Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain

By Ronald Hutton | Go to book overview

21
ENGLAND AND ST GEORGE

THE vagaries of the Easter cycle meant that Hocktide could be followed by a fortnight of lull in celebration or might itself by preceded by the first calendar Festival to be widely celebrated in late medieval England after St Valentine's. This was the feast of the military saint George upon 23 April. As befitted that of a Christian warrior, his cult burgeoned in western Europe in the wake of the Crusades, and his festival day was officially established in England in 1222. 1 During the next two centuries he was carefully promoted by the conqueror kings Edward III and Henry V, to rival the French St Denis and to replace the less martial Edward the Confessor as England's patron saint. As such he proved a considerable success, being a glamorous figure, perfect for a society imbued with chivalric ideals and associated with one of hagiography's most dramatic legends. In particular, he was taken as dedicatee by a large number of the religious guilds which were founded in late fourteenth- and fifteenth-century England, 2 and these in turn often provided the 'ridings' on his day, which were to be some of the most colourful rites of the early Tudor period.

The earliest and best-known of these was at Norwich, first recorded in 1420 and provided by a guild which was itself founded in 1385. A hundred years later, and fully developed, it took the following form. First the corporation heard mass at the cathedral on St George's Eve, followed directly by a banquet. The next day, the guild provided a procession including a model dragon and people attired as George himself, St Margaret, and their retinue. The George wore a gilt helmet and coat armour of white damask woven with a red cross, while Margaret had a gown of tawny velvet. He rode a horse caparisoned in black velvet with copper ornaments, while her steed was harnessed in crimson velvet with gold flowers. Their followers were dressed variously in more crimson velvet, green satin, red buckram, and red or white wool or satin. 3 Upon the same date the corporation of Newcastle upon Tyne paraded its own dragon, of canvas nailed to a wooden frame. 4 The St George's guild of Leicester provided its own costumed parade, with their hero wearing real plate armour, partly funded by the town council, which joined the procession. 5 The saint went about Canterbury and another George and dragon sallied forth on behalf of the guild at Stratford-upon-Avon. All the guilds of Chester processed through its streets behind another monster, while at York

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Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Acknowledgements and Note xiii
  • Contents xv
  • List of Plates xvii
  • List of Maps xx
  • 1 - The Origins of Christmas 1
  • 2 - The Twelve Days 9
  • 3 - The Trials of Christmas 25
  • 4 - Rites of Celebration and Reassurance 34
  • 5 - Rites of Purification and Blessing 42
  • 6 - Rites of Hospitality and Charity 54
  • 7 - Mummers' Play and Sword Dance 70
  • 8 - Hobby-Horse and Horn Dance 81
  • 9 - Misrule 95
  • 10 - The Reinvention of Christmas 112
  • 11 - Speeding the Plough 124
  • 12 - Brigid's Night 134
  • 13 - Candlemas 139
  • 14 - Valentines 146
  • 15 - Shrovetide 151
  • 16 - Lent 169
  • 17 - The Origins of Easter 179
  • 18 - Holy Weekz 182
  • 19 - An Egg at Easter 198
  • 20 - The Easter Holidays 204
  • 21 - England and St George 214
  • 22 - Beltane 218
  • 23 - The May 226
  • 24 - May Games and Whitsun Ales 244
  • 25 - Morris and Marian 262
  • 26 - Rogationtide and Pentecost 277
  • 27 - Royal Oak 288
  • 28 - A Merrie May 295
  • 29 - Corpus Christi 304
  • 30 - The Midsummer Fires 311
  • 31 - Sheep, Hay, and Rushes 322
  • 32 - First Fruits 327
  • 33 - Harvest Home 332
  • 34 - Wakes, Revels, and Hoppings 348
  • 35 - Samhain 360
  • 36 - Saints and Souls 371
  • 37 - The Modern Hallowe'En 379
  • 38 - Blood Month and Virgin Queen 386
  • 39 - Gunpowder Treason 393
  • 40 - Conclusions 408
  • Notes 428
  • Index 519
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