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Of Marmots and Monarchs: A Michaelmas selection from the TCP

This marks the first in a series of blog posts that will highlight TCP texts of interest around holidays and other important dates. Please let us know in the comments if there’s a text or day you’d like to see featured! NB: while all readers will be able to see metadata, tables of contents, and search results related to the featured works, only EEBO-TCP partners will be able to access the full text, and links to page images, for these works.

Michaelmas, celebrated each year on September 29, is the feast of St. Michael the Archangel, who is honored for defeating Lucifer in a battle in heaven. Although the term “Michaelmas” turns up frequently in our texts (more than 2,000 times in nearly 900 works in EEBO-TCP), not many of these references say much about the day itself. Rather, it is commonly used as a point of reference with respect to other events, marking the end of summer and the beginning of autumn.

When we sort our search results by frequency, we see that the term occurs most often in histories, chronicles, and records of legal proceedings. Chroniclers such as Holinshed and Stow use the term 29 and 23 times, respectively, but the term occurs most frequently in Reports of diverse choice cases in law taken by those late and most judicious prothonotaries of the Common Pleas, Richard Brownlow & John Goldesborough, where it appears 65 times–usually indicating that a debt, rent, or other payment is due at Michaelmas.

It is interesting to note the extent to which chroniclers linked events in the past not just to chronological dates, but to the cyclical church calendar. As is evident from the legal records above, this calendar was central to the organization of everyday life in the 17th century.

One example of tying Michaelmas to the record of an historical event is His Maiesties speech at Shrewsbury, on Michaelmas Eve last, to the gentry and commons of the county of Salop, there assembled, a speech given by King Charles I shortly after the beginning of the English Civil War:

In this speech, the king addresses the “Gentry and Commons” of Salop county. He assures them that, while in their town, he will not “live upon the ayde and reliefe of my people” more than is necessary, reporting that

“I have sent hither for a Mint, and will melt down all my own Plate, and expose my Land to sale or morgage, that if it be possible I may bring the least pressure upon you.”

These assurances given, the speech takes a threatening turn:

“In the meane time I have Summoned you hither to invite you to doe that for me and your selves, for the maintenance of your Religion, the law of the Land (by which you injoy all that you have) which other men doe against Vs: Doe not suffer so good a cause to bee lost for want of supplying me with that, which will be taken from you by those who pursue me with this violence, and whilst these ill men sacrifise their Money, Plate, and utmost industry to destroy the Common-Wealth, be you no lesse liberall to preserve it.”

The document closes with a charge to “M. Sheriffe, and the rest of the Gentlemen” to “distribute themselves,” the better to “receive the expressions which you shall make of your best affections, the which I will have particularly presented to me.”

Beyond history, politics, and law, Michaelmas even makes its way into scientific discourse! For example, in Ralph Beilby’s A General History of Quadrupeds, from ECCO-TCP, we learn that marmots

roll themselves up; and being well covered with hay, remain in a torpid state, insensible to the rigours of the season, and perfectly secure from the storm that rages without; till the chearing influence of the sun again calls them out to renew their exhausted strength, to propagate their kind, and provide for their future retreat. The torpid state lasts from about Michaelmas till April. They go in extremely fat, but gradually waste; and at the end of their long sleep, they appear lean and extremely emaciated.

A marmot celebrates Michaelmas by contemplating hibernation

One imagines that those assembled at Shrewsbury might well have preferred to join the marmot in hibernation, than the monarch in war!

(Thanks to Ari Friedlander for contributing to this post)

1 Respond for Of Marmots and Monarchs: A Michaelmas selection from the TCP

  1. […] an earlier post, we looked at Michaelmas, and noticed that this celebration of an epic battle among angels seems to […]

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