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The Lord of Misrule

In connection with Salisbury Museum’s ‘Tudor Christmas’ activities I was intrigued, while watching ‘A Merry Tudor Christmas with Lucy Worsley’, on BBC2 TV, to note that they described the role of the ‘Lord of Misrule’. Also known as the Lord of the Revels, the Lord of Misrule was the ringleader of all the mayhem and revelry that constituted an enactment of the ‘12 Days of Christmas’ in court and in aristocratic households around the country, this being a high point of Tudor entertainment. Often the Lord of Misrule was appointed from among the courtiers but may also have been one of the servants as, during the festivities, the strict hierarchy of Tudor England was briefly turned upside down.

Regular readers of this blog site will be aware that I believe the astrological physician, Simon Forman, is a valid candidate to be the alchemist of St Thomas Church, mainly because he wrote in his Diary for 1584 that “The first of August I toke the house in St. Thomas Churchyerd, and entered there to dwell ther the 7. of September”.  I was intrigued by Worsley’s description of the Lord of Misrule because Forman wrote in his Diary for December 1583 that, “This Christmas I was made lord of the revells…”. At first I was somewhat bewildered by this as the Master of the Revels headed the Revels Office – the department of the Royal Household responsible for the coordination of theatrical entertainment at court from Tudor times until the Licensing Act of 1737. The Master of the Revels between 1579 and 1610 was Sir Edmund Tilney and I could find no record of Simon Forman ever holding this position. However, as Dr Worsley explained in her programme, the Lord of Misrule was not just a ‘court thing’, there are records of Lords of Misrule from aristocratic houses in towns and villages around the country. In this context, Simon Forman was employed as schoolmaster to the children of John Penruddock MP1 from October 1582 to about Michelmas (September) 1584, and so it is probable that Forman was Lord of Misrule in this household.

In the TV programme, Lucy Worsley explained that the ‘Lord of Misrule’ was also sometimes referred to as Lord Christmas, the Christmas Prince or the King of Christmas. This has led some historians to speculate that the Lord of Misrule was a forerunner of our present day Father Christmas. It is certainly diverting to consider the colourful character of Simon Forman, known as the notorious astrological physician of London, in such a role.

Occasionally the activities of the Lord of Misrule got out of hand and there is a record of a Lord of Misrule accidentally killing somebody in 1523!

1 John Penruddock MP (1564-1614) was a Parliamentarian with constituencies in Wilton and Southampton. He had nine children, four sons and five daughters. A number of sources state that Forman’s employer, John Penruddock, was the father of the Cavalier Colonel Penruddock of the famous 1655 Penruddock Uprising against Cromwell. This however cannot be correct as Col. Penruddock’s father was Sir John Penruddock, who was not born until 1591. In fact, Forman’s John Penruddock was the grandson of Edward Penruddock of Arklebury (1500-1541) who was the great great grandfather of Col. John Penruddock through a different line.

 John Penruddock MP had a house at Hale and two houses in Salisbury; one by the Close Gate and the other the Dolphin in New Street. It is interesting to note than in his Diary for 1582, Forman writes, “The 28th of December I toke a house in New Street