Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus! (Happy Saint David’s Day!)
The coincidence of Wales’ national day being on a Monday, the usual publication day for this blog, proved irresistible, although I shall definitely resist the temptation to refer to the other coincidence of the Wales-England rugby match yesterday. (Oh dear, did I just mention it after all? Sorry about that.)
Seriously, though, I thought this would be an ideal opportunity to provide a little-known account of what St David’s Day was like in the Restoration period. This wonderful source is from the journal of the Dutch traveller William Schellinks,* describing how the day was marked in the year 1662. Thankfully, no such shenanigans take place these days. Well, not that often, anyway.
On the first of March old style, being St David’s Day, the day of the patron saint of Wales, when, according to custom, all people born in that principality put a leek in the bands of their hats. That is supposed to be in memory of a battle fought and won by them on St David’s Day, in which they wore them as a mark to distinguish themselves from their enemies. So His Majesty and many great lords and gentlemen, common people, and even lackeys, coachmen, porters, and all kinds of riff-raff and layabouts wear one on their hats.
NB the office to fix the leek to the king’s hat on this day is worth 600 guilders.
We saw some countryfolk carry such large leeks on their hats that their heads hung almost sideways because of them. And so on this day the Welshmen are greatly teased by the English, not only by calling after them Taffey, Taffey (sic) or David, David, but also by hanging out all kinds of dolls and scarecrows with leeks on their heads, and as they celebrate the day with heavy boozing (unheard of these days, of course – D.), and both sides, from the ale, strong beer, sack and claret, become short-tempered, obstinate and wild, so it is not often that this day goes by without mishaps, and without one or the other getting into an argument or a blood fight (also unheard of). Thus it happened this year that near Westminster a Welsh nobleman stabbed an Englishman. So too an English cook, who for fun stuck a leek on his hat and addressed, as a fellow countryman, a great lord, a Welshman, who passed by with his suite, who responded in Welsh, which is as different from English as French is from Dutch. When the cook replied sneeringly in English, the lord went for him, the cook fled into his shop and grabbed a spit from the fire and with this attacked the Welshman, who, supported by his servants with their rapiers, all turned against the cook, who was immediately helped by all sorts of rabble, throwing dirt and other things, so that in the end he was compelled to retreat, and, the furore getting greater, he was forced to take to the water, and although he had got help, the mob, fighting furiously, got into the boat, and if His Majesty had not sent help quickly by water, they could easily have been killed.
Anyway, enough for now – time to find a leek to stick in my hat!
(* The Journal of William Schellinks’ Travels in England 1661-1663, translated and edited by Maurice Exwood and H L Lehmann, Camden fifth series volume 1, Royal Historical Society 1993).