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The interesting subject of the ancient Mysteries and Moralities has been introduced to the readers of the Retrospective Review, in an article in our first volume on the Chester Mysteries, and subsequently in occasional notices of the early Eng. lish Drama. Án historical and philosophical inqu into the rise and progress of poetical dialogue, public recitation, and dramatic representation, is a desideratum in our literature which presents a noble field of discovery and reflection. It is intimately connected with history, in the illustration it affords of the manners and opinions of our ancestors, and of the successive forms and changes of the national religion.
At present, the materials for such a work are buried or scattered in the manuscripts of our public libraries and municipal records, and in the various early typographical and provincial works, which partially notice the local public representation of the early drama. Some valuable collections and criticisms have been made by Hawkins, Dodsley, Dr. Warton, Dr. Burney, Ritson, Malone, and several learned editors of our ancient popular poetry and standard plays; and some important contributions have also been recently published by Mr. Markland, in the Chester Mysteries, and in the Judicium, a pageant extracted from the Towneley manuscript of ancient mysteries. With the greatest respect, however, for the patronage afforded to literature by the Roxburgh Club, and for the recondite researches of the Antiquarian Society, we must pronounce that very little has been achieved towards the full discovery and illustration of the early periods of the British Stage. But we cannot, with justice, forego the opportunity of noticing, that the most laborious and ingenious addition to the general history of the Ancient Mysteries has been given by Mr. Hone, in his volume on the English Miracle Plays, and Ecclesiastical Shows :* and in this late but deserved tribute of praise, to the talent and various acquirements of this singular writer, we trust, that the rancour of political party spirit will never extinguish the more generous display of literary integrity towards the character of a man of letters, as distinct from that of the politician.
The ancient city of Coventry is rich in the antiquarian lore and remains of its numerous Religious Houses, and in the
Ancient Mysteries described, especially the English Miracle Plays, founded on Apocryphal and Testament story, extant among the unpublished manuscripts in the British Museum; including notices of Ecclesiastical Shows— The Festivals of Fools and Asses — The English Boy Bishop—The Descent into Hell—The Lord Mayor's Show—The Guildhall Giants-Christmas Carols, &c. By William Hone. London, Oct. 1823.
curious contents of the Corporation chest. Tradition and superstition have consecrated the ground of Coventry; and, from our childhood, we have been acquainted with the legends and ballads (screamed out by one-eyed mendicants) of that“ most devout and beautiful Lady Godiva," who, patriotically, upon a certain day,” rode on horseback, with the sole dishabille of her long flowing hair covering her person, and of Peeping Tom, whose curiosity was miraculously punished in the loss of his eyes : of the municipal privileges consequent on this self-devotion, and that,
I Lurick for the Love of thee,
Do make Coventry Toll free. That Coventry was pre-eminently celebrated for the Corpus Christi Plays, is evident from the following lines in Heywood's old Interlude of the 4 Ps.
For as good hap would have it chaunce,
He hath play'd the devil at Coventrie. Dugdale, in that admirable topographical work, the History of Warwickshire, records the celebrity of Coventry for these imposing exhibitions. We transcribe the entire passage, as Dugdale first wrote it, in his autograph copy, preserved at Merevale, the residence of his descendant, Dugdale Stratford Dugdale, Esq. the present member for the county.*
“ Before ye suppression of the Monasteries, this Cittye was very famous for the pageants that were play'd therein upon Corpus Christi day. These pageants were acted w mighty state and reverence by the fryers of this House, and conteyned the story of the New testament wch was composed into old english Rime. The Theatres for the severall scenes were very large and high, and being placed upon wheeles, were drawne to all the eminent places of the Cittye, for ye better advantage of the Spectators. In that incomparable Library belonging to Sir Thomas Cotton, there is yet one of the bookes wch perteyned to this pageant, entitled Ludus Corporis Christi, or Ludus Coventriæ. I my selfe have spoke wth some old people who
* The manuscripts have been recently arranged in six folio volumes, with a seventh of Arms and Monuments, by Mr. Hamper. We are glad to see announced for publication, by that eminent and indefatigable Antiquarian, the Life and Correspondence of Dugdale. On their publication, we intend giving an article on the works of Dugdale.
had in their younger yeares bin eye witnesses of these pageants soe acted; from whom I have bin told that the confluence of people from farr and neare to see that Shew was extraordinary great, and yeilded noe small advantage to this Cittye.”
