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‘When the Pancake Bell Rings’: Shrove Tuesday and the Social Efficacy of Carnival Time in Medieval and Early Modern Britain

Bristol student theses: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Authors

  • Taylor Aucoin

Research units

Abstract

This thesis examines Shrovetide, the significant yet understudied pre-Lenten Carnival of medieval and early modern Britain. Filling scholarly lacunae in Carnival studies and British festive studies, it also develops a novel approach to premodern festive culture which emphasizes its importance to surrounding historical processes. Moving beyond traditionally dominant functionalist and linguistic approaches, the thesis argues that festival neither served a standard social function, nor solely reflected the mentalités or norms of societies. Instead, festive culture was understood and used as a malleable and instrumental practice for social change, capable of influencing individuals, social relations, and social structures in the immediate and long-term. As such, festive culture could be a significant mediator in social, political and economic causes. Informed by practice and performance theories, the thesis demonstrates how this ‘social efficacy of festivity’ emerged from annual interplays between the structuring force of festive tradition, the human agency of festive practice, and the unique characteristics of performative frames such as Carnival time.

To execute this approach, each chapter maps the long-form history of a Shrovetide custom, based on empirical evidence. Change and stasis are identified and studied to demonstrate how and why people adapted tradition to affect their social worlds. Chapter 1 uses late medieval manorial accounts to investigate the social importance of Shrovetide food-gifts from lords to their workers. Chapter 2 uses civic records to determine why institutions publicly sponsored Shrovetide football despite enduring legal prohibitions against the sport. Chapter 3 examines a dataset of over 900 Tudor court revels, charting the growth of Shrovetide court revelry, and its advantages to princely rule. The final chapter queries the violent sedition expressed through annual Shrovetide rioting in seventeenth-century London, using judicial sessions records to construct a prosopography of the Shrovetide rioter which challenges orthodox interpretations of the riots, misrule and popular politics.

Details

Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Advisors
Award date25 Jun 2019

    Research areas

  • Carnival, Festive culture, Cultural history, Medieval history, Early modern history, Social history, Food history, Sport history, Theatre history, Popular culture, Popular politics, Religious history

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