Historian Ruth Goodman and archaeologists Tom Pinfold and Peter Ginn recreate how the farms of Tudor England celebrated the 12 days of Christmas with banquets and carol singing.
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500 years ago, Christmas was celebrated every bit
as enthusiastically as it is today.
If anything, it was bigger.
All work stopped on Christmas Eve, for 12 days of revelry and feasting...
Twelfth night cake, everyone!
..culminating on the twelfth night with the biggest
party of the year, when madness reigned.
Our Lord of Misrule.
Historian Ruth Goodman and archaeologists Tom Pinfold
and Peter Ginn have spent the last six months turning the clock
back to Tudor England, working as farmers under the watchful
eye of the country's biggest landowners, the monasteries.
Now they're returning to celebrate Christmas - Tudor style.
They must revive lost skills to prepare feasts.
Learn the art of falconry to catch game for a grand
banquet at the monastery...
Oh, very good. Oh! Well done.
..while welcoming new life to their farm.
Merry Christmas, little pigs.
This is the untold story of how the farms of Tudor England
celebrated the 12 days of Christmas.
Celebrating the Winter Solstice is a tradition that goes back millennia.
From this point on, the sun is getting higher in the sky
and the days are getting longer.
The Romans celebrated it with Saturnalia,
the Norsemen had Yule, and by the Tudor era it had
evolved into a Christian feast marking the birth of Christ.
Oh, it has got that Christmas feel, don't you think?
but let's face it, Christmas for the Tudors was 12 days of feasting
and fun. I know, I know, I know.
Looking forward to that, but all the prep work we've got to do beforehand...
You can really feel that nip in the air.
Before the 12 days of Christmas came Advent,
24 days of fasting while preparing food for the feasts to come.
Advent's a long time, isn't it, Tom?
It is, but this is our prep time for the 12 days of Christmas, isn't it?
Well, are you looking forward to it?
I am. You know, it's going to be a lot of celebration, more ale...
Yeah. It'll be fun, but er, we've still got plenty to do beforehand.
During Advent, no meat, eggs or cheese were to be eaten.
This was not just a religious observance
but also a chance to save food and money for the feasting ahead.
Oh, don't say that, Ruth!
Ruth will be slaving over a hot fire somewhere.
Sheep, sheep, sheep, sheep.
The teachings of the Church dictated that the farmer
downed his tools for the 12 days of Christmas.
So it was important the animals were well-stocked with fodder,
The thing is, farming...it is relentless, it is a way of life,
it is continuous,
and even though Christmas is coming up, the farm has to continue.
Our pigs are due at any moment, and it's going to coincide with Christmas.
So we've just got to keep our eye on them,
keep feeding them and just make sure they're healthy.
In the early 1500s, it became popular to rear pigs to
sell on a commercial scale.
You haven't started nesting yet.
We'll keep our eyes on you, though. Keep your strength up.
Pigs were the perfect animal for a Tudor farmer to breed.
They not only ate pretty much anything,
but provided many essential resources -
bristles to make brushes, fat to lubricate machinery.
And almost every part could be eaten.
I'm going to give you my big sharp knife.
Neal Careswell is helping Tom butcher a pig.
Right, what you need to do is follow a nice smooth line all
the way behind the ear.
Turkey didn't become popular until the late 18th century.
The centrepiece of the Tudor Christmas dinner was the pig's head.
Shall we flip it over and do the other side? OK.
It was a tradition that dated back to the Anglo-Saxons.
Back then, it would have been the head of a wild boar.
But they were hunted to extinction in the 13th century.
Now, the bit that not many people like doing is
you've literally just got to twist the head off.
Are you serious? Yeah, serious. Do you want me to do it, Tom?
I think it's probably best. OK. I'll watch that.
And there we go.
Remarkable. Christmas dinner! Christmas dinner.
Tom's taking the pig's head to Ruth,
who will prepare it for the Christmas dinner.
Thank you... Quite a big pig's head for you.
First, the skull is removed to create a cavity
that will be stuffed with meat.
As what I need to do is to keep all the flesh and the skin in one piece,
because I'm going to re-form it into a pig's head without the skull.
Christmas was such an important celebration
that people went to extraordinary lengths for it.
And you can see that this is not the sort of thing
you'd want for an everyday dinner, it just takes ages.
It might seem strange to us,
that it was a boar's head that was the Christmas dish,
but I think you have to think of it in its sort of cultural context.
To hunt a wild boar is a really scary thing to do.
They are really feisty beasts.
An adult wild male boar is a big creature
and it can easily kill a person.
And if you've only got spears to hunt it with,
and that's what they used, then it takes a real degree of courage.
And as such, it had a very special place, you know, the boar's head,
the trophy from such a hunt must have made a big impact.
Phew! That's the skull and there's my pig's head.
Next, the head must be pickled.
So, I've got a blend of ale vinegars, Ale-Gar.
And herbs, mostly bay leaf, and a little bit of mustard seed.
And I just press it under the pickle and leave it.
