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Sobriety, royal presents and Victorian-era musings on failure: an unexpected history of New Year

The traditional history of New Year is all about making decisions to be kinder, more caring, more generous, to eat less, watch what you drink, to quit smoking, to exercise more, to take up a hobby, read more, or to attempt a healthier work-life balance. At Histories of the Unexpected, however, we think the subject of New Year really comes alive if you take an unexpected approach to its history. Yes, promises, dieting and charity all have fascinating histories, but the history of New Year is also all about power, sobriety, paranoia, migration and failure…


Power in Tudor England

At the Tudor court, New Year was intimately connected to power. The long-standing custom of courtiers giving gifts to the monarch on New Year’s Day was a ritualised and lavish public ceremony that took place at the heart of the Tudor court, in the royal presence chamber. The master of the Jewel House and his assistants carefully recorded gifts both given to and received from high-ranking nobles and members of the royal household. These details were transferred to ‘gift rolls’, sheets of paper or membranes of vellum stuck or stitched together to form a single document measuring up to 11 feet in length, and which were then rolled up and stored in the Jewel House.

One of the most intimate depictions of gift-giving at the court of Henry VIII survives in a 1538 letter from John Husee, the court agent of Lord Lisle, the lord deputy of Calais. In it he notes, “The King stood leaning against the cupboard, receiving all things; and Mr Tuke at the end of the same cupboard penning all things that were presented.” This was a remarkably personal political system that brought courtiers into direct contact with the monarch.

Read entire article at BBC History Extra