The Corpus Christi procession

The feast of Corpus Christi was one of the chief celebrations of the pre-Reformation church in Edinburgh, with both sacred and secular elements. After attending church in the morning, the congregation, including representatives of the incorporated trades, took part in a procession round the town, led by the clergy, during which the consecrated Host was shown to the people and the Lauda Sion was sung by all present. Once the clergy had left the scene, there were plays and dumb-shows and much merry-making, music, food and drink until dark.

One of the plays that was often performed was the Jest of Robin Hood, probably using the text that was afterwards printed by Chepman and Myllar in Edinburgh in 1508. The Hammermen performed this play before King James IV in 1494. The narrator would have stood at one side reading or reciting the words while the costumed actors performed the drama in dumb-show. At the gory climax of the action, Robin Hood looses an arrow at the proud sheriff of Nottingham and then cuts off his head with his sword:

“Robyn bent a fulle goode bowe
An arrowe he drowe at wylle
He hit so the proude sherife.
Upon the grounde he lay full stille
And or he myght vp aryse.
On his fete to stonde
He smote of the sherifs hede
With his bright bronde”

There was also a play involving King Herod and a large supporting cast of biblical and mythical characters, saints, devils and others, attended by assorted knights and squires. Judging by the payments for banner-bearers, torch-bearers and musicians in the Hammermen’s Accounts, it must have been quite a colourful and noisy occasion.

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