Monday, 17 June 2013

Medieval productions of Robin Hood

One of the treasures of Worcester Cathedral Library is the Journal of Prior William More.  This is a handwritten weekly account book for the years 1517 to 1535 kept by William More, who was the penultimate Prior of Worcester before the dissolution of the Monastery.  Surprisingly, for an account book, it offers a unique insight into a more light hearted side of Monastic life, and provides an uncommon amount of detail on monastic feasts and entertainment.

Photograph, Avi , Monastic Register. Close-up of a decorated letter ('R') depicts a number of figures including a lute player or possibly minstrel. Photograph by permission of the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral, (U.K.)

The religious year was laid out as a series of festivals, saints' feast days and holy days so there was always an excuse for a celebration.  For instance the Prior celebrated St Thomas's Day[6th July] in 1529 with a bonfire at Crowle and to help the party go with a bang he spent threepence on 'kakes' and to wash those down there was a 'potell [four pints] and a quarte [two pints] of red wyne' and a 'potell of sacke'.  This was in no way unusual as he celebrated Christmas dinner 1520 with a 'quarte of mawmesey', a 'potell of rumney' and a 'potell of osey' and the meal was accompanied by carols and William the 'Lewter' playing for guests.

Entertainment played a large part in late medieval celebrations and the accounts list over two hundred payments or donations to entertainers that include among others; jugglers, bearwards, tumblers, minstrels, players, singers and dancers. 

While some are donations made to support parish groups others are payments made to entertainers who were brought to the Priory or one of the Prior's houses to entertain him and his guests.  For one day's entertainment alone at Battanhall he lists, rewards to “singers on ye dedicacion day in ye morenyng” and for later on that day, “William slye & his compeny beyng the quenes pleyers” and also the “Dewke of suffolke[s] mynstrell” and let us not forget the payment for “wyne”.

Robin Hood seems to have been one of Prior Moore’s favourites. He contributed a substantive forty pence to the town of Tewksbury to support their Robin Hood event. He also paid the villagers of Cleeve six shillings and eight pence “in rewardes” for travelling to his house at Crowle and “pleying with Robyn Whot Mayde Marion”.  Another entry lists twelve pence to “certen yong men of seynt Elyns that pleyd Robyn whod”.  Although I leave you to decide if the twelve pence to “Robyn Whod & little John of Ombursley” are players or the real people.

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