Now, Now, the Mirth Comes : Twelfth Night, with Robert Herrick

Tonight (or tomorrow – opinions vary) is Twelfth Night.  Today many of us will have been back at work since Tuesday (if we’re lucky) and glumly enacting our own seasonal routines (haruspicating over the last quarter’s figures, for instance).  If Twelfth Night means anything to us it is reluctantly (in my case) taking down the Christmas decorations, believing it to be bad luck to leave them up.  Not so in the seventeenth century, when decorations were left up (as I’ve pointed out before) until Candlemas (February 2nd) and on Twelfth Night the party would still have been in full swing, as described in this poem by Robert Herrick.

A King and Queen of Misrule were chosen for the evening, according to who found the bean and pea concealed in a plum pudding (a custom perhaps preserved in the way we conceal a sixpence (or equivalent in new money) in our Christmas puddings).

Twelfth Night, or King and Queen

Now, now the mirth comes
With the cake full of plums,
Where bean’s the king of the sport here;
Beside, we must know
The pea also
Must revel as queen in the court here.

Begin then to choose,
This night, as ye use,
Who shall for the present delight here;
Be a king by the lot,
And who shall not
Be Twelve-day queen for the night here!

Which known, let us make
Joy-sops with the cake;
And let not a man then be seen here,
Who unurged will not drink,
To the base from the brink,
A health to the king and the queen here!

Next crown the bowl full
With gentle lamb’s wool,
And sugar, nutmeg, and ginger,
With store of ale, too;
And this ye must do
To make the wassail a swinger.

Give then to the king
And queen, wassailing,
And though with ale ye be wet here,
Yet part ye from hence
As free from offence
As when ye innocent met here.


It might be a little late, if you were planning to celebrate Twelfth Night tonight, but here is a recipe for “gentle lamb’s wool” (so-called because of its white and fluffy appearance), taken from Richard Cook’s Oxford Night Caps of 1835 –

Recipe. Mix the pulp of half a dozen roasted apples with some raw sugar, a grated nutmeg, and a small quantity of ginger. Add one quart of strong ale made moderately warm. Stir the whole well together, and, if sweet enough, it is fit for use.

Good health!