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Mumming at Eltham


ABBREVIATIONS: MP: Minor Poems of John Lydgate, ed. MacCracken; PPC: Proceedings and Ordinances of the Privy Council; PRO: Public Record Office.

Shirley calls this a balade made by Lydgate for a Christmas mumming at Eltham for the king and queen, presumably Henry VI and his mother, Catherine of Valois. It consists of twelve rhyme-royal stanzas that describe the meaning of the gifts Bacchus, Juno, and Ceres send to the king and queen — via merchants that are present (line 5) — gifts of wine, oil, and wheat betokening peace, plenty, and gladness. While the mumming touches on the legitimacy of the dual monarchy, its chief concern, emphasized in the final line of each stanza, is to offer reassurances that troubles and discord will be banished and that mother and son will enjoy peace, prosperity, and happiness.

Various dates between 1424 and 1429 have been proposed for the mumming, but contemporary sources place Henry VI at Eltham for Christmas in only two of those years: 1425/26 and 1428/29. Privy Council records mention a ring that was given to Henry VI by the duke of Bedford “a Noel tenu a Eltham l’an de votre graciouse regne quarte,” i.e., during the Christmas season of 1425/26 (PPC, 3:284–86) and London companies were at Eltham then (PRO, E404/44/334; Griffiths, Reign of King Henry VI, p. 64n17). Amundesham (Annales monasterii S. Albani, 1:32) claims that Henry was at Eltham for the Christmas season of 1428/29, a date Pearsall argues fits best with Lydgate’s career (Bio-Bibliography, p. 29). As for the other possible dates, 1424/25 cannot be ruled out and is the date given by I. Lancashire (Dramatic Texts and Records, no. 636, citing no source) and Schirmer (John Lydgate, p. 101n1, based on an unnamed citation in Kingsford that I have been unable to locate). The holiday season of 1426/27 may also be a possibility, but 1427/28 is probably not: I. Lancashire (Dramatic Texts and Records, nos. 637 and 638) follows Wolffe (Henry VI, p. 37) in claiming that Jack Travaill’s players and four boys of Thomas Beaufort, duke of Exeter, were at Eltham at Christmas in 1426 and that Travaill was back at Eltham for Christmas of 1427 along with players from Abingdon, but Wolffe’s dates seem to be based on a misinterpretation of the accounts of Henry VI’s chamber treasurer, John Merston (PRO E404/42/306; E404/44/334; printed in Foedera 10:387–88): Merston’s entries were recorded in February of 1428 for the 1427/28 holiday season, which seems to have been spent at Hertford (see the Explanatory Notes for the Disguising at Hertford).

Shirley’s phrasing seems to suggest that Lydgate was at Eltham when he made the balade, which perhaps encouraged Schirmer (John Lydgate, p. 101) to imagine that the verses might have been read aloud by Lydgate himself, especially since there is no mention of a herald or presenter. Lydgate’s text may have been an explanatory speech that introduced the mum­mers who then performed the gift-giving (see Welsford, Court Masque, p. 54) or may have accompanied their mimed action. Pearsall (John Lydgate, p. 184) thinks there may have been two groups of actors — the three deities in a tableau and the merchants who presented the actual gifts. A. Lancashire (London Civic Theatre, pp. 102–03) notes that judging by records of payments acting troupes in the fifteenth century usually consisted of four adults, which means that Travaill’s players (or Exeter’s four boys or the Abingdon company) could have played the parts of the speaker and three deities. Kipling suggests that after being read aloud, Lydgate’s verses might have been presented in commemoration of the event, thus heightening the ceremony of gift-giving (“Poet as Deviser,” p. 93).

Surviving records tell us of earlier mummings at Eltham. The first was on January 6, 1393 when citizens of London entertained Richard II with music, dancing, and costumes (the Londoners came with “glorioso apparatu”), and brought gifts (a dromedary and a great bird; see Strohm, Hochon’s Arrow, pp. 106–07); fines owed by the city to the king were negotiated then, too (see Westminster Chronicle, pp. 510–11; discussed by Barron, “Quarrel of Richard II with London”). The second was in 1400–01 when Londoners dressed as twelve aldermen and their sons performed a mumming for the visiting emperor of Constantinople, Manuel II (see A. Lancashire, London Civic Theatre, p. 42). A third, less friendly one was planned for Twelfth Night in 1414 by Lollards who “hadde caste to have made a mommynge at Eltham, and undyr coloure of the mommynge to have destryte the kyng and Hooly Chirche,” but the plot was discovered before the mumming could be undertaken (Historical Collections of a Citizen of London, p. 108).

