British Popular Customs Present And Past - online book

A calendar of the traditional customs, practices & rituals of the British Isles.

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226                                      may day.                              [May I.
unable to remove. Thus in course of time the festival was not only diverted from its original intention, but even the meaning of its various symbols was forgotten. It degenerated into a mere holiday, and as such long continued to be the delight of all ages and of all classes, from king and queen upon the throne to the peasant in his cottage. Thus, for example, Henry VIII. appears to have been particularly attached to the exercise of archery and the observance of May. " Some short time after his coronation," says Hall (Vit. Henry VIIL, fol. vi. 6), " he came to Westminster with the Queen and all their train. And on a time being there, his Grace, the Earls of Essex, Wiltshire, and other noble­men, to the number of twelve, came suddenly into the Queen's chamber, all apparelled in short coats of Kentish Kendal, with hoods on their heads, and hosen of the same, every one of them his bow and arrows, and a sword and buckler, like outlaws or Robin Hood's men ; whereof the Queen, the ladies, and all others there, were abashed, as well for the strange sight, as also for their sudden coming; and after certain dances and pastimes made, they departed."
Stow, too, in his Survey of London (1603, 4to, p. 99) has the following:—" In the moneth of May, namely on May-day in the morning, every man, except impediment, would walke into the sweete meadows and greene woods, there to rejoyco their spirites with the beauty and savour of sweete flowers, and with the harmony of birds praysing God in their kind; and for example hereof Edward Hall hath noted that K. Henry the Eighth, as in the 3 of his reigne and divers other years, so namely on the seventh of his reigne on May-day in the morning, with Qween Katheren his wife, accompanied with many lords and ladies, rode a-maying from Greenwitch to the high ground of Shooter's hill, where as they passed by the way they espied a company of tall yeomen clothed all in greene, with greene whoodes and with bowes and arrowes, to the number of 100. One being their chieftaine was called Robin Hoode, who required the king and his companio to stay and see his men shoote, whereunto the king graunting, Robin Hoode whistled, and all the 200 archers shot off, losing all at once, and when he whistled againe, they like­wise shot againe; their arrowes whistled by craft of tho
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