Until Christmas gets a little bit closer
and I'm ready for the next stage.
The Tudors cooked everything on wood fires.
So, in preparation for the 12 days of feasting,
Peter's stocking up on firewood.
Anyone who's done any cooking on Christmas Day
knows that some of the most stressful period of your life
is the three hours you spend in the kitchen
with saucepans here, mixing bowls there.
Is the turkey defrosted?
Will it fit in the oven?
Ruth's got, like, 12 days of this.
So, I've just got to make sure that this wood pile
is stocked nicely and she's a happy lady.
Otherwise I might find myself sleeping in the cow shed.
The only way to adjust the heat on a Tudor stove
was by burning different types of wood.
So, the majority of your wood pile would be made up of beech and ash,
because they are your, sort of, mid-range burners.
However, if you want a slightly slower,
longer heat, you need a denser wood, like oak.
Whereas if you want a flash fry, go for hazel.
And there he is.
The pig's head has been pickled in vinegar, herbs and mustard.
Now it's ready for the next stage, stuffing with chopped pork.
So, I'm trying to make him look, in the finished thing,
as lifelike as possible.
Tough stuff, pig's skin.
To contain the stuffing, Ruth's sewing up the head as she goes.
So, I've made him into a sort of floppy bag,
now I can carry on stuffing.
A little bit more meat there.
She's also adding in an ingredient
that was a rare delicacy in Tudor England.
And I've made this raisin-y paste,
and that's going to go right in the centre of the boar's head.
Imported from the Mediterranean,
they would have been very expensive and used sparingly.
Once stuffed and sewn up, the entire head is wrapped in cloth
to hold it together, ready for cooking.
And when he comes out cooked, and he's going to boil for, er,
about two to three hours, he'll still be very soft,
he'll be cooked through, but the whole thing will be very soft.
So, I'll be able to take all the bandages off.
And sort of re-form him into a slightly more pig-like appearance.
Midwinter was a dark, depressing and tough time that needed cheer.
So, Peter's headed out onto the monastic estate
with woodsman, John Roberts, to collect holly and ivy,
which have been used since pre-Christian times
to brighten up the home.
Insert myself into the prickly nightmare that is this holly.
In Pagan customs, holly was associated with the Sun God,
whose birth was celebrated on the 25th of December,
a date later adopted by Christians as the birthday of Christ.
The holly is such a symbolic tree,
I mean, I know that it's got the religious connotations
of erm, I suppose the sort of, the crown of thorns and the... Yes.
the drop of blood of the berries. Yes.
But it's also got much, much older Pagan connotations,
it's a very male plant, isn't it?
Yes, yes, they always said in the, the sort of later Middle Ages
that if you want to look at the decorations in the house
and there was more ivy than holly,
and ivy was considered female, that it was a,
a house where the woman wore the britches.
We're going to have a lot of ivy, I think!
We can take these, these lower bits, yeah?
Yeah, yeah. They're definitely wood rather than timber.
When you say, wood rather than timber,
you mean there's a difference? There is, yes, size matters.
Anything over 24 inches in circumference was timber
and that definitely belonged to the land owner.
If you wanted that, you had to buy it off him.
And below that size, it's wood.
Which, as a tenant of the landlord, you were allowed to gather.
How far up do we want to go?
Well, I should think, to decorate the hall of the farmhouse,
you're going to need a good ox-cart load.
Do you think we need to climb? We might need to, yes.
Cor! There we go, oh!
That's fine, right. Oh! Oh-oh!
Is there much folklore surrounding holly?
Oh, yes, a great deal, a lot of people believed that
it shouldn't be brought into the home unless it was Christmas time,
or, in fact, you shouldn't cut it unless it was Christmas time.
And locally, on the estate here, up until the 1960s, '70s,
the woodsmen wouldn't fell holly trees.
They would pollard them, they'd trim them, but they wouldn't fell them.
I just think it's a good excuse for them not to get prickled. Yes.
Oh, that's satisfying. Yep.
And it's stayed together. Marvellous!
While the pig's head cooks,
Ruth makes a Tudor version of Christmas pudding.
Ah! Right, I'm going to make some frumenty.
Frumenty was a popular Tudor dish,
made by boiling cracked wheat in milk.
But at Christmas, there were special added ingredients.
Now to put in the flavouring, and this really is
the flavour of Christmas.
Then, like now, the flavours of Christmas
were dried fruit and spices.
Now that's quite exotic,
all those raisins coming in from the Mediterranean.
But the spices, they're truly exotic.
So, I've ground up a little cinnamon bark.
Scraped half of a nutmeg and crushed a dried ginger root.
These have travelled such a distance to get here,
halfway round the world.
Traded hand to hand by one merchant to the next,
to the next and the next.
But that's why people wanted them at Christmas,
they're just that hint of the luxury of the aristocracy and the royalty.
They're a taste reminder of the best,
the most expensive experience, that you could have in Tudor Britain.
Decorating the house at midwinter is a tradition
that goes back millennia.