Who commissioned the Mumming at Eltham? Although we can only speculate, the reference to “marchandes that here be” may indicate some collaboration between Londoners (Eltham lies just outside the city) and Henry VI’s controller or his staff (who would normally be responsible for overseeing household entertainments) in asking Lydgate to write verses to accompany the presentation of the merchants’ gifts. It is possible to see traces of what Benson has called a “civic voice” (“Civic Lydgate,” pp. 148–49) in the mum­ming, particularly in the emphasis on the bourgeois values of stability and prosperity. But if there is a civic voice in this mumming, it shares space with courtly concerns of peace, unity, and control of rebels and infidels, as well as what seems to be genuine solicitousness for Catherine’s happiness in the four stanzas addressed to her (see Pearsall, Bio-Bibliography, p. 30, for other poems to Catherine that might date to the same period, in which Lydgate had “comparatively close contact with the court”).

The Mumming at Eltham survives in Trinity R.3.20 (1450–75), pp. 37–40, as well as in Stow’s copy of it, now Additional MS 29729. Trinity R.3.20 is the base text for this edition (MP, 2:672–74), collated with Additional 29729.

running titles: R.3.20 contains running titles that identify the verses as the maner of a momynge / to fore the kynge at Elthame / A desgysinge to fore the kynge / At cristmesse in the castel of eltham; not noted in MP.

headnote Eltham in Cristmasse. The palace at Eltham, located two miles southeast of Greenwich, was fortress-like, with ditches, battlements, an inner courtyard, and forty-six large rooms, as well as a banqueting hall in which parliament occasion­ally met and which was well suited to dramatic performances (Schirmer, John Lydgate, p. 101; descriptions of Eltham palace and the plan of the great hall can be found in Hasted, History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent, 1:463–68). A. Lancashire (London Civic Theatre, p. 276n31) points out that the Christmas season at court ran at least through the twelve days of Christmas, from December 26 to January 6 (Twelfth Night), but the reference to This hyeghe feest in line 80 suggests that the mumming dates to Christmas day.

1–2 Bacchus was the Roman god of wine and fertility; Juno, sister and wife of Jupiter, was the Roman goddess of marriage, the home, and childbirth; Ceres was the Roman goddess of grain.

4 theyre giftes. Parry (“On the Continuity of English Civic Pageantry,” pp. 224–25) notes that Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Kenilworth in 1575, like the Eltham mumming, featured deities, including Ceres and Bacchus (in this case apparently not impersonated), who presented gifts of pro­duce on seven posts spanning a bridge, while a poet pointed to each post and described the gifts. The choice of wine, wheat, and oil — all of which were imported goods — suggests that the merchants in question were probably from London and may indicate that they were mercers (who traded in such goods), but Shirley’s lack of a specific trade name may point to a more diverse group of merchant gift-givers on this occasion. It may have been that the merchants gave Henry and Catherine token gifts of wine, wheat, and oil in containers of precious metal, thus increas­ing the monetary value of the gifts, or the gifts may have been in sufficient quantity to be provender for the feast (see Merston’s accounts for payments for kids and pheasants during the Christmas season of 1427–28, in Foedera 10:387).

5 marchandes that here be. Nolan (John Lydgate, p. 85) thinks that the appearance of merchants is “perhaps a gesture toward the civic origin” of mummings, but that the real issue is the dual monarchy; the text, however, shows little concern with that issue.

15 Ysaak. For Isaac’s three gifts to Jacob, see Genesis 27:28; here, as elsewhere in his writings, Lydgate blends classical and biblical imagery, turning to two exam­ples of biblical tripartite gifts to amplify the significance of the gifts brought by the three pagan deities. An effigy of Isaac was among the pageants that Londoners designed to greet the duke of Bedford and his duchess on London Bridge when he entered London in 1426 on his return from France (A. Lancashire, London Civic Theatre, pp. 136–37 and 285n54; I. Lancashire, Dramatic Texts and Records, no. 929, misdated to 1427).

24 rebelles. Brotanek (Englischen Maskenspiele, p. 305) claims that the rebelles are the French, and Nolan (John Lydgate, p. 85) agrees, suggesting that the reference links the mumming to 1428, when the Dauphin and the French army had threatened the English to such an extent that the stability of the two reaumes (line 27) was in doubt; as Jacob (Fifteenth Century, pp. 243–47) shows, however, the entire strife-filled period from the battle of Verneuil (August 1424) to the siege of Orléans (1428) could form a possible context for the strife and disobedience mentioned in this stanza.

