And why it was illegal to eat a Mince Pie on December 25 1644
We’ve all heard that Oliver Cromwell’s most heinous crime was to cancel Christmas. In truth, it’s easy to see why this myth has grown up around his time as Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland "and of the dominions thereto belonging". And yet, in 1644, when mince pies were forbidden on Christmas Day, Cromwell was still just a military commander in the Roundhead Army. It would be another nine years before he was appointed as head of England’s new commonwealth and assume jurisdiction over the moral wellbeing of his citizens.
Back in 1644, although England was in the throes of Civil War and King Charles was struggling to maintain his hold on power, the ban on mince pies on Christmas Day was a simple mandate of a fast day, which coincided with December 25 and was nothing to do with Cromwell. However, by 1647 hatred against Catholics and all the trappings of Catholicism had reached boiling point in Parliament, and the Long Parliament of the Interregnum banned all celebrations of Christmas (An Ordinance for Abolishing of Festivals, 1647). Mince pies were never singled out as being illegal, although they were very much frowned upon as a symbols of “carnal and sensual delights”. In other words, the significance of the religious festival and its contemplation of the significance of Jesus’s life and work had been corrupted into one big party.
Next, the old system of “Holy Days” (holidays) was supplanted by a mandated day of rest for workers on every second Tuesday of the month, with magistrates given power to adjudicated arguments between masters and workers. So, no more May Days, Whitsun, or other celebrations. In fact, the ruling was…”Festival Days, vulgarly called Holy Days, having no warrant in the Word of God, are not to be continued.”
Christmas 1647 proved to be a controversial one, where opponents of the ban resulted in preachers being thrown in the Fleet Prison for attempting to deliver a sermon, and rioters running wild in the streets of Canterbury, dismayed the mayor forbid their Christmas Day sermon.
By the late 1650s, Cromwell’s and Parliament’s rule was becoming increasingly fractured, and when the unsuccessful “Rule of the Major Generals” (basically military rule) was dismantled in 1657, people were longing for a return to the old ways. Upon his triumphant return to England in 1660 it didn’t take long for Charles II to sweep all of Parliament’s religious festivals off the books, and one of the first acts of his restoration was to reinstate the Christmas Holy Day.
Another unintended outcome of the Restoration was the expanded tradition of gift giving at Christmas. It is thought this coincided with the great freezes of 1660 and in nine other Stuart winters – resulting in the establishment of the “Frost Fairs” on the Thames and other rivers. What better place to celebrate a more relaxed and happy winter season than with a bit of shopping and gift exchanges. According to one contemporary sources, there were “A Whole Street of Booths…inhabited by Traders of all sorts…as those who deal in Earthen Wares, Brass, Copper, Tinn, and Iron, Toys and Trifles, and beside these Printers, Bakers, Cooks, Butchers, Barbers, Coffee-men and others.”
So, as you settle down with a certain baked treat on Christmas morning, know that you are not indulging in an illegal activity, but simply flouting a seventeenth century ordinance (no longer on the books) that was concerned your consumption of a mince pie may lead to carnal excess.
An illustration showing the 1683 Frost Fair on the Thames. Image: Timewatch Images / Alamy
|Source: British Library.|
Written in their Stars
(The Lydiard Chronicles 1649 - 1664)
By Elizabeth St.John
Horrified eyewitnesses to King Charles’s bloody execution, Royalists Nan Wilmot and Frances Apsley plot to return the king’s exiled son to England’s throne, while their radical cousin Luce, the wife of king-killer John Hutchinson, rejoices in the new republic’s triumph. Nan exploits her high-ranking position as Countess of Rochester to manipulate England’s great divide, flouting Cromwell and establishing a Royalist spy network as Frances and her husband Allen join the destitute prince in Paris’s Louvre Palace to support his restoration. As the women work from the shadows to topple Cromwell’s regime, their husbands fight openly for the throne on England’s bloody battlefields.
But will the return of the king be a victory, or could it rip apart the very heart of their family? Separated by loyalty and bound by love, Luce, Nan and Frances hold the fate of England—and their family—in their hands.
A true story based on surviving memoirs of Elizabeth St.John's family, Written in their Stars is the third novel in the Lydiard Chronicles series.
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Written in the Stars
Elizabeth St.John was brought up in England and lives in California. To inform her writing, she has tracked down family papers and residences from Nottingham Castle, Lydiard Park, and Castle Fonmon to the Tower of London. Although the family sold a few castles and country homes along the way (it's hard to keep a good castle going these days), Elizabeth's family still occupy them - in the form of portraits, memoirs, and gardens that carry their imprint. And the occasional ghost.
Elizabeth’s debut novel, The Lady of the Tower, has been an Amazon best seller since its release in 2016, and has won numerous awards for historical fiction. By Love Divided, the second in The Lydiard Chronicles series, follows the fortunes of the St.John family during the English Civil War, and was featured a the 2018 Swindon Festival of Literature as well as recognized with an “Editors’ Choice” by the Historical Novel Society. Elizabeth’s currently working on the next in the series, telling of the lives of the St.John women after the Civil War and into the Restoration.
Elizabeth loves to hear from readers, you can find her: Website, Amazon Author Page, Twitter, Facebook