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Sunday, April 09, 2006

Speaking of the Book of Sports

Here's a longish excerpt from The King's Majesty's declaration to his subjects concerning lawful sports to be used (1633):
It is true that at our first entry to this Crown and kingdom we were informed, and that too truly, that our county of Lancashire abounded more in Popish Recusants than any county of England, and thus hath still continued since, to our great regret, with little amendment, save that, now of late, in our last riding through our said country, we find both by the report of the Judges, and of the Bishop of that Diocese, that there is some amendment now daily beginning, which is no small contentment to us.

The report of this growing amendment amongst them made us the more sorry, when with our own ears we heard the general complaint of our people, that they were barred from all lawful recreations and exercise upon the Sunday's afternoon, after the ending of all divine service, which cannot but produce two evils: the one the hindering of the conversion of many, whom their priests will take occasion hereby to vex, persuading them that no honest mirth or recreation is lawful or tolerable in our religion, which cannot but breed a great discontentment in our people's hearts, especially of such as are peradventure upon the point of turning: the other inconvenience is, that this prohibition barreth the common and meaner sort of people from using such exercises as may make their bodies more able for war, when His Majesty or his successors shall have occasion to use them; and in place thereof sets up filthy tippling and drunkenness, and breeds a number of idle and discontented speeches in their ale-houses. For when shall the common people have leave to exercise, if not upon the Sundays and Holy-days, seeing they must apply their labour and win their living in all working-days?

Our express pleasure therefore is, that the laws of our kingdom and canons of the Church be as well observed in that county, as in all other places of this our kingdom.... Our pleasure likewise is, that the Bishop of that Diocese take the like strait order with all the Puritans and Precisians within the same, either constraining them to conform themselves or to leave the county, according to the laws of our kingdom and canons of our Church, and so to strike equally on both hands against the contemners of our authority and adversaries of our Church; and as for our good people's lawful recreation, our pleasure likewise is, that after the end of divine service our good people be not disturbed, letted or discouraged from any lawful recreation, such as dancing, either men or women; archery for men, leaping, vaulting, or any other such harmless recreation, nor from having of May-games, Whitsun-ales, and Morris-dances; and the setting up of May-poles and other sports therewith used: so as the same be had in due and convenient time, without impediment or neglect of divine service: and that women shall have leave to carry rushes to the church for the decorating of it, according to their old custom; but withal we do here account still as prohibited all unlawful games to be used upon Sundays only, as bear and bull-baitings, interludes and at all times in the meaner sort of people by law prohibited, bowling.

And likewise we bar from this benefit and liberty all such known Recusants, either men or women, as will abstain from coming to church or divine service, being therefore unworthy of any lawful recreation after the said service, that will not first come to the church and serve God: prohibiting in like sort the said recreations to any that, though conform in religion, are not present in the church at the service of God, before their going to the said recreations.

There are a few things I'm interested in here. First, I think it's always hard to fully grasp, and to get students to fully comprehend, just how hard and long people worked in the early modern period. And then they had to spend much of their one day off in church. It's amazing to me that they still had any energy left for vaulting during the few brief hours they had for themselves each week.

Second, the via media aspect of the Book of Sports may not get as much attention as it should. Charles, like James, is carefully laying out penalties here for both recusants/papists and puritans/precisians, and laying out rewards for those who choose neither path.

But most of all, I like the "if you don't go to church, you can't have your vaulting and your archery and your Morris dancing" strategy of convincing recusants to attend services. It's pretty much exactly how my mother got me to go to Sunday school; if I went happily in the morning, I'd be done before 11 am and I'd get to go to Burger King and get a bacon, egg, and cheese Croissanwich™. And when I say "Sunday school," bear in mind that I'm talking about the morning lessons I used to go to on Sunday at the synagogue. So you can see that the deliciousness of the bacon, egg, and cheese Croissanwich™ (and it is delicious) was supplemented by the delicious thrill of transgressing the Deuteronomic laws immediately after my teachers tried somehow to convince me that those laws were not simply the ancient manifestation of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder but had some theological significance. Actually, it's that same supplemental thrill that probably worried those Puritans and Precisians, at least as much as the superstitious May-pole Croissanwich™ itself. And it's also probably why my mother took me to Burger King after Hebrew lessons. She was a fan of the via media herself.

  • At 4/09/2006 01:03:00 PM, Blogger La Lecturess wrote…

    This isn't a new observation, and it's certainly not unique to the B of S, but I always laugh at the way the via medians manage to collapse papistry and puritanism--either by declaring them to be, somehow, essentially the same(which boggles my mind as much as my students') or, as here, by proclaiming that puritanism inadvertently LEADS to popery: if you're too strict on the people, and don't let them dance, they'll run into the arms of the Pope!


  • At 4/09/2006 03:23:00 PM, Blogger Simplicius wrote…

    What Hieronimo neglected to include in his post is the story of his older brother (everyone knows the story of "Geronimo und sein Bruder," right?). He was raised Conservative by his parents but, due to the ban on bacon, egg, and cheese Croissanwiches™, converted to Islam at the age of sixteen.(Islam, the other Semitic religion.) Makes you think....


  • At 4/09/2006 10:31:00 PM, Blogger Inkhorn wrote…

    There's a bit in Spenser which suggests that radical iconoclasm is actually the same thing as idolatry, because both involve a kind of fetishization of things -- whether praying to them or smashing them seems to be indifferent. Though perhaps not to the things.


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