him for the pursuit of his quarry, was an affair of great application and uncommon ingenuity; and the price of a bird, well trained, and that would acquit itself with credit in every trial, was extremely high. In the reign of James the First, for down to that period the diversion of hawking was still in repute, we read of one thousand pounds being given for a pair of hawks.o A hawk was one of the most affecting marks of esteem that one gentleman could by will bequeath to another. This bird was held to be in a manner the symbol of nobility; a man of rank rarely went any where, to war or to church without a companion of this sort; and nothing was considered as more dishonourable
to him than to part with his hawk.p There is a pathetic tale in Boccaccio, of a young nobleman who had sacrificed everything he possessed in pursuit of a haughty dame; and at length, as the last proof of his love, resolves to dress his hawk for her dinner.
Edward III, in whose reign Chaucer was born, had with him, when he invaded France, thirty falconers on horseback who had charge of his hawks; and he took every day the diversion of falconry or hunting.q A statute was made in the reign of this prince, directing that any one who found a hawk, which had been lost by its owner, should carry it to the sheriff, who was to cause proclamation to be made in all the principle towns in the county, for the purpose of restoring it: if in four months no claimant appeared, the hawk was to become the property of the finder, if a gentleman, or if a simple man, of the sheriff,
he first paying a reasonable gratuity to the man who brought him.r Chaucer, as might be expected, is full of allusions to the art of hawking; and his poem of the parliament of Birds, one of the first he wrote by way of courting the favour of John of Gaunt, is entirely founded upon the documents and practices of that art. The perfection to which the musquet was brought in the course of the seventeenth century, at length wholly abolished this method of pursuing the feathered natives of the woods.
Archery was an exercise in which the English particularly excelled, and they are said to have owed their great victories of Cressy, Poitiers and Agincourt in a considerable degree to their superiority in this accomplishment. The improvement of this are had a strong tendency to supersede the importance and credit of warriors cased in complete armour, as the more modern improvements in the construction of the musquet have
since superseded the value, and of succession, of our far famed archers.
The practice of archery was cultivated in the times here treated of, for various purposes. It was regarded as one of the principal sources of military power, of the ascendancy of any nation over its rivals, and of the strength of governments for suppressing discontent and rebellion among their subjects. It was the main qualification required in a hunter. And it was exercised by our ancestors, in instances where the destruction of neither men nor animals was in view, as a topic of friendly competition, and a method by which a man might attain the reputation of superior judgment and ingenuity among his equals. It had been particularly the practice of the citizens of London, to spend their leisure time, on holidays and other occasions, in shooting at buts, targets and wands; and at certain memorable periods the lord-mayor, accompanied by the sheriffs and alderman, was accustomed to lead them out into the fields, for a more solemn competition of victory
and skill.s It was a source of complaint in subsequent times and even a topic of royal and parliamentary animadversion, that the custom of shooting with arrows was almost totally laid aside, for the pursuit of various useless and unlawful games.t So lately as in the reign of Elizabeth a grand shooting match was held in Smithfield, attended by three thousand archers sumptuously appareled, nine hundred and forty-two of them having chains of gold about their necks.u
The archery of our ancestors has been rendered a topic of familiar contemplation to the lovers of English poetry, by the figure it makes in the narrative of our ancient ballads. The bow is the principal engine of destruction in the ballad of Chevy Chace. It was the great instrument of offence employed by Robin Hood, and his celebrated associates. And, in the pathetic and impressive tale of
William of Cloudesly,v we have the very incident recorded, with small variation, which has since been ascribed to William Tell, and represented as the signal for calling into existence the Helvetic liberty.
The sports of our ancestors were not merely such as called for an extraordinary degree of skill, and subjected those who pursued them to considerable fatigue: they also comprised every thing which was robust and athletic, and were not untinctured with a cast of what was savage and cruel. The diversion of wrestling, the most innocent of these, is an old English practice; so much so, that Cornwal and other provinces of the island, tow which the ancient Britons retired on the invasion of the Saxons, have for ages been the most celebrated for skill in this species of rivalship.
