Merry Shrovetide

Carnival Countdown: Shrovetide Sots in the Southwest

Frontispiece from John Taylor's A Brown dozen of Drunkards

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Shroft Twesday was a day of great glottonie, surffeting, & dronkennes…

William’s Kethe’s dismissive quip, from A sermon made at Blanford Forum in the countie of Dorset (1571), makes quite clear the Puritan opinion on Shrovetide and its traditions of rowdy revelry. It wasn’t a good one. But while we may doubt the veracity of Puritan rants against the festive customs they deemed papist or uncouth, there’s a certain truth to Kethe’s words, borne out in the historical record.

Alcohol was a fundamental pillar of medieval and early modern celebrations, but Shrovetide was a particularly boozy festival. No Shrove Tuesday was complete without a hearty cup of wine… and beer, and ale, and sherry. In 1407, the Bishop of Salisbury hosted 140 guests at his Shrove Tuesday feast, including prominent figures such as magistrates, clergymen and a local mayor. Purchasing over 500 bottles of beer in preparation, the household expenditures on alcohol outstripped those of either Christmas or Epiphany.

Some 200 years later, Shrovetide drink assisted one notorious denizen of Compton Bishop, Somerset in running afoul of his neighbours, the authorities, and pretty much everyone:

…there is a fame alsoe that hee the said Peter Graie hath otherwise behaued himselfe vnseemelie in the presence of his neighbairs, and others that haue taken offence at the same in the Inn at Crosse by putting off his cloathes and dauncinge in his shirte on Shrove sondae last, and vsed verie vnseemelie gesture in his said dauncinge before diuers people that were ashamed thereof.

Compton Bishop, 1634
Archbishop’s Visitation Book

Records of Early English Drama: Somerset including Bath 1: The Records, ed. James Stokes and Robert J. Alexander (Toronto, 1996), p. 80.

Read more on Shrovetide feasting and drinking here, and stay tuned for more anecdotes of Mardi Gras history.

Carnival Countdown is a series of brief blog posts sharing anecdotes from the medieval and early history of Carnival, as we count down the final days of the season.

 

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