25 cruwel werre. Schirmer (John Lydgate, p. 101) thinks that Mars may have also been represented in the mumming and then driven away by the uniting of Henry’s two realms, although it seems more likely that Lydgate refers to Mars merely to introduce the topic of the cruwel werre and that only Bacchus, Juno, and Ceres were impersonated (see line 80).

39 mescreantes in actes marcyal. Brotanek (Englischen Maskenspiele, pp. 305–06) believes this is a reference to Henry Beaufort’s attempt at a Hussite crusade.

45 Provydence, hir sustre. Schirmer’s argument about Mars (see line 25) could also apply to Providence, although once again Lydgate is probably simply describing her attributes.

52 Latin marginalia: Ad reginam Katerinam mother to Henrie the VI. [To Queen Catherine, mother to Henry VI.]
borne of Saint Lowys blood. Catherine was the daughter of Charles VI of France, and thus descended from St. Louis.

53 The banishing of sorowe and hevynesse here and in line 65 may refer to Catherine’s inconclusive affair with Edmund Beaufort, which seems to have begun in 1425 or 1426, and which may have been a source of the crisis of 1425–26 and the quarrel between Gloucester and Henry Beaufort, Edmund’s uncle, although that can only remain conjectural (see Harriss, Cardinal Beaufort, pp. 143–44).

59–61 The topic of Fortune’s varyaunce is one Lydgate takes up in a number of his poems; see Lerer (Chaucer and His Readers, p. 13) for the pervasive Boethianism Lydgate shares with other fifteenth-century writers, which Lerer views as a response to the upheavals of the period that defined the writer’s social role as being “to offer counsel in a fickle world.”

80 This hyeghe feest. I.e., the feast of Christmas.

81, 84 In these two lines the envoy repeats the refrain of the two parts of the mumming, thus bringing together its hopes for Henry and Catherine.


ABBREVIATIONS: A: Additional 29729 (Stow’s copy of R.3.20); M: MacCracken’s 1934 edition; T: Trinity R.3.20, copy text for all of the disguisings and mummings except Bishopswood, and for Bycorne and Chychevache, the Procession of Corpus Christi, and Of the Sodein Fall of Princes.

13 youre. M reads Houre.

14 with. A reads and.

16 Gaf. A reads of (the G is struck through).

23 lordshipethe. A reads lorshipe.

25 stint. A reads stinte.

28 and. A reads with.

45 hir. A reads his.
A miscopies line 48 here, strikes it out, and renumbers lines in correct order; not noted by M.
T reads This God, this Goddesse, also theyre gyfftes dresse / In goodely wyse of entent ful goode, marked by b and a corrections indicating the phrases should be transposed; not noted by M. A copies the incorrect version, then corrects.

57 theyre. A reads gyve; not noted by M.

60 remuwe. M’s emendation; T reads renuwe and A reads renewe.
hir. A reads ther; not noted by M.

65 T reads texyle al hevynesse awaye, with a superscript b after texyle and superscript a after hevynesse, indicating that the two words should be reversed. A reads texyle.
awaye. Not noted by M.

66 eeke. Not in T or A; added by M.

68 grounded in. Now missing in T (torn leaf), but supplied by A (from another manuscript, according to M).

69 refrete, yif yowe list. Missing in T (torn leaf), but supplied by A (from another manuscript, according to M).

70 encresse joye and gladnesse of hert. Missing in T (torn leaf), but supplied by A (from another manuscript, according to M).

76 yif yee. A reads give.

77 and. Omitted in T and A; added by M.

82 Ceres. T reads Cerces.

84 and. Omitted in T and A; added by M.
  [Loo here begynnethe a balade made by daun John Lidegate at Eltham in Cristmasse, for a momyng tofore the Kyng and the Qwene.(see note)

















Bachus, which is god of the glade vyne,
Juno and Ceres, acorded alle theos three,
Thorughe theyre power, which that is devyne,
Sende nowe theyre giftes unto your Magestee:
Wyne, whete, and oyle by marchandes that here be,
Wheche represent unto youre Hye Noblesse
Pees with youre lieges, plenté and gladnesse.

For theos giftes pleynly to descryve,
Wheche in hemself designe al souffisaunce:
Pees is betokened by the grene olyve;
In whete and oyle is foulsome haboundaunce;
Wheche to youre Hyenesse for to do plesaunce,
They represente nowe to youre Hye Noblesse,
Pees with youre lieges, plentee with gladnesse.

