Hocktide

By Jan Steen, Village Festival

Monday and Tuesday after Low Sunday

Hocktide follows the celebrations of the Octave of Easter, and was a period of horseplay and insincerity after feasting, which itself followed the sombre time of Lent. Throughout the Middle Ages, Hock Monday, or Hock Eve, marked the first day of Hocktide and was followed by Hock Day, which was also known as Hock Tuesday. Both days were holidays from work for the working classes, which were few and far between, though Hock Day itself was a payment day for rents due.

The inspiration behind Hocktide appears to be a celebration of victories over the Danes by the Saxons at the beginning of the second millennium. The main connection is the massacre of the Danes, which was a large-scale national act of murder ordered by King Æthelred the Unready that took place on 13 November 1002. As a retaliation to frequent coastal raids, every Dane in England was killed. A mere fourteen years later, in 1016, Cnut the Great won the kingdom of England. Perhaps best known for the apocryphal tale of ordering the tide to go back despite knowing his orders were futile, thereby demonstrating the limits of his power to his courtiers and proving his own fallibility, Canute ruled over England and then passed the throne to his son, King Harthacnut. The last Dane to rule England, Harthacnut, or Canute III, died on 8 June 1042. Neither of these dates match that of Hock Day, though through folklore both are connected to it. Hocktide was seen as a celebration of victory over Danish oppression by the people of the time.

The Hock, or Hock Tyde, was held on Monday and Tuesday fortnight after Easter: Monday for men and Tuesday for women, when they stretched a rope across the road, intercepting all passengers, and made them pay tribute.

Reverend J. J. S. Bird, The Preacher’s Analyst, Vol. IX

Both days of Hocktide consisted of flirtatious horseplay, fundraising, and general silliness. On Hock Monday, tradition held that men would bind or tie women with rope, then demand a kiss or money in return for their release. On Hock Tuesday the roles would switch, with women catching men instead. Ropes would be drawn across highways, which restricted the freedom of passage that was legally assigned to the King’s highways, stopping travellers. Those who were held up by the rope, and of the designated sex of the day, would pay with money or kisses for their release. The coins collected during Hocktide were donated to the fabric funds for local parish churches, and it has been documented that women raised considerably more money than men. There were regional variations which mainly involved the roles being reversed on each day, so men were caught on Hock Monday and women on Hock Tuesday, though the records of this were mostly written after the fact, as opposed to the contemporary documentation which follows that women ruled on Hock Day. There is also some contention that the entire two days of Hocktide was less amusing than it was portrayed, with the linking of kisses in kind in lieu of payment to the collecting of rent, and it is possible the festival itself grew as an ironic ridiculing of and rebellion against the actions of predatory landlords.

Hocktide was banned by Henry VIII, though it continued to take place informally throughout the country and was known as Rope Monday and Binding Tuesday. It was eventually restored to the national calendar by Elizabeth I, but later fell out of favour. By the Victorian era, Hocktide was long passed, with the only surviving celebrations taking place in Hungerford, Berkshire, where Hock Tuesday is known as Tutti Day. In Hungerford, Tutti Men are elected by the Hocktide Council to go door to door throughout the town collecting rent money or kisses. The Tutti Men carry Tutti Poles—wooden staffs topped with flowers and oranges—and are accompanied by the Town Crier and an entourage who distribute oranges to visited households.

Jan Steen, Village Festival
Jan Steen, Village Festival, Public Domain
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