The Tudor Society

6 January – Epiphany fun and feasting

Happy Epiphany! Happy Kings' Day! Yes, today is the Feast of the Epiphany, the day that commemorated the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child.

Following on from yesterday's Teasel's Tudor Trivia about Epiphany Eve and Twelfth Night Cake, I thought I'd share with you some examples of how Epiphany was celebrated at the royal court. Find out what those Tudor people got up to on Twelfth Night in today's talk.

Last year, I spoke about the marriage of Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves, which took place on 6th January 1540. Find out more about that...

Also on this day in history:

  • 1536 - Maria de Salinas arrived at the dying Catherine of Aragon's bedside at Kimbolton Castle to be with her friend in her last hours. See for an article on this.
  • 1538 – Birth of Jane Suárez de Figueroa (née Dormer) at Eythrope, Buckinghamshire. Jane was the daughter of Sir William Dormer and his first wife, Mary Sidney. She was a favourite of Queen Mary I, and was the one Mary trusted on her deathbed to deliver her jewels to Elizabeth I. Jane married Gómez Suarez de Figueroa, Count then Duke of Feria, in December 1558.
  • 1587 – Baptism of Elizabeth Hastings (née Stanley), Countess of Huntingdon, at Knowlsey, Lancashire. She was the daughter of Ferdinando Stanley, 5th Earl of Derby, and Alice Spencer. Elizabeth married Henry Hastings, the future 5th Earl of Huntingdon, in 1601.
  • 1591 – Burial of George Puttenham, author and literary critic, at St Bride's, Fleet Street, London. He is thought to be the author of the 1588 “The Arte of English Poesie”. Puttenham is also known for his messy divorce from Lady Windsor and his short imprisonment at Fleet prison in 1570 for high treason, after being accused of slandering the Queen and inciting Julio Mantuano to kill the Bishop of London.
  • 1616 – Death of Philip Henslowe, theatre financier, in London. He was buried in the chancel of St Saviour's Church. Henslowe had financed the building of the Rose and Fortune playhouses.


In the last edition of Teasel’s Tudor Trivia, I talked, with the help of Teasel the dog, about Epiphany Eve, how it’s celebrated where I live and how our present-day Roscon de Reyes is similar to Twelfth Night Cake, a treat enjoyed by the Tudors.

I mentioned how Twelfth Night or Epiphany was celebrated with feasting, games and entertainment in the Tudor court, so as it’s Epiphany today, I thought I’d share with you some examples of the entertainment.

In 1494, in the reign of King Henry VII, Epiphany was celebrated at Westminster Hall with what was described as “a greate banquett... where there was a play, with a pageant of St George with a castle, and also 12 lords, knights and Esquires with 12 disguised which did dance.”

In 1512, in Henry VIII's reign, something very exciting happened at court, an entertainment that chronicler Edward Hall described as “a thing not seen afore in England”. It was a masque. Here is Edward Hall’s account:
"On the day of the Epiphany at night, the king, with 11 other ,were disguised, after the manner of Italy, called a maske, a thing not seen afore in England. They were apparelled in garments long and broad, wrought all with gold, with visers and caps of gold, & after the banquet done, these Maskers came in, with six gentlemen disguised in silk, bearing staff torches, and desired the ladies to dance, some were content, and some that knew the fashion of it refused, because it was not a thing commonly seen. And after they danced and commoned together, as the fashion of the Maske is, they took their leave and departed, and so did the Queen, and all the ladies.”

On Twelfth Night 1552, in the reign of King Edward VI, a tourney was held during the day, and that evening, following a play performed by the King's Players, there was a contest or feat of arms between Youth and Riches, with them arguing over which of them was better. The men who were in these two teams were described as fighting “two to two at barriers in the hall”. After that, according to a contemporary account “Then came in two apparelled like Almains (Germans). The Earl of Ormonde and Jacques Granado, and two came in like friars, but the Almains would not suffer them to pass till they had fought. The friars were Mr. Drury and Thomas Cobham.” This mock combat was followed by a mask of men and a mask of women, and then a banquet of 120 dishes.

In 1553, in the reign of Queen Mary I, Twelfth Night was celebrated with “The Triumph of Cupid, Venus and Mars”, which was a play devised by Sir George Howard. Venus entered in a triumphal chariot accompanied by a mask of ladies, followed by the marshal and his band. Venus rescued Cupid from the marshal, with some kind of mock combat being performed, and at some point, Mars also made his triumphal entry.
These celebrations brought the Twelve Days of Christmas to an end.

Ronald Hutton, in his book “The Stations of the Sun”, explains how it was traditional by the Tudor period, for monarchs to make offerings at Epiphany, just like the Wise Men did to the Christ child. Hutton writes of how Henry VII made offerings of gold, frankincense and myrrh, and that King James IV of Scotland gave three gold crowns. I love that this tradition is continued today. The official website of the British Monarchy states that “A service of Holy Communion is celebrated on 6 January (Epiphany) each year in the Chapel Royal, St James's Palace, when an offering of gold, frankincense and myrrh is made on behalf of The Queen”. How wonderful!

Only 1 comment so far Go To Comment

  1. R

    What did she think of his ulcers one thinks and smelly legs?

    Me thinks Henry talks with fork tongue and made the whole thing up.

Leave a Reply

6 January – Epiphany fun and feasting