Today, 24th April, is St Mark’s Eve, the day before the Feast of St Mark the Evangelist, one of Christ’s apostles and the man who is said to have written the Gospel of Mark. In medieval and Tudor times, St Mark's Eve was the night to divine who you were going to marry.
How did people go about divining their future partner?
Find out in today's talk and do let me know if you try any of these divination methods!
24th April is the first day of The Fall of Anne Boleyn Countdown series of videos that I did last year and you can find out all about what happened on 24th April 1536 in this video:
Also on this day in Tudor history, 24th April 1558, fifteen-year-old Mary, Queen of Scots, got married for the first time. Find out more in last year’s video:
Also on this day in history:
- 1545 – Baptism of Henry Wriothesley, 2nd Earl of Southampton, at St Andrews, Holborn. He was the son of Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl of Southampton and 1st Baron Wriothesley, Henry VIII's Lord Chancellor.
- 1549 – Death of Ralph Neville, 4th Earl of Westmorland, English peer, soldier and Privy Councillor. He was buried at Staindrop in County Durham. Neville was one of the peers who sat in judgement on Anne Boleyn in May 1536 and served Henry VIII as a soldier in the North of England and borders, and Edward VI in Scotland.
- 1551 – Execution of Dutchman George van Parris, surgeon and religious radical at Smithfield. He was burned at the stake for Arianism (denying the divinity of Christ).
- 1555 – Burning of George Marsh, Protestant martyr, former curate at All Hallows Church, London and a preacher in Lancashire, at Spital Boughton outside the walls of Chester. He had refused the offer of a royal pardon if he would recant his Protestant faith. His ashes were buried in the St Giles cemetery.
Today, 24th April, is St Mark’s Eve, the day before the Feast of St Mark the Evangelist, one of Christ’s apostles and the man who is said to have written the Gospel of Mark. In medieval and Tudor times, St Mark's Day was the traditional day for praying for fertile land and a good harvest, so how was St Mark’s Eve celebrated?
Well, weirdly it was all about divining the future. Who knows what that has to do with St Mark?!
In “Folklore of Lincolnshire”, Susanna O'Neill writes of how St Mark’s Eve was the night for young women to “divine who they were to marry”. Ladies in North Kelsey would visit the Maiden Well, “walking towards it backwards and then circling it three times, still backwards, whilst wishing to see their destined husbands. After the third circling, the girl would kneel and gaze into the spring, where she would supposedly see the face of her lover.”
Other ways of divining who you were going to marry, according to O'Neill and also Steve Roud, author of “The English Year”, included hanging your washed chemise in front of the fire and waiting for a man (your future husband) to turn them, setting the table for supper and leaving the door open and waiting to see which man would come and join you, picking grass from a grave at midnight to put under your pillow so that you would then dream of your future beau, sitting in a barn at midnight and waiting for your future lover to walk through the door, and throwing an unbroken apple peel over your shoulder and then seeing whose name it had spelled out when it landed.
If a man wanted to divine who his future bride would be, then he could visit the local church late on St Mark’s Eve and see whose reflection he could see in the church window at midnight.
Still another tradition, I found on mostly-medieval.com, was for a woman to “fast from sunset and then during the night make and bake a cake containing an eggshell full of salt, wheat meal, and barley meal. Then she should open the door of her home. Her future lover should come in and turn the cake.”
We did pooling as young girls about 13_or so, not that elaborated but we would take it in turns to look into the pond in the park at the Fairy Glen, and yes that’s an actual place, in Sefton Park, its actually very quiet and beautiful and a bridge crosses it. It was good fun but of course not serious. It’s really odd how old these customs are.