The unruly Christmas party of the Tudor period

Christmas can be a time for drunken parties, rowdy festive shenanigans and embarrassing behaviour, but getting intoxicated at Christmas and causing mischief is not an exclusively modern phenomenon, according to Leicester researchers.

The Special Collections archive based in the Library has unearthed a number of historical sources relating to Christmas during the 16th and 17th centuries, highlighting a variety of games that were played during the holiday season which had been banned at other times of the year and were associated with unruly behaviour – including shuffleboard, shove-halfpenny, skittles and bowls.   

Presiding over these rowdy celebrations of Christmas-tide, held over the twelve days from 24 December to 5 January, was the Lord of Misrule. 

Under his command, the normal order of things was turned on its head, so that fools could become kings and vice versa.

The Puritans deeply objected to the concept of ‘misrule’, which they blamed for drunkenness, promiscuity and excess.

The concept of the Lord of Misrule is an ancient one, which can be linked back to the Roman festival of Saturnalia and the medieval Feast of Fools. The Puritan ban was unsuccessful in stamping out this time-honoured custom completely and it was still observed in Victorian times.

So perhaps some solace can be taken the next time a colleague or relative gets drunk at the Christmas party and does something embarrassing – the Tudors would have had it no other way.