Hocktide


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Hocktide

Binding Days, Hobtide,
Hock Days, Hoke Days

During the late Middle Ages English Easter celebrations continued long after Easter Sunday (see also Easter Week). They ended on the Monday and Tuesday following Low Sunday, or the second Monday and Tuesday after Easter. These two days were known as Hocktide, Hobtide, the Hoke Days, or the Hock Days, and served as an occasion for various financial and legal transactions as well as boisterous fun and games pitting one sex against the other.

History

The origin of the word "hocktide" continues to puzzle scholars, who have been unable to detect its meaning. The historical roots of these festive days have also eluded researchers. Some of the earliest writers to record the observance declared that it hailed from Anglo-Saxon times and commemorated a military victory against invading Danish soldiers during the reign of King Ethelred (d. 871). Other early commentators asserted that the festivities celebrated the death of Hardicanute (1019-1042), the last of the Danish kings to rule the English. Since the first recorded instance of Hocktide celebrations dates back only as far as 1406, these ancient origins seem doubtful. These explanations may have been inspired by a Hock Tuesday play presented at Coventry during the sixteenth century. The play tells the story of a band of wily Englishwomen who succeed in defeating and capturing Danish invaders where their menfolk had failed. In the sixteenthcentury Protestant reformers sought to discontinue these yearly performances. Supporters countered their efforts by presenting the play to Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603), who enjoyed and approved of it. Nevertheless, in the 1590s opponents eventually succeeded in permanently canceling the event.

Tuesday became the most important of the two days of Hocktide. Rent payments frequently came due on Hock Tuesday and on Michaelmas (September 29), a reminder of the ancient division of the year into two seasons, summer and winter. What's more, manorial courts often held session, many church officials collected money to pay parish expenses, and certain taxes came due on Hock Tuesday. But Hocktide was best known for a raucous folk custom, referred to as "hokking" in some old documents. This custom awarded men the right to waylay women on Hock Monday and hold them hostage until they paid a few coins for their ransom. Women received the same privilege on Hock Tuesday. Some people called Hocktide the "Binding Days" in reference to this custom. In certain places men detained women on Hock Tuesday and women detained men on Hock Monday. In a few locales only women enjoyed the customary right to collect Hocktide ransom. Often both women and men contributed some part of their Hocktide ransom money to the local church. Parish records indicate that women often surpassed men in this unusual form of fund raising. Hocktide ransom money provided an important source of income in some parishes. Records from Lambeth reveal that at one point Hocktide money was the single largest source of parish income.

Quite a few of the historical records concerning Hocktide observances consist of complaints about disorderly behavior and excesses committed by enthusiastic Hocktide ransom collectors. By the seventeenth century many local authorities had succeeded in limiting or abolishing the right to make these collections. Religious authorities influenced by the ideas and attitudes fueling the Reformation, a sixteenth-century western European religious reform movement, eventually helped put a stop to Hocktide observances.

Nevertheless a trace of Hocktide jollity lingered on in a few locales. At the turn of the twentieth century lads in one Yorkshire village still extracted a form of Hocktide ransom by drawing a rope across a main street and permitting girls to pass only after they had yielded a kiss.

Current Customs

The citizens of the Berkshire town of Hungerford continue to observe Hock Tuesday. The town has preserved certain customs and civic activities long associated with the day, such as the meeting of the local Hocktide Court. This court elects minor local officials, including the "tithing" or "tutti" men, whose ancient duty was to protect local inhabitants and property during the coming year. Time-honored traditions permit the Tutti-men to collect a penny from each Hungerford commoner household as payment for their services. Women may give a kiss instead of a penny. Hungerford Hock Tuesday proceedings begin with the blowing of a replica of a horn given to the town by the English prince and duke of Lancaster, John of Gaunt (1340-1399), who granted the citizens of Hungerford a number of manorial privileges. While the court is in session the Tutti-men collect their staves, crowned with oranges and adorned with ribbons and flowers, and call on each commoner household in Hungerford to collect their traditional fee. The Orange Scrambler follows close behind, carrying a sack of oranges for distribution to the children of fee-paying families and to women who pay the fee with kisses instead of coins.

