Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. I. Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century
May Day in London
By John Stow (1525?1605)
From the Survey of London
IN the month of May, namely on May-day in the morning, every man, except impediment, would walk into the sweet meadows and green woods, there to rejoice their spirits with the beauty and savour of sweet flowers, and with the harmony of birds, praising God in their kind; and for example hereof, Edward Hall hath noted, that King Henry VIII., as in the 3rd of his reign, and divers other years, so namely, in the 7th of his reign, on May-day in the morning, with Queen Katherine his wife, accompanied with many lords and ladies, rode a-Maying from Greenwich to the high ground of Shooters Hill, where, as they passed by the way, they espied a company of tall yeomen, clothed all in green, with green hoods, and bows and arrows, to the number of two hundred; one being their chieftain, was called Robin Hood, who required the king and his company to stay and see his men shoot; whereunto the king granting, Robin Hood whistled and all the two hundred archers shot off, loosing all at once; and when he whistled again they likewise shot again; their arrows whistled by craft of the head, so that the noise was strange and loud, which greatly delighted the king, queen, and their company. Moreover, this Robin Hood desired the king and queen with their retinue, to enter the green wood, where, in harbours made of boughs, and decked with flowers, they were set and served plentifully with venison and wine by Robin Hood and his men, to their great contentment, and had other pageants and pastimes, as ye may read in my said author.
I find also, that in the month of May, the citizens of London of all estates, lightly in every parish, or sometimes two or three parishes joining together, had their several mayings, and did fetch in May-poles, with divers warlike shows, with good archers, morris dancers, and other devices, for pastime all the day long; and toward the evening they had stage plays, and bonfires in the streets. Of these mayings we read, in the reign of Henry VI., that the aldermen and sheriffs of London, being on May-day at the Bishop of Londons wood, in the parish of Stebunheath, and having there a worshipful dinner for themselves and other commoners, Lydgate the poet, that was a monk of Bury, sent to them, by a pursuivant, a joyful commendation of that season, containing sixteen staves of metre royal, beginning thus:
These great mayings and May-games, made by the governors and masters of this city, with the triumphant setting up of the great shaft (a principal May-pole in Cornhill, before the parish Church of St. Andrew therefore called Undershaft), by means of an insurrection of youths against aliens on May-day 1517, the 9th of Henry VIII., have not been so freely used as afore, and therefore I leave them.