An Invitation to Spend a Royal Christmas and New Year with the Lancasters!

Here is William Bruges, Chester Herald, at your door, sent by the King.  His tabard glows with the royal coat-of-arms and heavy gilding.  You are summoned to hear what he has to say by a blast from his trumpet.  Don’t pretend that you have not heard him because he is a royal official and well used to being obeyed.  Offer him a cup of wine.  He has travelled a long way, and still has far to go to invite other important guests to celebrate the Birth of the Christ Child.

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This is an invitation from King Henry IV and Queen Joanna, for you to spend the Christmas celebrations with them, their family and friends at Eltham Palace, Henry’s favourite home.  Put aside the politics, the weapons, the warfare, the marriages and the family squabbles and indulge yourself with the Lancasters.

Come early.  You will be expected to help decorate the rooms with ivy, mistletoe, holly and all things green, which will remain in place until the eve of Candlemas in February (much gathering of medieval dust).  The Yule Log will need to be dragged into the Great Hall.  There will be hunting to provide venison and game birds for the feasts.  There will be fishing too in the carp ponds or the moat.

Flex your knees for much kneeling as you join Joanna and Henry to celebrate three Masses on Christmas Day.  The Angel’s Mass at midnight on Christmas Eve.  The Shepherd’s Mass at dawn on Christmas Day.  The Mass of the Divine Word later in the day.  You will be expected to participate, for the King and Queen are both strong in their religious observances (but, then, so are you and the Birth of the Christ Child is a very special occasion).

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Then sit back on your cushioned stool and enjoy the merrymaking and festivity, lasting until Twelfth Night on the 6th January, when traditionally the three Wise Men made their way to the Christ Child.  You will need stamina for this party.

Loosen your girdle or sword-belt for the sumptuous feasting with many and varied courses, the traditional Boar’s Head being carried into the Great Hall to the blast of horns, shawns and hackbuts.  Savour the rich dish of Vyaund Ryalle, a mixture of wine and honey and spices and rice.  Drink red wine and much small beer.  Admire the skills of the cooks who provide the ‘subtleties’ at the end of each course, made from gilded sugar or almond paste.  Perhaps this year they will make a crowned leopard, with flames issuing from its mouth.  Or perhaps it will simply be a stuffed peacock, its tail spread so that it looks very lifelike.  (Watch the dogs and cats.  They are hungry too, and with no manners at all.)

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Minstrels and mummers will entertain you with masked ‘disguisings’.  They will be very good.  Henry employs his own minstrels rather than relying on the travelling fraternity and he pays them generously.  Listen to Henry and Joanna who are both skilled with lute and harp.  Are you good at charades?  Can you sing?  Join in!

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Don’t expect to be a wallflower.  Singing and dancing is the order of the day.  Trip the measures in the carole dances where the leading dancer sings a verse of the carol while the rest of you reply with the chorus.  And don’t blush!  Even though the words can be lewd and rude and the games rowdy.  It’s all great fun.

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For a quieter moment, sit and challenge a friend to a game of chess or a counter-game such as Nine Men’s Morris or Fox and Geese.  Care to gamble on the outcome?  Willing to challenge the King?  Henry enjoys gambling and has his own pair of dice always to hand.  But watch your partner’s feet.  Some guests can always be guaranteed to take liberties.

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For those of you who anticipate clement weather, put on your hunting gear, saddle your horse, and ride out with Henry’s hawks and hounds. The hunting at Eltham is good and Henry is a keen hawker.  He feeds his favourite hawks on the delicacy of fine chicken.

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If it is frosty, how talented are you at ice skating?  Strap on your bone skates and head for the frozen moat to show off your skills in loops and turns, with a cup of spiced hippocras to thaw you out afterwards.  If you cannot skate there is always a snowball fight to take part in, which needs no skill at all.

