Hock Tuesday

Today, on the second Tuesday after Easter, women in early modern England stopped men on the roads, binding them with ropes and asking a penny for their release — money that was donated to the parish church. They were taking their revenge for the events of the day before, when the men would take women prisoner, demanding a kiss.

These Hocktide celebrations have traditionally been related to the killing of the Danes in England under King Ethelred in 1002, although that occurred on the feast of Saint Brice, on the 13th of November. According to tradition, English women helped capture the Danes. One of the documents to record this association of Hocktide with St. Brice is a description of a Hocktide play performed before Queen Elizabeth at Kenilworth Castle. After the Reformation, the traditional hocktide plays had been forbidden because they were deemed to cause disorder. A group of men from Coventry sought to revive the custom by appealing to the queen during her visit to Kenilworth in 1575. They

made petition that they moought renu noow their olld storiall shew: Of argument, how the Danez whylom héere in a troublous seazon wear for quietness born withall, & suffeard in peas, that anon, by outrage & importabl insolency, abuzing both Ethelred, the king then, and all estates everie whear byside: at the grevoous complaint & coounsell of Huna, the king chieftain in warz, on Saint Brices night, AD 1012 … And for becauz the matter mencioneth how valiantly our English women for loove of their cuntré behaved themselves: expressed in actions & rymez after their manner, they thought it mooynght moove sum myrth to her Maiestie the rather. [1]

François Laroque in his Shakespeare’s Festive World cites seventeenth-century sources who testify to the disappearance of the custom — it apparently survives only in Hungerford. The events at Kenilworth come to life in Sir Walter Scott’s Kenilworth.

[1] François Laroque, Shakespeare’s Festive World (Cambridge University Press, 1991), 109.

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