So, Peter and Tom are making a 'Christmas Crown'
to hang from the ceiling of their farmhouse.
Oh, that's good, yeah, yeah, yeah. I like it.
Although there are records of huge decorated crowns,
there are no surviving instructions as to how they were made.
Yeah, I was thinking arching, arching, arching, arching, weaving.
So, the boys are experimenting. It's going to snap at any moment!
Oh! I hate this crown. Already, I hate this crown.
So, we've realised that to keep the tension in these vertical rods,
we need to actually weight down the middle
and that way it'll be easier to weave in and out.
I refuse to be beaten.
If you're going to be beaten, it'll not be by something like this.
They're reinforcing the crown, by weaving hazel around the rim,
using fence building skills that every Tudor farmer would have known.
Yeah, this is just like wattle work or basketry,
I suppose this is a giant basket.
And as we build up, say six inches, we'll have a very solid structure.
Although this seems over-engineered, if you think about
a Tudor farmstead, you think about a Tudor cottage,
it's a huge open space, because you've got a fire
in the middle of the room.
And in order to fill that with greenery,
you need something on this scale, suspended
and it'll be a fixture, a centrepiece.
And there are records of people doing this.
Not just, "Oh, some people did this,"
this was a very, very common thing.
The crown's structure built,
the boys are decorating it with foraged holly and ivy.
This greenery is so symbolic, it's got Christian connotations,
it's got Pagan connotations, it puts you in the mood, doesn't it, Tom?
You got something that looks festive, colourful and enjoyable.
This is our Christmas Crown.
It's a celebration of colour and Christmas, mate.
Shall we get it inside?
I think so.
The Tudor equivalent of the mince pie was the shred pie.
As well as containing the familiar dried fruit, cinnamon, ginger
and nutmeg, there was originally another essential ingredient.
It's funny, isn't it, that over 500 years, yeah,
Christmas food has changed, but there's these little sort of threads
of continuity, particularly that spice and raisin mix.
Over time, naturally, the spice and the fruit, in particular,
content rises and rises and rises.
By 1600, 100 years later, you would have doubled the amount of raisins
and spices in there at the same sort of cost.
By 1900, there was next to no meat left at all.
The Tudor cook didn't have pie tins.
The technology to make them cheaply didn't come along until the 1800s.
So, the pastry had to be robust enough
to support itself in the oven. Oh, God!
Coming! Hands out the way.
That goes on top, yeah.
The pies are then baked in the bread oven.
I've lit my faggot.
What a way to light your oven, eh?
No boring pressing the button.
It takes this oven about 40 minutes, 45 minutes,
to get the heat just right and I gauge the temperature
by watching the flames.
If you look at the moment, they're very orangey yellow,
and very vertical, it's really cold in there,
but as this faggot starts to burn down
and I start to put the other faggots in, the heat will start to build.
Push the last bits in.
You might notice that there's no chimney there.
The waste gases, the smoke and any other heat
has to come out the same hole that the wood goes in,
and that's deliberate. If you put a chimney in, you've totally ruined it,
it won't work as an oven.
What I need to do is trap all the heat from the fire.
It is the SPACE that I'm heating, not the food,
there's no food anywhere near it at the fire at the moment.
As these stones get hot, they become the oven.
When it's hot enough, take the fire out,
put the food in where the fire used to be
and the hot stones do the cooking for me.
In Tudor England, December the 21st was St Thomas's Day,
when those who couldn't afford to celebrate Christmas
appealed to the better off for charity.
KNOCK AT DOOR
Oh, that must the Thomas's. Hang on!
It was known as Thomasing.
I've got a bowl prepared for them already.
Hi! Hello. Happy Christmas. I got a bowl for you already.
Thank you very much. There you go. Enjoy it.
It was the tradition for poorer members of the community
to go all round their neighbours, banging on the door,
begging, I suppose, but in a nice way,
for some ingredients towards their Christmas dinner.
And the traditional gift was a big bowl of flour.
The oven is now up to temperature,
so the fire is raked out and the pies put in.
Christmas Eve was the last working day before the holidays began.
So, final preparations were made for the celebrations ahead.
The boys are moving their crown into the farmhouse.
But it appears they've made a rather unfortunate miscalculation.
What do we do? Look, just tilt it.
Yeah, OK. I'll go low. I'm humouring you.
It's not even going to fit in sideways, Tom!
In, get in.
Right, cut the strings?
No, you say no. Go for it, go for it.
I promise you, I promise you. Ruth said no strings.
There's obviously a reason why they didn't use string
in the construction of these things.
Yeah, we're losing some hazel down here. Oh, are we? Yeah.
Finally, the Christmas Crown takes pride of place in the farmhouse.
That's good, that's good, that's good there, isn't it?
Look at that. It's up there.
I can smell the cooking, can't you? It's good, it's good.
In the kitchen, the finishing touches
are being applied to the Christmas Day feast.
Ruth's decorated the stuffed pig's head.
There's also pork and ham from the pig.