Afterwards the Tutti-men and the Orange Scrambler attend a civic luncheon. The luncheon includes a ritual known as "shoeing the wild mare." Two men wearing the traditional garb of a blacksmith seize all newcomers to the district and begin to drive nails into their shoes. They persist in these efforts until each newcomer cries "punch," signaling his readiness to buy a round of drinks for all present. The victim may elect instead to pay a fine of one pound. The crowd cheerfully welcomes into the community those who supply them with drinks. After lunch the Orange Scrambler and the Tutti-men toss the remaining oranges to a crowd of waiting children, who scramble to retrieve them.

Further Reading

Blackburn, Bonnie, and Leofranc Holford-Strevens. The Oxford Companion to the Year. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1999. Chambers, Robert. The Book of Days. Volume 1. 1862-64. Reprint. Detroit, MI: Omnigraphics, 1990. Hole, Christina. British Folk Customs. London, England: Hutchinson and Company, 1976. Howard, Alexander. Endless Cavalcade. London, England: Arthur Barker, 1964. Hutton, Ronald. Stations of the Sun. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1996. Long, George. The Folklore Calendar. 1930. Reprint. Detroit, MI: Omnigraphics, 1990.

Web Site

Photos of Tutti Day in Hungerford on the Hungerford Chamber of Commerce web site:

Hocktide

Between April 5 and May 9; second Monday and Tuesday after Easter
Also known as Hock Days, the second Monday and Tuesday after Easter in England was in medieval times—and in Hungerford, Berkshire, till the present day—associated with collecting dues or rents and money for the church, particularly in rural areas.
There were a number of traditional methods for demanding money, most of them light-hearted rather than threatening. For example, people were often tied up with ropes and had to pay for their release, giving rise to the name Binding Tuesday . Or rope might be stretched across the road to stop passersby, who would then have to pay before they were allowed to continue.
In parts of Berkshire, two "Tutti men" in top hats and morning coats—a "tutti" being a small bouquet of flowers—would go from house to house carrying a "tutti pole" decorated with flowers and ribbons. There was also an orange scatterer who threw oranges to the men, old women, and children to keep them busy while the Tutti men went from house to house demanding both money and a kiss from the lady of the house.
In Yorkshire, children were still celebrating Kissing Day as recently as the 1950s—widely believed to have derived from hocktide customs.
Hocktide was also one of the Quarter Days.
CONTACTS:
Hungerford Chamber of Commerce
Church St.
Hungerford, RG17 0JG United kingdom
44-77-6761-0721
www.hungerford.org.uk
SOURCES:
BkFest-1937, pp. 16, 57
DictDays-1988, pp. 11, 55, 56, 122
EncyEaster-2002, p. 271
FestSaintDays-1915, p. 91
FolkWrldHol-1992, p. 208
OxYear-1999, p. 625
References in periodicals archive ?
9) Ronald Hutton surveys the ubiquity of festive customs in Tudor England and their relative decline in the Stuart era, highlighting their fundraising role in parish finances, while pointing out the persistence into the seventeenth century of Hocktide and annual Whitsun ales in "villages near London and towns along the Thames between the capital and Oxford" in Rise and Fall (120).
There are references to Hocktide gatherings and Whitsun Ales right to the end of the period.
A CUSTOM associated with Coventry always took place on the second Tuesday (originally Sunday) after Easter, and was part of Hocktide, known as "Hoc or Hoke Tuesday".
Much of what the reformers had to reform, in a sense, was only "traditional" in the sense of having dated back a century or two; May games, Robin Hood plays, and Hocktide parades of giants were not, in other words, residual traces of ancient paganism as an earlier generation of scholars (especially those concerned with witchcraft) once believed.