Christmas at all the Inns of Court and Chancery were celebrated in elaborate and ostentatious style from All Saints Eve (31 October) to Candlemas Day (2 February). Alongside the usual religious observances, they included the performance of student run and written plays, masques, dancing, singing and lavish banquets.
The Christmas Accounts 1614-82
From 1600 professional actors were employed who included Shakespeare’s group the King’s Players who appear on several occasions in these accounts. Attendance was compulsory for all members. These events were collectively known as revels, the word revel taken from the Latin Rebellare meaning to rebel. The events were intended to overturn the natural order of governance with the lowest and youngest taking control, with the appointment of a Lord of Misrule who would organise the festivities and partying. At The Inner Temple he was known as the Prince of Sophie or the Christmas Prince and Master of Revels. In 1561 he was played by Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester whose revels were said to be particularly extravagant.
The celebrations have been compared to a rumbustious children’s party… a curious mixture of officially tolerated horse-play and carefully preserved medieval tradition.
With the Lords of Misrule sometimes exceeding their artistic licence on one occasion one killed someone.
Pepys remembered in the 1660s been shown the two Temple halls at Christmas and recalled his shock at the drunkenness, swearing and gambling he saw taking place. In 1661 the horseplay became too much and Christmas was cancelled here but perhaps due to the great protests that ensued reinstated in 1662 and remained a feature until the end of the century.
Three members were elected as steward, marshal and master of revels to oversee the festivities and keep the accounts. These accounts record all the items purchased throughout the Christmas periods from 1614 to 82. The Christmas Account for 1663 includes the following, including the expense of medical assistance for the watchman that was injured no doubt as a result of the rambunctiousness of an over excited reveller.
42 chicken, 2₤. 2s.; 14 geese at 3₤. 1s. 6d.; 6 ½ lbs. of bacon, 5s. 3d.; 42 marrow bones, 1₤. 8s.; 8 quarts of oysters, 16s.; 16 green plovers, 1₤. 4s.; a tart, 5s.; 10 cocks, and 8 widgeons, 1₤. 8s.; 2 partridges, and 24 larks, 8s.; 2 dried tongues, 6s.; anchovies and butter, 15s. 5d.; for music, 15₤.; for dice, 31₤. (note: 400 sets were purchased in some years); for wine, 29₤. 4s.; for casting boxes, 3₤. 9s.; for blowing the horn, 5s.; for washing the hall and library, 5s.; paid the surgeon and to the watchman, that was hurt, 3₤.