48 THE BOOK OF CHRISTMAS.
The notorious Prynne, in his Histrio-Mastix, affirms (and quotes Polydore Virgil to the same effect) that " our Christmas lords of Misrule, together with dancing, masques, mummeries, stage-players, and such other Christmas disorders, now in use with Christians, were derived from these Roman Saturnalia and Bacchanalian festivals;—which," adds he, " should cause all pious Christians eternally to abominate them." We should not, however, omit to mention that by some this officer has been derived from the ancient ceremony of the Boy-Bishop. Faber speaks of him as originating in an old Persico-gothic festival, in honor of Budha; and Purchas, in his Pilgrimage, as quoted in the Aubrey MSS., says, that the custom is deduced from the " Feast in Babylon, kept in honor of the goddess Dorcetha, for five dayes together; during which time the masters were under the dominion of their servants, one of which is usually sett over the rest, and royally cloathed, and was called Sogan, that is, Great Prince."
The title, however, by which this officer is most generally known is that of Lord of Misrule. " There was," says Stow, " in the feast of Christmas, in the king's house, wheresoever he was lodged, a Lord of Misrule, or Master of merry Disports; and the like had ye for the house of every nobleman of honor, or good worship, were he spiritual or temporal. Among the which the Mayor of London and either of the Sheriffs had their several Lords of Misrule, ever contending, without quarrel or offence, which should make the rarest pastimes, to delight the beholders."
On the antiquity of this officer in England, we have not been able to find any satisfactory account; but we discover traces of him, almost as early as we have any positive records of the various sports by which the festival of this season was supported. Polydore Virgil speaks of the splendid spectacles, the masques, dancings, &c, by which it was illustrated as far back as the close of the twelfth century ; and it is reasonable to suppose that something in the shape of a master of these public ceremonies must have existed then, to preserve order, as well as furnish devices,— particularly as the hints for the one and the other seem to have been taken from the celebrations of the heathens. As early as the year 1489, Leland speaks of an Abbot of Misrule, " that