There was an institution associated with the festivities of the Middle Ages of a peculiarly interesting description. It was the custom to elect a director or controller of the sports, and he bore the title of the “Lord of Misrule.” It was his business to determine to what extent the hilarity should be carried; at all events, to decide when it should stop. I think the idea is a very good one. We have a modification of it, the modern office of “Master of Ceremonies.” In Scotland, the name given to this functionary was “Abbot of Unreason,” an office prohibited in 1555.
– A Few Reflections on the Rights, Duties, Obligations, and Advantages of Hospitality, Cornelius Walford, 1885
Lord of Misrule! Abbot of Unreason!
Until the snow day on Thursday I hadn’t known about any of this. (Although, considering my teaching career, I say with confidence that some of my students may have.)
Wonder what went down in 1555 to put an end to it. Bet there’s a historical novel in there for Irvine Welsh.
While the position’s benefits may appear evident, I looked it up and there were also disadvantages:
Roman soldiers would choose a man from among them to be the Lord of Misrule for thirty days. At the end of that thirty days, his throat was cut on the altar of Saturn.
I found that volume in the Boston Athenaeum. It was the fourth of 133 printed for the members of London’s Sette of Odd Volumes, which is apparently the inspiration for the Club of Odd Volumes in Boston.
The Club of Odd Volumes is limited to 87 members. I’m not sure I could be their Abbot of Unreason, but if they need someone voluminous in oddity, they should sign me up. Either way, I continue to seek the establishment of the Boston branch of this club.