|Bull and bear baiting at a specially constructed 'pit'|
I suppose there was part of me thought that it might indeed be a reference to a sexual act! After all young men and in particular apprentices were at the forefront of symbolic punishments of both men, women, prostitutes etc. long ago. Punishments like riding the 'Stang' and other forms of riding designed to humiliate both man and women. They were more than happy to lead the indignant crowd if it meant that they could have a bit of fun at someone else's expense. A situation recognised and used by City elites, although something paradoxically to be feared. You didn't want the young getting too distracted from their labours as I was getting distracted from my studies! It could be then that the Mayor and Alderman feared that the activity might lead to other riotous behaviour. I thought that this may be the reason for stopping them 'throwinge at cockes', although I still couldn't understand what exactly the act was and why they were doing it...
It could have been a violent and brutal activity akin to cock fighting & bear and bull baiting like that illustrated above - A pass time that as most know was still popular at the time. Certainly I pictured the cock being tied to a stake or tied down and probably stoned to death. Was this then an early modern example of animal welfare with the state attempting to dissuade idle youth from abusing our feathered friends? Highly unlikely when considering what was happening to bulls and bears. So perhaps it was linked to a seasonal custom - a ritual activity specific to the month of Feb. This might explain the crack down, because this was a time when increasingly the middling sort and above who controlled a City like Norwich were disassociating themselves from popular culture, especially that which involved any form of riotous behaviour. So many different explanations for the court entry, yet I was none the wiser.
But good things come to those who wait, for a close friend of mine brought me a great book for Christmas; The Etymologicon, A Circular Walk Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language, by Mark Forsyth (2011) which looks at "the glorious insanities of the English language", and which in truth has been sitting there some months waiting for me to get started on it. It's a fascinating book about the development of both words and phrases and which evolved from the authors blog, http://blog.inkyfool.com/. I finally picked it up the other day and right at the very start, what do I read, but that the phrase 'to pool their money' evolved out of a medieval French gambling game where people would put equal amonts money in a pot and then take turns hurling stones at a loose chicken, with the first person to hit the bird winning the pot. The French word for chicken is 'poule' and so they called it a 'game of poule' - A term picked up by the English in the 17th century becoming anglicised to 'pool', hence the pool of money in a card game.
More interestingly for me was that clearly not only the terminology, but also the game reached England and the Norwich authorities were simply trying to stop young men gambling. A major preoccupation of the court at that time. In this case 'boys' who were perhaps still too young to play at cards, dice and other games of chance in the alehouses or bowling alleys. The last thing they wanted was for them to 'waste their money wastefully', to use a phrase of the time. Lack of money lead to crime and even more worryingly for the authorities an even greater demand on poor relief. It all comes under the title of 'ill' or 'evil rule' at that time; behaviour that the elite thought would incur greater costs for them. In other words they were more concerned with protecting the public purse than with the welfare of animals.
|Fun and games in the alehouse|