A Christmas Cracker

Welcome to the Birkbeck Early Modern Intelligencer’s Christmas Cracker!

Instead of the usual news and events reporting, today will be just for fun.

UK readers will need a break between the Queen’s Speech (also for the Commonwealth, of course!) and Doctor Who so here is some early modern stuff to send you back in time until The End of Time (Part 1)

If you’ve unwrapped your presents already, how do they compare with this?
The Perfect Present?

Mr. Charles Maitland acquainted the Faculty in the name of the Right Honourable the Earl of Morton That his Lordship had made them a present of an Egyptian Mummy to be set up in the Library, which had sometime since been sent from London together with a Letter to Mr. Thomas Ruddiman their Library Keeper to receive the said Mummy for that purpose, and that is was now in the Library. Upon which the Dean and ffaculty Appointed Mr. Peter Wedderburn and the said Mr. Maitland to wait on the Earl of Morton, and to return him the Thanks of the Faculty…They also directed the Curators of the Library to dispose of the Mummy into a proper place in the Library. (From The Minute Book of the Faculty of Advocates, 28 July 1748)


Mumming was traditional at this time of year during the early modern period. (There is, of course, no connection between mummies and mumming.) Mummers perform traditional folk plays. There is always a character called the Doctor. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mummers_Play for more on mumming and mummers.

SJ8512 : Now look what you have done by John M

Now look what you have done

If you can’t catch some live mumming (there’s some in Carshalton in the 28th – see here for details – it’s provisional so check before you travel) you can do your own. You can put on your own version of The Mumming Play of King George and the Turkish Knight.

If mumming is not your thing (maybe a bit too medieval?), the BBC will to the rescue on Boxing Day at 17:05 on BBC2 when it will show Hamlet starring David Tennant. Visit the website at Hamlet for all things Hamlet.

Why did Cromwell Cancel Christmas?

Maybe he’d just read The Mumming Play of King George!

It is a common myth that Cromwell personally ‘banned’ Christmas during the mid seventeenth century. Instead, it was the broader Godly or parliamentary party, working through and within the elected parliament, which in the 1640s clamped down on the celebration of Christmas and other saints’ and holy days, a prohibition which remained in force on paper and more fitfully in practice until the Restoration of 1660. There is no sign that Cromwell personally played a particularly large or prominent role in formulating or advancing the various pieces of legislation and other documents which restricted the celebration of Christmas, though from what we know of his faith and beliefs it is likely that he was sympathetic towards and supported such measures, and as Lord Protector from December 1653 until his death in September 1658 he supported the enforcement of the existing measures.

Read more at The Cromwell Association

For some contemporary responses see The Vindication of Christmas at Mercurius Politicus A Christmassy Post.

A Christmas Quiz

Click CrackerQuiz to find a list and a question. The answer to the question can be found at the end of this post.

Restoration Christmas

Once the puritans were gone, Christmas was back with a bang. The Gentleman Administrator gives some details (and songs to sing!) here: A Very Merry Restoration Christmas.

Twelfth Night

Today is also, of course, the start of the 12 days of Christmas. This is fine excuse to re-read one of Shakespeare’s classics, Twelfth Night. A shipwreck, a comedy puritan, mistaken identities, and a very good clown in Feste – there’s lots to love. On holiday away from your collected Shakespeare? You can get the text from Project Gutenburg.

If you haven’t yet had enough feasting, try this 12th Night Bean Cake Recipe

The Quiz Answer

They could have all sung this had they but known the words.

More festive fun is available at Westminster Wisdom’s History Carnival.

Happy Christmas!

2 comments on “A Christmas CrackerAdd yours →

  1. An update on the Advocates Library mummy: ‘It is said that the mummy would be brought up from the cell to which it had been consigned to be seated at Bar Dinners…The Faculty eventually disposed of the object to the University of Glasgow in 1958, an attempt at cremation by the municipal authorities having failed for want of a death certificate.’ (from A. Stewart, ‘The Session Papers in the Advocates Library’, in HL MacQueen (ed), Miscellany Four by Various Authors (Edinburgh: The Stair Society, 2002) 216 n 72)

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