What has been styled by the writers on this subject "prize-fighting," and "the noble scince of defence," was much practiced by our ancestors. Sir George Buck, in treating
of the different arts taught in the metropolis, says, "In this cittie there be manie professors of the Science of Defence, and a very skilfull men in teaching the best and most offensive and defensive use of verie many weapons, as of the long sword, the backe sword, the rapier and dagger, the single rapier, the case of rapiers, the sword and buckler or targate, the pike, the holberd, the long staffe and other. King Henry the 8 made the professors of this art a company or corporation by letters pattents. The manner of the proceedings of our fencers in their schooles is this: first they which desire to be taught, at their admission are called scholers, and as they profit they take degrees, and proceed to bee provosts of defence; and that must be wonne by publicke triall of their proficiencie, in the presence and view of many hundreds of people: and at their next and last prize well and sufficiently performed, they doe proceede maisters of the science: the king ordained that none but such as have thus orderly proceeded, may professe
or teach this art of defence publikely in any part of England."w
Sir Richard Steele in the Spectator has preserved a very entertaining specimen of the style of defiance and rejoinder in combats of this sort, which, though comparatively modern, may with propriety be introduced here by way of illustration, there being sufficient evidence that the manners of the peopleof England remained with scarcely any alteration in these points for centuries. Steele's paper is dated July 21, 1712.
"I James Miller, serjeant, lately come from the frontiers of Portugal, master of the noble science of defence, hearing in most places where I have been, of the great fame of Timothy Buck of London, master of the said science, do invite him to meet me, and exercise at the several weapons following, viz.
|| Single falchion, |
| Sword and dagger,
|| Case of falshions, |
| Sword and buckler,
|| Quarter-staff." |
aSelden, Table-Talk: art. Christmas.
bMiddleton, Letter from Rome.
cTillot, Mem. de le F&ecap;te des Fous, apud Warton, Vol. II, Sect. xvi, Strutt, Book IV, chap. iii.
dWarton, Vo. I, Sec. vi. Strutt, ubi suprta.
gWarton, ubi supra.
hCoyyonian MSS. apud Srutt, ubi supra.
iKnight, Life of Colet, apud Strutt, ubi supra.
kWarton, Vol. II, Sect. xvi.
lLeland, Collectanea, Vol. IV, p. 255.
mHollinshed, ad ann.
nStubs, Anatomie of Abuses, 1595, apyd Strutt, ubi supra.
oStow, Annals, A.D. 1099.
pHume, Chap. xiv
qStow, Survey of London: of orders and customs. Anderson on Commerce, sub ann.
rStow, Annals, A.D. 1399.
sDitto, A.D. 1468.
tThese appear to have been arbitrarily varied at different times; in one instance we find their names to have been Joshua, Hector of Troy, king David, Alexander the Great, Judas Macchabeus, Julius Caesar, king Arthur, Charlemagne, and Guy of Warwick. Harleian MS, apud Strutt, Introd.
uu A number of similar monologues, addressed to Henry VII. at York in one of his progresses, may be found among Hearne's additions to Leland's Collectanea, Vol. IV, p. 188, et sequent.
vPromos and Cassandra, Part II, apud Six old Plays, published by Nichols, Vol. I.
wStow, Survey of London: sports and pastimes.
xStrutt, Book IV, chap. iii.
yLatimer's Sermons: Sermon vi.
zStow, Survey of London: of watches.
aHarleian MSS, apud Strutt, Introduction.
bHollinshed, A.D. 1554.
cVide Laneham, apud Nichols, Progreses of Queen Elizabeth.
dHollinshed, A.D. 1559.
eAnderson, History of Commerce, A.D. 1078.
fStow, Annals, A.D. 1086.
gSandford, Genealogical History.
hIt is just however to observe that the whole of this account of the formation of the New Forest has been questioned by modem writers. Voltaire trents it as an absurdity. Histoirie Générak chap. xxxii. And Dr. Joseph Warton, in his Essay on Pope, remarks, "that those who have most accurately examined the ground can discover no mark or footstep of any other place or habitation, parish or church or castle, than what at present remains." The story, if fictitious, is still apposite to illustrate the frantic eagerness with which the sports of the field were at this time pursued.
iSpelman, Gloss. sub voc. Foresta.
kStow, Annals, A.D. 1117.
lSpelman, ubi supra.
mMalmesbury, Lib. II cap. 13.
n Montfaucon, Monumens de la Monarchie Françoise, Tom. I, Regne de Philippe I.
oStrutt, Book I, chap. ioi.
pHenry, Book II, chap. vii.
qFroissart, Cronique de France, Vol. I, chap. 210.
rStatutes at Large, 35 Edw. III.
sStow, Survey of London: of watches.
tStutt, Book II, chap. i.
uStow, Survey of London, by Strype, Book I, chap. 29.
vPercy, Reliques, Vol. I, Book ii.
wThird University of England, chap, 42.