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The queen who was far from amused by an old Christmas tradition

Queen Elizabeth I

The traditions of a royal Christmas have developed over the centuries and the celebrations of past monarchs seem as strange to us today as our own festivities might seem to them. The royal Christmas has taken many shapes over the centuries – here we look at some of the most intriguing regal celebrations.

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In 1400, King Henry IV spent his Christmas at Eltham Palace, a large home in southeast London in what is now the Royal Borough of Greenwich. During his reign, ten of his fourteen Christmases were spent at the Palace. The year 1400 would also be when he welcomed Byzantine Emperor, Manuel II Palaeologus, for a Christmas tournament at the Palace.

Fast forward about 80 years to 1484, Richard III also had his his own large holiday celebration. The medieval writer, the ‘Croyland Chronicler’ didn’t seem to approve as he wrote of Richard’s celebrations: “During this feast of the Nativity, far too much attention was given to dancing and gaiety.”

Although he had a reputation for enjoying the high life in 1542, Henry VIII ended one English Christmas tradition, that of electing a ‘Boy Bishop’ on 6 December (the Feast of Saint Nicholas.) The tradition dated back to the Middle Ages when a boy was chosen to parody or act in the role of a bishop for part of the Christmas Period. The one chosen for the role would keep his authority as Bishop until Holy Innocents Day on 28 December. During this time, they would dress in full Bishop’s regalia and perform church services. Mary I would renew the practice after taking the throne in 1553 before it was abolished by Elizabeth I. The tradition continues today in Spain.

The Elizabethan tradition of the Misrule was a period of anarchy where normal rules didn’t apply. During festivals such as Midsummer’s Eve and Easter, men dressed as women, servants became masters, and jesters became kings. Someone would be picked as the ‘Lord of Misrule’ to manage the festivities. In 1561, Lord Robert Dudley who was a favorite of Queen Elizabeth I was elected to serve the role at the Inner Temple. However, Elizabeth I herself discouraged Misrule because of her disliking of public disorder it caused.

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However, just a few decades later, the House of Stuart and Christmas found themselves in a tricky situation. Civil war in England broke out between Charles I and his Royalists and Parliamentarians with Oliver Cromwell at their helm. After the fall of the Monarchy, and the execution of Charles I, Cromwell took power and Christmas was famously cancelled.

The holidays were back on in 1660 when Charles II, the eldest surviving son of Charles I, who had been living in exile returned to London. He restorede the Monarchy but had to create a new set of Crown Jewels as Cromwell had broken up the originals. During his reign, he notably helped reverse legislation banning religious festivals.

Speaking of festivities, in 1714, it was a big Christmas as King George I had his first Christmas pudding! The King spoke little English and didn’t know much about his new country. An unproven, but popular legend claims it was during his first English Christmas when he sampled his first traditional Christmas plum pudding. The myth is so well known that George was nicknamed the ‘Pudding King.’

It would be in 1790 when Queen Charlotte, the consort of King George III earned credit for introducing the Christmas tree to Britain. Originally, trees were a German custom and it only seems logical for Queen Charlotte to bring the tradition as she was from the Duchy of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. However, the trees are not as we know them today. Trees in the 18th century used branches of yew tree instead of the firs that are now traditional.

About author

My name is Sydney Zatz and I am a University of Iowa graduate. I graduated with a degree in journalism and sports studies, and a minor in sport and recreation management. A highlight of my college career was getting the chance to study abroad in London and experiencing royal history firsthand. I have a passion for royals, royal history, and journalism, which led me to want to write for Royal Central.