Sex in history, by Gordan Rattray Taylor

In England, the Feast of Fools was finally suppressed in the time of Elizabeth, but was supplanted by the secular ceremony of the election of a Lord of Misrule, or Abbot of Unreason. Stubbes describes how upon election he chooses “twenty, sixty or an hundred lustiguts to serve him”. These dress in gay clothes, decorated with jewels, ribbons and kerchiefs “borrowed for the moste part of their pretie Mopsies and loovying Bessies for bussying them in the darcke”. They then set out for the churchyard, mounted on hobby horses, and accompanied by pipers and drummers, where they set up bowers and feast and dance all that day and, peradventure, all that night too. But, Stubbes adds sourly, if they knew that in so doing they were really sacrificing to the Devil and Sathanas, they would repent. This comment, and the fact that the churchyard was felt to be the proper venue, establish the underlying sense of the religious character of the occasion.

In France, also, the Feast of Fools was replaced by a secular festival. Participants formed themselves into a Societe Joyeuse, headed by an Abbe Malgouverne, or, more significantly, a Mere Folle. Thus in Dijon, the Mere Folle was a man dressed as a woman: his task was to keep up a running commentary on the sexual proclivities of his followers. (In Sastrow’s account of a German equivalent, the part of the fool is actually played by the priest.) The chant proper to the occasion has the refrain: La femme est mise au monde, afin qu’on la courtise. (238)

The Puritans condemned these festivals because they saw the connection with the pagan rites. Thus Prynne, in Histriomastix quotes Polydor Vergil as expressly saying that the Christmas Lords of Misrule

“are derived from the Roman Saturnalia and Bacchanalian festivals; which (concludes he) should cause all pious Christians eternally to abominate them”.