SOCIAL EVENTS Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval London processions mummery festivals entertainment
Subject: Mummery
Original source: British Library, Harleian MS. 247, f.172v
Transcription in: Edith Rickert, Clair Olson and Martin Crow, eds. Chaucer's World, New York: Columbia University Press, (1948), 233.
Original language: unknown (English translation is Rickert's)
Location: London
Date: 1377


At the same time the commons of London made great sport and solemnity to the Prince. For upon the Monday next before the Purification of Our Lady, at night, and in the night, one hundred and thirty men were disguised and well mounted on horseback to go mumming to the said Prince, riding from Newgate through Cheapside, where many people could see them, with great noise of minstrelsy, trumpets, cornets, and shawms, and a great many wax torches lighted. The first forty-eight rode like esquires, two and two together, in coats and cloaks of red say or sendal, and had their faces covered with vizards, well and handsomely made. After these esquires came forty-eight like knights, well arrayed in the same manner. After the knights came one excellently arrayed and well mounted, as though he were an emperor; after him some one hundred paces came one nobly arrayed as a pope; after him came twenty-four arrayed like cardinals; and after the cardinals came eight or ten arrayed and with black masks like devils not at all amiable, seeming like legates. All these rode through London and over London bridge to Kennington, where the young Prince lived with his mother. The Duke of Lancaster, the earls of Cambridge, Hertford, Warwick, and Suffolk, and many other lords were there with him to behold the solemnity.


Mummery or mumming, or disguisings as it came to be known towards the close of the Middle Ages, may have had its origins in the performance of legends in which a hero was killed and restored to life; such was the form it came to take in the post-medieval period, although this form is of uncertain antiquity. It was largely a male activity and the authorities feared that having quantities of disguised and armed persons roaming the streets during the evening gave scope to troublemakers or criminals, and could get out of hand. Several other towns are known to have joined London in banning the custom in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The Twelve Days of Christmas, which featured other manifestations of misrule, represented the core season for mummery. The Purification of Our Lady, known as Candlemas (2 February), occurring 40 days after the birth of Jesus, when under the Law of Moses a mother could be cleansed of the impurity of giving birth), was therefore considered an extension of that midwinter festivity. It may be noted that curfew was evidently not applicable on occasions such as this.



The Prince of Wales, shortly to become Richard II. He was doubtless fond of mummery and pageants, for his own coronation was celebrated with some of the most spectacular pageants seen up until then in England.

This route was typically chosen for processions, because one of the widest streets in medieval London.

A double-reed, woodwind instrument, sounding similar to an oboe.

"say or sendal"
Light, fine-quality cloths.

Painted masks shaped like visors.

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Created: August 18, 2001 Last update: December 11, 2010. © Stephen Alsford, 2001-2010