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Lords of Misrule and Boy Bishops







Ludlow Castle, where Henry III (helped by Archbishop Langton) made peace with the Welsh in 1224,

Sir Roger Mortimer presided (and over England) in the early 1300s, and which in the next century was a major Yorkist base.


Ludlow Castle web site + accomodation               More about Ludlow Castle in Wikipedia 




The River Teme below Ludlow Castle




Ludlow high - not all half timbered like this bit,  but a really pleasant space to wander, especially as Ludlow prides itself on being full of local shops, not national chains.

Ludlow is also a foodie (buongustaio) place.




The church of Saint Laurence, Ludlow    St Laurence Website    St Laurence is a member of the Greater English Churches Group





At the end of the ridge of the north transept roof is a vertical arrow - the symbol of the Fletchers' Guild.  They were the people who put the feathers (flèches) on the end of arrows and they even have their own tartan.  At one time the Fletchers had a chapel in the north transept, but this has now been gazumped by the rebuilt Snetzler organ.


Improbable tradition says that the arrow was shot by Robin Hood from a field two miles away!


Lest you were wondering, the Dom's Fletcher ancestors descended from woolcombers (raw wool cleaners) in the poor crofters' cottages around Oxenhope in  West Yorkshire - not quite the same skill league as arrow makers.







St Laurence provides a rare misericord experience - not only does it have a lot of interesting ones dating from the mid 1400s, but they are all visible and many are well lit - sadly not usually the case in English churches.






Choir bench end (1430 - 1450) - The right legless Lord of Misrule (left), back to back with the right armless and crosierless Boy Bishop (right) - and everyone has been rendered powerless by having their noses filed down !  Sadly whatever was on the other bench end did not survive the middle ages.





Lord of Misrule


Lords of Misrule (in Scotland Abbots of Unreason) were sort of medieval events' organizers, with a particular focus on the Feast of Fools at the New year, and associated often over the top events.  


It will not be surprising to learn that their existence and functions predated Christianity, but the medieval church skilfully tied them in to the Christian Feast of the Circumcision (January 1), and the ranks of the Church Subdeacons. 


Lords of Misrule were elected annually by various institutions and communities including feudal courts, colleges and parishes.  They organized everything from feasts to balls and processions, some pretty rough, and they often presided over the revellers at their events with a mock court.  Their "term of office" could last from days to weeks.


Even though the Church grew increasingly hostile to these traditions, it took a long time for them to be stamped out - in parallel it seems with Boy Bishops. 


The bench end carvings in the choir of St Laurence Ludlow, which date from between 1430 and 1450, would have been made after the prohibitions of the Council of Basle (see right) but a hundred years before the death in 1553 of Henry VIII's son, the boy King Edward VI, signalled the end of the tradition at the English King's Court (and the emergence of a new court position of Master of the Revels).




Boy Bishop


It was common in larger churches in the Middle Ages for a "Boy Bishop" - usually a member of the choir - to be appointed to rule as Bishop on the Feast of the Holy Innocents on December 28 (which was also observed as a day of special celebration for choir boys).  In England, where the tradition was apparently most enthusiastically followed, the "reign" of the Boy Bishop is said to have lasted from Saint Nicholas' Day (December 6) to December 28.  The Boy Bishop, it is claimed, was empowered to do everything except administer holy sacraments. 


Whilst the existence of this tradition is recorded in several web sources, they do bear a strong resemblance to each other in a copy and paste sense, and may not represent independent sources of knowledge - neither do they offer any insights as to how this tradition came about !  It is also difficult to believe that the English church system was administered like this for as long as 3 weeks in December every year.


But the practice was indeed widespread in some form or other, widespread enough to be forbidden (unsuccessfully) by the Council of Basle / Florence (1431 - 39), and further stamped on by the considerable weight of Henry VIII (1491-1509-1547 (56)).


AND, would you  believe, it's still going on today .....



Medieval Church Officers Celebrated .....


St Stephen's Day (December 26) - Deacons

St John the Evangelist's Day (December 27) - Priests

 Feast of the Holy Innocents (December 28) - Choristers and Mass Servers

Feast of the Circumcision (January 1) - Subdeacons - also the Feast of Fools




Image from the excellent "Visit Ludlow" website



Still to come - the stained glass of the Palmers' Guild Chapel


The Palmers' Guild



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