Monday, January 05, 2009

Twelfth Night 1414

Tonight is Twelfth Night - with tomorrow being the last of the Twelve Days of Christmas (the Feast of Epiphany). Unfortunately, unlike in medieval times, most of us will be back at work already rather than waiting until after the Twelve Days are over.

The Christmas period in medieval times - and indeed later - was associated with the custom of Mumming, with people dressing up in masks and disguises, visiting neighbours, parading, and performing plays.

In January 1414, a plan was put in place to use mumming as a means of overthrowing the state with a focus on Eltham Palace, where the royal family was spending Christmas. The abortive insurrection was associated with John Oldcastle, a former friend of King Henry V, who had embraced the doctrines of the Lollard movement and been imprisoned as a heretic in the Tower of London before escaping. The Lollards criticised the wealth and corruption of the Church, anticipating the later Reformation.

In 1414, it was proposed to use a Twelfth Night Mumming as a cover to seize the King and his brothers at Eltham Palace. However the King was tipped off and returned to London. When the Lollard supporters gathered in the following week in St Giles Fields (near to the current Soho area) they were routed and many were exectued.

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