The public representation of its Pageants and Religious Mysteries attracted great multitudes to the city, and many of our Sovereigns, with their feudal suites and trains of nobility, have come expressly to witness the performances. Besides the Corpus Christi Plays, many instances occur of pageants exhibited on occasion of these royal visits to the city, appropriate to the personages so received, and of which, very interesting and detailed accounts are given by Mr. Sharp, from the MS. annals and Leet books of the city.
At these motley congregations of spectators and auditors, John Bull's ancient and pugnacious propensity to rioting was frequently displayed. The virulence of private disputes in these ill-governed times often burst out into fatal conflict. The MS. annals of the city thus record a serious affray which happened on Corpus Christi Eve, 1447. This year was a great Fray on Corpus Christi Eve, between Sir Humphrey Stafford and Sir Richard Harcourt, when Sir Humphrey's son was slain, with many others on both sides. The fray was about Broad Gate."- In the fourth letter of that curious collection published by Sir John Fenn, called the “ Pastor Letters,” a very singular detailed account is given of this “ fray.” We give it in its “ venerable orthography.”“ To my worschypful and reverent Lord John Vicont Beaumont.
Řygth worschypfull and my reverent and most espesial Lord y recomaund me un to your good grace in the most humble and lowly wyse that y canne or may desyryng to her of your prosperite and well fare as to my most syngeler joy and spesiall comfort. And gyf hyt plees your hygnes as towchyng the soden aventeur that fell latly at Coventre plees hyt your Lordshyp to her that on Corpus Christi even last passed be twene viij and ix of the clok at afternon Syr Umfrey Stafford had browth my mayster Syr James of Urmond toward hys yn from my Lady of Shrewesbery and reterned from hym toward hys yn he met w' Syr Robert Harcourt comyng from hys moder toward hys yn and passed Syr Umfrey, and Richard hys son came somewhat be hynd, and when they met to gyder they fell in handes togyder and Sir Robert smot hym a grette stroke on the hed w' hys sord and Richard wt hys dagger hastely went toward hym and as he stombled on of Harcourts men smot hym in the bak wé a knyfe men wotte not ho hytt was reddely, hys fader hard noys and rode toward hem and hys men ronne befor hym thyderward and in the goyng downe of hys hors on he wotte not ho be hynd hym smot hym on the hede w' a nege tole men know not w us w what wepone that he fell downe and hys son fell downe be fore hym as goode as dede. And all thys was don as
men sey in a Pater-poster wyle. And forth we Syr Umfrey Stafford men foloed after and slew ij men of Harcowrttus on Swynerton and Bradshawe and mo ben hurt. Sum ben gonne
and sum ben in pryson in the Jayl at Coventre. And before the Coroner of Coventre up on the sygth of the bodies ther ben endited as Prynsipall for the deth of Richard Stafford, Syr Robert Harcourt and the ij men that ben dede. And for the ij men of Harcourts that ben dede ther ben endited ij men of Syr Umfrey as Prynsipall. And as gytte ther hath ben no thyng fownden before the Justice of the Pees of Coventre of thys riot be caws the Shereffe of Warwyk shyre is dede and they may not sytt in to the tyme ther be a new Shreve. And all thys myschef fell be cawse of an old debate that was betwene heme for takyng of a dystres as hyt is told. And all myghty Jhu preserve yowr hye astat my spesiall Lord and send yow long lyve and good hele. Wryten at Coventre on tewusday next after Corpus Christi day, &c.