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King Henry loves tournaments, particularly at Twelfth Night.  Don’t worry.  All is in good humour and nothing a outrance where physical damage can occur, but still take care.  Accidents, and fatal ones, have been known to happen even though the lances are blunt.  Are you good at jousting?  How is your sword play and skill with a bow and arrow?  But be warned.  You will also be expected to dress up in the most extravagant clothes of vividly embroidered velvet and damask, with angel masks and long cloaks and peacock feathers.  If you haven’t packed the right wardrobe, not to worry.  Henry will provide the costumes – but don’t damage them.  They will be needed to be used again next year.

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This is the time of the Lord of Misrule when all social and moral good manners are relaxed and the world turned upside down.  Are you thick-skinned?  Can you put up with a little malice and mischief?  Do you really mind if the servants make a fool of you?  Don’t be shocked if one of the royal cooks becomes the Lord of the proceedings.  But remember to obey all his commands.  Enjoy a flirtation and an exchange of kisses with whoever you fancy.  Anything goes under the lax hand of the Lord of Misrule.

Twelfth Night is the time of gift-giving.  Henry is very generous with gifts of jewels, brooches, livery collars and lengths of white silk damask for his family and close friends.  Give what you can, even though Henry might give you an expensive rosary decorated with gold and coral beads.  Henry would perhaps like a hanap in return (a gold and enamelled cup with a lid)  but a small barrel of ale or good red wine will with do very well.

Christmas with the Lancasters? 

Do come.  It is an honour to be invited. 

I’ll see you there.

R.S.V.P. by fast courier.

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42 responses to “A Medieval Royal Christmas with the Lancasters

  1. Anne, you truly have a gift to bring the past back to life. I love your books and feel as though I’m there enjoying the festivities. I can’t wait to read your new book and love seeing photos of the marches where you are. Merry Christmas.

  2. Not sure I’d want the decorations up until February!
    Thank you Anne, you have reignited my interest in history, sadly neglected since my schooldays. I’m looking forward to the new book.

  3. Can’t wait to read this! Just finished The Scandulous Duchess which I couldn’t put down so I think this one will be just as gripping. Well researched and a real sense of living history!

  4. Hello, I love that you mentioned mummers. My husband is from Newfoundland and dressing up as a mummer and going door-to-door is still a tradition there. Growing up in the US, I never heard of this til I met him! I enjoy your books when I can find them. Thank you!

  5. Have only just discovered your writing and read the Joanna as I was intrigued by the Havering Atte Bower link. I often walk in the woods up there and on my last one was taken on a trip back into past times! Shame there is nothing at all there now to show the history but the country park has magnificent pines and wellintonias with beautiful cones and berried holly……really looking forward to Christmas and I wish you peace and happiness x

  6. I’m looking for to reading your new book, how exciting it would have been to have been invited to Christmas with the Lancasters, think I would have needed quite a few naps in between all those festivities, congratulations on your new book Anne, time to rest for a while now

  7. Wonderful post Anne – I could picture every moment of Christmas with the Lancasters. I particularly enjoyed the references back to Henry and Joanna, having fallen in love with them in ‘The Queen’s Choice’ and as you’ll already know from my vast tweeting to your Twitter account, I cannot wait for your interpretation of Joan of Kent! You have me sitting on the edge of my seat waiting for it! Congratulations on all you have achieved this year, and a very Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones, and best wishes for a happy, healthy and successful New Year.

  8. I’d love to attend. At least at one of these events my offspring and husband are guaranteed to behave. You bring history to life for me Anne in glorious majesty.

  9. Woah…Imagine William Bruges, Chester Herald calling to your door. Makes my heart skip to picture myself attending the Royal Court at this special time. Thankfully,through you Anne,we can slip into this wonderful world of bygone years. Colours,sights and smells brought to life. Thank you for bringing us with you ,back into this era … Merry Christmas :)

  10. Sounds just like Christmas at my place, the dusty decorations mostly, although we’re partial to hunting the neighbours cat…
    Merry Christmas to you and the Lancasters Anne and thank you for a wonderful year filled with discovery and the occasional tears through your writing.