And a Tudor favourite, leach, made from milk set in gelatine.
Peter's even made some festive candles.
Apart from the fact I've waxed my fingers to the wick...
That's a splendid candle.
In 1500, this was the first of the 12 days of Christmas.
Celebrations started with Holy Mass in the village church.
Hoc est corpus meum qui pro vobis tradetum.
Then, after 24 days of fasting, it was time to begin feasting.
This is fantastic, you've made such a great job of it.
Did you make it in here?
Let's go back, that would have been a good idea to make it in here.
It's almost as good as the food, this is amazing!
I know, so stuff yourself stupid at Christmas.
Might be plain, but there's plenty of it.
Guests. Come on in, come on in!
Hiya. Hey, hey! Take a pew.
Do you want to take these seats cos they're nice and tall.
And we need that, Neal.
Thanks for coming. Well done!
As was the custom, Peter, Tom and Ruth
have invited those who have worked on the farm over the past year,
to their banquet.
Benedictus Benedicat per Jesum Christum Dominum Nostrum, amen.
Amen. ALL: Amen.
Meals this extravagant, with so much meat,
would have been a once a year treat for most ordinary people.
Hmmmm, good. Eat up.
According to the Tudor theory of food digestion,
the pork being the closest to the human body... Hmmm.
..is the thing that gives the most nutrient.
But unfortunately, it can sometimes overwhelm your system.
So, if you eat too much pig and pork, and your system isn't up to it,
it can all go horribly wrong and you can make yourself very ill. Yeah.
So, you line the base of your stomach with things particularly
like a pottage, and then you put the grosser meats on top. Hmm.
And then you close it all off with cheese.
You know, modern dinning techniques still follows that same
Medieval digestion, that we still have soup... Yeah, yeah.
..followed by red meat, followed by the sort of puddingy things. Yeah.
And then finish with cheese.
Professor Ronald Hutton, an expert in folklore,
believes there was a good reason why Romans, Vikings and Christians
all feasted in December.
All over ancient Europe, midwinter is a time for celebration.
It's the worst part of the year, the darkest certainly,
often the coldest and the muddiest.
So, you need to keep cheerful.
And there are always three components.
First is feasting, which is what we're doing.
You just bring out your best in order to make a party
at the worst of the year.
Second is lighting up your place,
we got the sunlight streaming pallidly through the windows now.
In the evening, we'll have logs in the grate,
we'd have candles blazing.
And the third thing is greenery,
which is what the holly and ivy is about.
It's bringing in whatever is still green in the woods
to remind us that out there life is still going on.
It's really good therapy.
Wassail! ALL: Wassail!
LAUGHTER AND CHATTER
Nowadays, Christmas Day is a culmination of the festive season.
But for the Tudors, there was still 11 days to go.
The second day of Christmas, now called Boxing Day,
was the feast of St Stephen.
For farmers, although no work was done in the fields,
there was still the animals to check on.
How many of you are there?
In the pig pen, there are some new arrivals.
We're doing minimal farming for the 12 days of Christmas.
But we're still checking on our animals
and sure enough, the rustling in the back of the sty
has turned into the greatest Christmas present ever!
We have piglets.
I mean, they're almost purebred Tamworth,
they have been crossed with another breed
which hopefully will make them quite hardy and...
I mean, not only are the piglets healthy and running around,
but also the mothers, they've come out the sty as well,
because if they take to their beds for too long
it could be an indicator of a much more serious illness,
maybe something like flu, which is a killer.
But no, they're good, which means the piglets are good.
Oh! Look what you've done with the place! You've made it all muddy!
The third day of Christmas was the feast of St John the Apostle.
The fourth day was the feast of the Holy Innocence.
Although lay folk didn't work over Christmas,
few could afford to feast every day.
For the monasteries however, all the main feast days of Christmas
were a time for communal celebration.
Whereas the lay folks' Christmas banquet meant red meat,
for the monks it was very different.
Christmas is a time of feasting for everyone in society.
You ate as much as you could afford to eat,
and that applied right across the board.
But in the monasteries, there were still just a,
a little hint of a nod towards the austerity of an ascetic life.
Too much red meat stimulated virility,
and for monks, and indeed, nuns, that was something of a problem.
So, the feasting that went on within the monasteries over Christmas
tended to be much more towards the poultry.
Swans were quite regularly part of people's poultry yards,
they were kept alongside the geese and the ducks.
If we are going to help the monks to have a really great Christmas,
we're going to need to be supplying them with a huge volume of poultry.
Today, swans are a protected species in England,
so cannot be killed for food.
But Tudor monasteries would have raised them
especially for the table. Along with geese, ducks and chicken.
These were complemented by wild game,
like pheasant, partridge and woodcock.
But catching game in an age without shotguns was not easy.
Falcons were deployed to intercept birds in the air
and bring them to the ground.
This is exactly the kind of bird that would have been used
for specialist fouling, yes.
Emma and Mike Rafael are teaching Ruth and Tom the art of falconry.