Be yowr own pore Sivant
John Northwod."* The ensuing extract from Barnabe Googe's translation of what Naogeorgus has, in his “ Popish Kingdom," said upon the ceremonies of Corpus Christi day, fol. 53 b, will be read with interest here, being an apposite commentary upon the preceding account of the observance of that festival at Coventry :“ Then doth ensue the solemne feast of Corpus Christi Day, Who then can shewe their wicked use, and fonde and foolish The hallowed bread, with worship great, in silver Pix they beare About the Church, or in the Citie passing here and theare. His armes that beares the same, two of the welthiest men do holde, And over him a Canopey of silke and cloth of golde Foure others use to beare aloufe, least that some filthie thing Should fall from hie, or some mad birde hir doung thereon should
fling Christes passion here derided is, with sundrie maskes and playes, Faire Ursley, with hir maydens all, doth passe amid the wayes :
As an illustration of ancient manners, in some measure connected with the event above related, the following extract is given from a series of local regulation's, enacted at the Leet in Coventry, on the 25th January, 1420;
“ Allso we com’aund that no man of town ne of contrey draw no swerd ne knyfe to odur ne non othur wepon up' the peyn of xl. at ev’y trespas but if hit be hym self defendant: and if he smyte w' a swerd or a knyfe drawyn he schall pay half a m'ke at ev'y trespas to the Baylyffs but if (unless] hit be hym self defendant. Allso we com’auud th ev'y hosteler warn hur geestys that they leve hur wepons win h' lones but if he be a knyght or a squyer that may have a swerd bor'n aft" hym up' the peyn of xl at ev'ry trespas.”—Leet Book, fo. 3.
And, valiant George, with speare thou killest the dreadfull dragon
here, The Devil's house is drawne about, wherein there doth appere A wondrous sort of damned sprites, with foule and fearefull looke, Great Christopher doth wade and passe with Christ amid the brooke : Sebastian full of feathred shaftes, the dint of dart doth feele There walketh Kathren, with hir sworde in hande, and cruel wheele: The Challis and the singing Cake with Barbara is led, And sundrie other Pageants playde, in worship of this bred, That please the foolish people well, what should I stande upon Their Banners, Crosses, Candlesticks, and reliques many on, Their Cuppes, and carved Images, that Priestes, with count'nance hie, Or rude and common people, beare about full solemlie? Saint John before the bread doth go, and poynting towardes him, Doth shew the same to be the Lambe that takes away our sinne: On whom two clad in Angels shape do sundrie flowres fling, A number great of sacring Belles with pleasant sounde doe ring. The common wayes with bowes are strawde, and every streete beside, And to the walles and windowes all, are boughes and braunches tide. The Monkes in every place do roame, the Nonnes abrode are sent, The Priestes and schoolmen lowde do rore, some use the instrument. The straunger passing through the streete, upon his knees doe fall; And earnestly upon this bread, as on his God, doth call. For why, they counte it for their Lorde, and that he doth not take The forme of flesh, but nature now of breade that we do bake. A number great of armed men here all this while doe stande, To looke that no disorder be, nor any filching hande: For all the Church goodes out are brought, which certainly would bee A bootie good, if every man might have his libertee.”
The volume opens with a short introductory dissertation on the pageants or dramatic mysteries, anciently performed at Coventry. The subsequent illustrations, industriously collected from local documents, shew that the inhabitants did not confine themselves to the annual routine of pageants at Corpus Christi, but sometimes changed the subject of the pageants ex-, hibited by a particular company. A minute history and description of those pageants put forth by the companies, whose ancient books are yet in existence, is then given, and considerable light thrown on the subject of mysteries and moralities, by the extract of entries in the account books of the Smiths' and Cappers' companies.—Those of the former company are first noticed. The dialogue of the play is lost, as unfortunately are the play books of all the other companies, except the Shearman and Taylors'. The subject of the Smiths' pageant was the trial, condemnation, and crucifixion of Christ, as will appear