  11. Loving the blog – must have been amazing to witness a Christmas at the Royal Court. Have been fascinated by medieval history since I was 14 (am now 56!). It all started with Katherine by Anya Seton! Really enjoy all your books and I look forward to reading your new one. I re-read them again and again. Books transport me into their pages and I feel like I am actually living the history. They are my escape from the 21st century, and a proper book with pages too not an e-book! I cannot imagine life without them. Merry Christmas an a happy and healthy New Year to you.

  12. What fun Christmas with the Lancasters would have been. Your fantasic blog has taken me to a cold medieval Christmas warmed by good food and cheer. Just a bit difference from the hot Christmas days we have here in Australia. I enjoy your books a great deal and look forward to steeping back in time again.

  13. This is so amazing! It’s really different to imagine yourself being there in so much detail! How good it would be if we really were able to join them for a medieval Christmas. I really like your books, and merry christmas x

  14. A perfect encapsulation of the festivities!! Oh, well done, as always, Anne.
    Hoping your Christmas is pure delight, whether Lancastrian or not. My thanks, always, for the fantastic history lesson. Can’t wait for the new book to be released over here.

  15. As they were once, so now are we,
    As fine words breathe life into history.
    Of the Virgin birth, these festivities
    Speak of Yuletide joy and deep mysteries.
    Wherefore Henry King, by God anointed,
    We are honoured to meet at the time you’ve appointed.
    To celebrate, Sire, and observe the birth
    Of our Servant King in prayer and then mirth.
    Wherefore haste we to attend thee at Eltham, so fair,
    To kneel at the altar and the Sacrament share.
    Then with praise and thanksgiving,
    With timbrel and flute,
    We shall dance a pretty measure
    In our finest of suits.
    God bless you, Sire, at Christmass, and then throughout the year,
    Is the prayer of your faithful subjects;
    Brimming with good cheer.

    My first degree was in Medieval History and I am so looking forward to your new book, Anne. X

  16. This is very interesting – and I love the picture of the snowball fight..to think all those years ago – and still playing the same games.
    Thanks Anne :)

  17. Thank you Anne for this wonderful invitation. I was brought up in Eltham, and have visited Eltham Palace – thank you for bringing it alive for me – and yes I am up for the festivities… Happy Everything – Best wishes Jenny

  18. Hi Anne,
    I have been reading your books for some years now. Your histircal knowledge woven into fiction is second to none, and My,you always come up with real pageturners!

  19. Just bought a friend the Scandalous Duchess and as that was my first book of yours, I can’t wait to hear what she thinks! 😀 Have a wonderful festive period and can’t wait for your new book in the new year! Keep us posted on the release date? 😉

  20. I could see Eltham Palace from my bedroom window as a child. I lived in a terraced house on the Kidbrooke housing estate, and attended a junior school in Eltham. We went on a school trip there but, I confess, it didn’t make much impact at the time.
    Now I would be thrilled to live near the palace; medieval history,in particular, has become my passion. Of course the Tudors come a very close second. I’m not being sycophantic when I say that your books have fuelled those loves, and have brought to true human life the characters of the time.
    I’m envious of the way the Lancasters celebrated Christmas then. I would love to have the vantage point I enjoyed as a child, and the knowledge I’ve acquired of the history of the Palace; I could look towards it this Christmas and fancy I could see the glow of the festive candles.
    Thankyou so much for your writing,and all good wishes for the New Year.

  21. Anne I much prefer a Medieval Christmas to the horrible commercial ones we have today, it appears that the true celebration is lost amongst glaring lights and tinsel and the figure of Santa Clause, even as a child Christmas was much simpler, the world is too busy now and too greedy to celebrate the tru meaning of Christmas and Yuletide xx

  22. Never knew Eltham was Henry’s favourite palace!
    How wonderful a medieval Christmas sounds 😀 of course I’m coming! I gave William 2 cups of wine for his trouble.

    Thank you for the wonderful posts and pictures.
    Have a lovely Christmas.

  23. My Lord Husband and I look forward to the celebrations! We are honored to join Their Royal Majesties at a favorite castle!
    Love your books, Anne!

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