Mumming is a form of Chrismastide jollity that goes back to the C14th. It involved house visiting in disguise and getting upto festive games.
In the late C17th/18th mumming evolved into a ‘cadging’ custom. The mummers would expect a little money for their entertainment – much like carol singing. A new development at this time was the mummers’ play – a mock play, parodying the heroic dramas of the day.
A battle takes place, Prince George (then heir to the throne) taunts the Turkish Knight (fresh from the Turkish Wars). One is mortally wounded, but a mounteback doctor arrives on his hobby horse and revives the unfortunate man with his quack cures.
In the C19th these plays spread throughout the British Isles and to some of the colonies, but towards the turn of the C20th they were well and truly out of fashion. WWI sounded the death nell for the mummers…
…luckily for us, along came the folk collectors, who noted down the words from the old boys who had been mummers in their youth. The mummers’ play was saved and revived, with new generations taking up the sword.
To find out more about mummers and mummers’ plays…
…visit the Master Mummers website.