Ysaak, the patryark ful olde,
Gaf his blessing with his giftes three
Unto Jacobe; in Scripture it is tolde,
Genesis yee may hit reede and see.
And semblabully the Hooly Trynytee,
Youre staate blessing, sent to youre Hye Noblesse
Pees with youre lieges, plentee with gladnesse.

In the olyve he sendethe to yowe pees,
The Lord of Lordes, that lordshipethe every sterre,
And in youre rebelles, wheche beon now reklesse,
He stint shal of Mars the cruwel werre;
And thane youre renoun shal shyne in londes ferre
Of youre two reaumes, graunting to your Noblesse
Pees with youre lieges, plentee and gladnesse.

For Mars that is mooste furyous and woode,
Causer of stryf and desobeyssaunce,
Shal cesse his malice; and God that is so goode,
Of unytee shal sende al souffysaunce.
He joyne the hertes of England and of Fraunce,
B’assent of boothe sent to your Hye Noblesse
Pees with youre lieges, plentee with gladnesse.

Juno that is goddesse of al tresore,
Sende eeke hir gyftes to your estate royal:
Laude of knighthoode, victorie and honnour,
Ageyns mescreantes in actes marcyal,
For Crystes feyth yee enhaunce shal;
Repeyre ageyne, and regne in youre Noblesse,
Pees with youre lieges, plentee and gladnesse.

And al this whyle Ceres, goddesse of corne,
Shal where yee ryde mynistre you victayle;
Provydence, hir sustre, goo byforne
And provyde, soo that no thing ne fayle;
Bachus also, that may so miche avayle:
Alle of acorde present to youre Noblesse
Pees with youre lieges, plentee with gladnesse.

This God, this Goddesse, of entent ful goode,
In goodely wyse also theyre gyftes dresse
To yowe, Pryncesse, borne of Saint Lowys blood;
Frome yowe avoyding al sorowe, al hevynesse,
Frome yeere to yeere in verray sikrenesse;
To you presenting, yif yowe list adverte,
Ay by encresse, joye and gladnesse of hert.

They wol theyre gyftes with you and youres dwelle
Peese, unytee, plentee and haboundaunce,
So that Fortune may hem not repelle,
Ner hem remuwe thorughe hir varyaunce;
Graunting also perseveraunt constaunce;
To you presenting, yif yowe list adverte,
Ay by encresse, joye and gladnesse of hert.

To youre Hyenesse they gif the fresshe olyve,
By pees t’exyle awaye al hevynesse;
Prosparytee eeke during al your lyve.
And Juno sent you moost excellent ricchesse,
Love of al people, grounded in stablenesse.
With this refrete, yif yowe list adverte,
Ay by encresse joye and gladnesse of hert.

Ceres also sent foulsomenesse,
Frome yeere to yeere in your court t’abyde.
Adversyté shal ther noon manase,
But care and sorrow forever sette asyde,
Happe, helthe and grace chosen to be youre guyde.
And with al this present, yif yee adverte,
Ay beo encresse, joye and gladnesse of hert.


Prynce excellent, of your benignytee,
Takethe thees gyftes, sent to your Hye Noblesse,
This hyeghe feest frome theos yche three:
Pees with youre lieges, plentee with gladdnesse,
As Bacus, Juno and Ceres bere witnesse.
To you, Pryncesse, also, yif yee adverte,
Ay beo encresse, joye and gladdnesse of hert.
who; jolly vine; (see note)
all three together

(see note)
(olive) oil; merchants; (see note)
your High Nobility
Peace; vassals, abundance

fully; describe
themselves signify complete sufficiency

plentiful abundance
to please your Highness

(see note)
Gave; (t-note)

You may read and see it in Genesis

rules over; star; (t-note)
who are; (see note)
stop; cruel war; (see note); (t-note)
remote lands

strife; disobedience
unity; satisfaction
By the assent of both

pagans; martial; (see note)

wherever; supply you provisions
before; (see note); (t-note)
nothing is lacking
who can help so much
in agreement

with completely good intent
manner; direct
St. Louis’; (see note)
driving away; sadness; (see note)
in genuine security
if it please you to notice
Ever be increased

wish that; (t-note)

not drive them away; (see note)
Nor remove them; fickleness; (t-note)
steadfast constancy

to exile; (t-note)
donation; (t-note)

to abide
menace no one



of your grace

exalted; each of these three; (see note)
(see note)
bear; (t-note)



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