British Popular Customs Present And Past - online book

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

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May i.]
MAY DAY.
227
head, so that the noyse was strange and loude, which greatly delighted the king, queene, and their companie."
It may seem strange, remarks Soane, that Robin Hood should be so prominent a figure in a festival which originated long before he was born, since we first find mention of him and his forest companions in the reign of King John, while the floral games of England, as we have seen, had their rise with the Druids. The sports of Robin Hood were most probably first instituted for the encourage­ment of archery, and it is not surprising if a recreation so especially connected with summer and the forest, was cele­brated at the opening of the year—the opening, that is, so far as it related to rural sports and pleasures. By degrees it would become blended with the festival already existing, and in a short time, from its superior attraction, it would become the principal feature of it.
Douce, in his Illustrations of Shakespeare (vol. ii. p. 454), 6ays the introduction of Robin Hood into the celebration of May probably suggested the addition of a king or lord of May. Soane, however, takes a very different view, being of opinion that the custom of electing a Lord and Lady of the May in the popular sports existed at a far earlier period—long indeed before the time of Robin Hood's intro­duction—at the same time supporting his statement from a command given in the synod at Worcester, a.d. 1240, Canon 38, " Ne intersint ludis inhonestis, nee sustineant ludos fieri de rege et regina." For an interesting account of the Robin Hood games see Strutt's novel, Queen Hoo Hall (quoted in Book of Days, vol. i. p 580). Consult also Ritson's Collection of Poems relating to Robin Hood (1853), and Brand's Pop. Antiq. 1849, vol. i. pp. 247-272.
Morris-dance.—It is supposed to be of Moorish origin, and to be derived to us from Spain. Hence its name. The prin­cipal characters of it generally were Robin Hood, Maid Marian, Scarlet, Stokesley, Little John, the Hobby Horse, the Bavian or Fool, Tom the Piper with his pipe and tabor, the Dragon, of which we have no mention before 1585. Tho number of characters varied much at different times and places. See Brand's Pop. Antiq. 1849, vol. i. pp. 247-270, and Book of Days, vol i. pp. 630-633,
Q 2
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