There were two types of falconer,
aristocratic amateurs, who practised it as a sport,
and professionals who captured game for the dinner table.
You are amazing.
And how on earth do you get a bird to do this for you?
You cannot train a bird of prey,
it's not got the mental aptitude to be trained.
So, when you go hunting, it's hunting actually for itself.
You're more witnessing what's going on,
and hopefully managing to do that in an enclosed area,
whereby when the bird has caught something
you can go in, swap it for what's it's caught,
what it's caught goes in your bag for your table,
and then you give it some different food on the glove
to get the bird up to the glove. She'll actually never know who I am
so she'll never actually come back to me...
Never be any bond between bird and man... No bond at all.
There might be between man and bird, but not from bird to man.
It's one of these things with females, that you love them to bits.
But you get nothing back whatsoever.
Not sure what he's trying to say there!
Although falcons cannot be trained,
they're hunting instincts can be controlled using a hood.
Ben Long makes leather hoods for falcons.
Which can be quickly removed when the bird is required to hunt.
It's not like sewing, it's more of an engineering project, really.
Covering a falcon's eyes effectively switches it off.
So, what did they do before they had the hoods for the falcons?
Ah, well, that's a strange one, they sewed their eye lids up.
Now, that sounds awful, but it was called sealing,
and it was four little silk stitches on the bottom eyelid,
pulled up, tied nice, nicely over the head.
Er, but before, as soon as the training commenced
that was taken away, but, in fact, although it sounds barbaric,
it, of course, was the nearest thing that they'd got to being humane.
Because these are birds that only react to things,
so when the hood is on, there's nothing to react to
and therefore you're sort of switched off.
And so if we can put the hood on and switch the bird off,
switch the bird on when we want the training,
and everything about the thing becomes easier.
With their eyes covered, falcons could be safely transported
to the hunt on a frame known as a cadge.
If you just lift up the two bars and stand up.
The cadge was carried by a boy or young man known as a cadger.
And how comfortable does that feel?
I've been more comfortable.
It's like being surrounded by four Samurai warriors.
When I start moving, if they go crazy... Yeah, yeah, yeah...
Obviously, I've got to work in my technique. I'm in attendance.
I'm just going to level you up a bit.
I feel like I'm in some kind of finishing school,
I should have a book on my head. Try and keep it steady as possible.
Although this was a menial job, it was an important one,
as the cadger was responsible for valuable cargo.
The punishment for damaging birds were quite severe, weren't they?
Well, yes, stealing or damaging. Er, very!
Chopping off hands and that kind of thing?
Well, there's even, there's even talk of er, you know, er,
things like carving meat off your chest
and feeding it to the bird that got injured or stolen.
Falcons must get accustomed to being handled by humans,
and learn to respond to food.
Then the hood comes off and then he should see the lure and let him go.
Your job is to shout, 'ho' which will get his attention.
Young birds are encouraged to fly from one falconer to another,
lured by a piece of meat. Fantastic.
Next, they must practice flying free.
You only get one shot at this, right,
so it's got to be spot on.
A lure, meat on the end of a string,
is thrown up to get the falcon used to catching game.
When you think that they got the distance right,
the speed of the bird right,
and this is all going on inside your head.
You shout, "Ho", and then you throw it up in the air
and the bird takes it, like that. What could go wrong?
As simple as that. As easy as that.
Hey! Well done!
Success! That's it. And the hood is off.
Raise it up. And just let nature take its course.
This is going to be a real high one.
Shout, "Ho". Ho. And up now, now.
Oh, well done! That was precision throwing.
He takes no prisoners, this bird!
The game birds caught by falcons
were taken to the monastery's kitchen
to be prepared for the table.
Ruth and Tom are joining kitchen staff
who, unlike farmers, worked throughout Christmas.
When you're roasting as well, you want skin to stay whole,
so when you're plucking you don't want to tear it if you can avoid it.
Ah! Well. So, it's got to look as nice as it's going to taste?
It's got to look as nice as it's going to taste.
This is the expensive meat, the posh meat.
Rather than chicken, you know you think,
"It's all this work for these tiny little birds." Yeah.
But that's the point. People want to show off the whole bird,
and they want it to turn up on the table in a recognisable form,
so with the beak and heads. Oh, everything on?
As much on as possible. So that when it turns up to table...
Yeah. You know they're going to go, "Oh, yes, well you know, sir,
"my falcon brought down those wood pop cock!"
You know that, that's the point. Yeah.
And it symbolises something that the rest of us can only...
pluck for somebody else.
The fifth day of Christmas was also one of the most important,
the feast of St Thomas Beckett.
Beckett was the Archbishop of Canterbury
murdered during Christmas 1170,
after challenging the King's authority over the Church.
It was observed with a banquet and a Mass.
The choir is performing a Christmas antiphon,
the precursor to a modern hymn.
Professor James Clark explains its origins.
This has evolved over centuries of Medieval Christian worship.
And, in the reign of Henry VII, it's really reaching its high point.
This was a new style of singing that was being adopted
in the late 1400s.
To create that variety of vocal sound,
they've brought in professional adult singers and the boys.
And so they can have the richness of the different voice parts
coming together to create that wonderful, wonderful sound.
It's a real assault on the senses. You know, you've got the music,
you got the candles, a building like this. The smell.
You'd be overawed, wouldn't you? You would.
In fact we know at this time of year that they spend more on candles.
In parishes, they would rival each other to have the most
And the monks would hope that everybody witnessing
this sensory experience would be transported -
transported towards a sense of the divine and of course
that's what they're aiming for at this particular time of year.
Tudor monasteries were hierarchical and strictly organised.
Right, boys, it's the time of year when we have to choose a boy bishop.
But at Christmas, for one day only, rules were relaxed
and roles reversed.
These are the Boy Bishop Revels
and the boys who attend the grammar school that the monks have
set up, they're being allowed to let their hair down,
after all of their hard work, to subvert authority a little bit.
So this year's boy bishop is Josh.
And we'll get you dressed.
So they elect one of their favourite fellow school boys,
to become bishop for a few hours.
Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name.
It's letting off steam a little bit. It's a little safety valve,
in a society that's so very rigidly ordered.
Yes, that's right.
This is a society that not only has a strong sense of social
hierarchy but also understands that everybody has their allotted role.
And for these boys, they've lived under that authority
throughout the year and now they can turn the tables.
Role reversal at Christmas happened throughout Tudor society.
In schools, pupils took over by locking out staff for a day.
And even the aristocracy got in on the act,
allowing a peasant to take charge of the celebrations.
In the kitchens, final preparations are being made
for the monks' banquet.
Tom's been given a job at the very
bottom of the kitchen hierarchy - the spit boy.
A bit of garnish.
I'm just staying out the way. Ruth's probably angry with me over here.
I can't do anything wrong per se. I've got the fire going.
A spit boy rose at dawn to light the fire,
working all day in unbearable heat.
I think we might need to do a bit of a rearrange.
I've got 14 pigeons and I thought if we just
sit them in a nice little row...
This is so typical. I have everything under control -
nice fire, good food. Then you come along with your 14 pigeons!
Well, we've got to feed a lot of people!
So we've got all the pigeons to get through.
We've got partridge to get through, we've got geese to get through
and then we got all those ducks as well.
And there's a couple of pheasants. So you are...
Those monks are going to eat well, aren't they?
Yeah, it's Christmas, mate. Yeah.
In a refectory, the feast is served.
The centrepiece of the banquet was a magnificent swan pie.
Once the meat was removed and put in the pie,
the swan's feathers were stuffed and placed on top.
Swan was one of the most expensive and luxurious dishes,
so a show was made of its presentation.
The food just looks magnificent, doesn't it?
Those monks do very well.
Yeah, well, it is Christmas.
The seventh day of Christmas was New Year's Eve.
Christmas gave people some rare time for recreation
and the usual restrictions on the playing of games in public were lifted.
But there was an expectation that some of that holiday spirit
would be channelled into something useful, like archery.
I suppose both Henry VII and Henry VIII put in base legislation
to protect archery. I suppose it was being threatened by other sports.
Yeah, I mean, people were starting to spend their Sunday afternoons
playing things like football.
And what happened to that?!
Yeah, quite! So the government is all... The Kings will say,
"We need you out there practising your archery, chaps." You know?
Archer, Derek Hutchinson, is teaching the team the basics.
So at this short range you've got to put the point below the target.
One smooth motion, get there and just let go.
Smooth and controlled, go.
Look at that, woo!
So this is something that every boy and every man
up and down the country had to do every Sunday.
That's it and you wouldn't want to be at that end of it.
Men aged between 17 and 60 had to practise archery after church.
The entire British armed forces depended upon men like you.
And every boy in the land was expected to have a bow and arrows.
We get you so used to the idea that fighting is done by professional soldiers.
But it just wasn't. There were no such people at this date.
It is ordinary farming people who, if the call goes up,
you're supposed to turn out.
Archery practice would take place in open spaces where targets
known as butts were set up.
Derek has organised a competition for the team.
Closest arrow to the red flag wins.
Go, go, go. More, more, more, more, more, more, another inch, go.
There. Don't panic about it.
Tudor long bows had a draw weight of up to 170 lbs.
They're in line with the flag and they're beyond. To the right.
That's three times that of a modern bow.
So how far can one of these go then?
If something like this can get that far then a really good archer...
John's big one will go about 220 yards. 220 yards!
And the record for a longbow is over 300, easily.
That's a long way. That's with a proper heavy arrow.
It's time to see how the team have fared.
Oh, look at this one! No! What? No!
two and a bit metres.
You know the worst thing?
Everyone will think that we just put that arrow there for the sake of TV.
Genuinely close as well. You were genuinely close.
It's just, you two have won.
The eighth day of Christmas was New Year's Day,
another opportunity for revelry.
Unlike today, where seeing in the New Year marks
the end of the holidays, the Tudors had another four days to go.
But the biggest party was saved until the very end,
on the Twelfth Night, the 5th January.
I've been feeding such large numbers for so many days now.
This is going to be the final blast of our 12 days of feasting.
On the Twelfth Night there was music,
abundant food and alcohol and an especially indulgent treat -
Twelfth Night cake.
I'm going to use eggs and butter in large quantities
and work them in to enrich it.
Italian panettone is the nearest thing the modern world has.
And I just keep going.
Oh! Now I start with the flavours.
So we're back on the Christmas flavours.
A handful of raisins.
We're getting a bit low on raisins.
So I thought we'd have some nuts in this one as well.
Plenty of hazelnuts.
And last little bits of my spice that I've been saving.
There's one more addition to the cake, a precursor to the sixpence
that Victorians put in their Christmas puddings.
One tiny little lonely dried pea.
So the little pea goes in the middle there
and whoever finds that pea will be our Lord of Misrule for the night.
The Lord of Misrule would lead the celebrations.
Like the boy bishop, he represented role reversal
and subverting normal social order.
For a few hours a peasant would have permission
to order his master about.
The Lord of Misrule would dress as a king
and Peter's putting together a costume for the occasion.
First he's making a crown out of felt,
a fabric produced by matting wool fibres together.
Felt is such an amazing material. It's perhaps one of the oldest
fabrics known to man and that is essentially
my inspiration for making a crown for the Lord of Misrule.
Layers of sheep's fleece are laid down with their fibres
at opposing angles.
Got some red dye in there.
A bit of green, a bit of red, are very Christmassy colours,
the holly, the ivy.
And wisp this over the top. Like a woollen mist,
through which our Christmas colours will glow.
Boiling water and soap are poured onto the wool,
then Peter agitates it.
Oh! Hot potato.
Oh! Jeez, that's hot. Ah!
There's got to be an easier way to do this.
Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say.
This agitation interconnects the fibres into a solid mass.
The scales are opening up. They're locking together.
They're closing again so it's virtually impossible to unfelt felt.
Right, so I think this is ready for the next stage of agitation.
Just want to just keep working those fibres.
This is going to be very,
very similar to I suppose a party hat you might get in a cracker.
Perfect accoutrement to the Lord of Misrule.
And there we have it.
When I sew this up,
hopefully we have a crown fit for a Lord of Misrule.
No-one else here. Hm, right.
Tom's visiting Sean Jones,
to get some instruments to play at the revels.
In an age without recorded music,
singing, dancing and playing instruments were essential
ingredients of a Tudor Christmas party.
Reed pipes are what everybody played, through history,
made out of the stems of plants. This is teasel.
So all you really need is a knife. Absolutely.
And you have to make your own musical instrument.
To move from this to a fancier instrument,
we're going to make it out of wood. It's going to last...
Based on the same principle as the teasel pipe,
Sean's making Tudor bagpipes.
First, wooden poles are hollowed out to make the pipes.
Though Scottish bagpipes are the most well-known today,
they were once just as popular in England
and have been played throughout Europe since the 15th century.
Start to pare down the outside.
That is amazingly quick.
I imagine it's one of those jobs you could actually end up taking
too much and you're just trying to perfect.
It's... There's no way back.
You have to think about the shape of the thing that you're making
and not get distracted really from that.
So what are you doing now?
This is the final polish.
What's this material you're using? Is that sandpaper?
It's... Well, it doesn't exist yet. Oh! It's a piece of dogfish skin.
Dogfish? Yeah. The scales are very sharp.
They only run one way, so you have to hold it the right way round.
But it cuts nicely.
The drone pipes are made in two sections that must be joined together.
Yeah. Well, these form parts of the drone which goes over
the shoulder and they need to be adjustable
because the length of the drone fixes the pitch it plays at.
I want to tune it to the chanter.
So I need to make an airtight join between these two and let them
still slide. And the way I'm going to do that... Thank you.
..is with the thread, with lapping. You just wrap it round.
Yes, lap it on and make a nice tight,
airtight joint between the two which is adjustable.
We've done all the woodwork for our bagpipes now,
and we're going to do the bag. How you doing that?
I've got an awl to make the hole with
and then I'm sewing with hogs bristles on the end of the thread.
So... It's very flexible... ..flexible but quite strong.
Yeah, it means you can actually sew round corners.
The difficult part is actually attaching them to the thread.
But once they're on, they make a flexible needle that'll go
through a hole as small as a thread.
It's thought that the bags evolved from leather water carriers
used by shepherds.
Connecting them to teasel pipes produced the first bagpipes.
So what does the reed do?
Well, the reed actually makes the noise.
The chanter at the end of the day is a stick with holes in
and a bore down the middle. The reed.
There's two blades that beat together, erm,
let the air through, opening and closing all the time.
And when we put it in the bore, the pitch of the reed drops
and it makes the instrument resonate.
So it's a bit deeper this, isn't it?
It is. It's lower pitch and obviously the pitch of the note depends on the length of the tube.
So all the pieces are now made. We just got to put it together.
As the Twelfth Night approached, as well as preparing for a final
feast, farmers also got ready for the return to work.
To ensure a bountiful harvest, farmers asked the monastery
to bless a relic of a saint, and parade it across their land.
Professor James Clark has come to explain the ritual.
So what would we as tenants be hoping this would achieve for us?
You would hope that because of the presence of the relic,
there would be a charge of the spiritual power.
That would ensure a good farming year,
the right climate for crops to grow and for the livestock to thrive.
You bring the relic and crops grow. It's almost like a magic amulet.
Yes, that's right, that there is a sense in which this again is
a tangible link to something that is very intangible,
something that is charged with a kind of supernatural air,
and there would be hope amongst the onlookers that something
supernatural would happen here.
The Twelfth Night was the culmination of the Tudor Christmas.
In the farmhouse the celebrations are under way.
Twelfth Night cake, everyone.
Who's lucky night is it going to be?
With abundant food and drink consumed,
it's time to select the Lord of Misrule for the evening.
Who's got the pea? Who's got the pea? Who...
I have made a crown.
And we have our Lord of Misrule.
For most of the year you must toil. Tonight you may make festivity.
I proclaim misrule.
It's an idea that has come from ancient Rome
where at Saturnalia, the feast of midwinter, a slave used to be
put in charge of noble households in order to turn the world
topsy-turvy and devise party games and entertainments for midwinter.
The Lord of Misrule has called for a game to be played.
The egg game was a Tudor favourite.
An egg was tossed back and forth as the players moved further apart.
The first to drop it lost.
Oh, Peter lost! Peter lost! I win, I win, I win!
Another popular game was snapdragon.
It's fallen over.
Raisins soaked in brandy were set alight.
Just one Peter, just one. Ow!
The person who dared to retrieve the most raisins was the winner.
Next, the revellers would head out carol singing,
known as wassailing, accompanied by the bagpipes.
They're singing a Tudor carol, The Boars Head,
describing the traditional sacrifice of a boar at Christmas.
Carols are something that first comes to the fore in the 14th
and 15th century and their heyday is just about now.
They'd started way back in the 12th, 13th century as a sort of sun dance.
You sang to provide your own music as you danced in a circle.
That's what a carol was.
But by 1500, the dance and the song had become separate
and there was this whole new crop of Christmas-orientated carols.
We Wish You a Merry Christmas, Ding Dong Merrily on High,
In Dulce Jubilo and the Coventry Carol all have their roots
in this period.
Wassailers moved from house to house receiving food
and drink in exchange for good will.
I'll tell you what, those bagpipes sound fantastic.
Yeah, I know. They are absolutely perfect
although I can't hear them over your triangle!
I know, I'm not sure that's music.
Shh, shh, shh.
While the carol singers process round the village,
Tom and Peter have some important business to attend to.
Even though it's Christmas, you've got to think about the smallest
members of the farm.
No exactly, we've got to go and check on our piglets,
they're going to be our sustenance, they're going to be our money.
Dude, it's Christmas!
Give them a break from the butcher's knife.
Look at that. All snuggled together with their mums.
We're happy. They're happy. I feel quite content.
Merry Christmas, little pigs. We'll see you in the morning.
May you live as long as you want to and want to as long as you live.
The Tudor farmer would make the most of this last night of revelry...
..as the next day it was back to work.
The first Monday after Christmas was Plough Monday
and the farming year would begin all over again.
Historian Ruth Goodman and archaeologists Tom Pinfold and Peter Ginn turn the clock back 500 years to rediscover how the farms of Tudor England celebrated the twelve days of Christmas.
Although Christmas was celebrated very differently in Tudor times, if anything the celebrations were even bigger. All work stopped on Christmas Eve for 12 days of revelry and feasting. While Peter and Tom decorate the farmhouse with holly and ivy, Ruth prepares grand banquets for the farmworkers. The Christmas Day feast was particularly special and featured a pig's head rather than a turkey as its centrepiece.
Most farmers could not afford to feast every day but the monasteries held a special mass and banquet on each of the 12 days of Christmas. The fifth day, the Feast of Thomas Becket, was particularly important. Red meat was thought to stimulate virility, so monks ate poultry such as swan and game. Tom and Ruth learn the art of falconry - the main way of catching game birds. The team also indulge in archery, the most popular sport of the era, whilst Tom learns how to make bagpipes, the most widely played instrument of the day.
The culmination of Christmas was marked by a frenzy of music, food and alcohol. The main treat was Twelfth Night Cake. A dried pea was hidden in the cake - the precursor to the sixpence in a Christmas pudding - and whoever found it would be appointed the 'Lord of Misrule' for the night, leading the celebrations. Tudor life was hierarchical and strictly organised but, at Christmas, the rules were relaxed and the roles reversed.
Finally the revellers head out 'wassailing' - an early version of carol singing which originated many songs still sung today such as 'We wish you a Merry Christmas' and 'Ding Dong Merrily on High'.