Green Women and Green Beasts - May Queen

Abundant fertility is the main theme. In older traditions, the goddess, the manifestation of growth and renewal, Flora, the Goddess of Spring, the May Queen falls in love with the Young Oak King as the Green Man and he wins her hand.

 

While there were still some surviving May Day customs in the 19th century, Victorians took their lead from accounts of Tudor celebrations and romanticised poems such as Tennyson's “The May Queen” (1830) Significantly, the May Queen, an apparently marginal figure in the Middle Ages, came to be the focal point of the Victorian May Day. Also, while previously May Day had been celebrated by adults, the Victorians and Edwardians increasingly saw it as a children's festival.

 

A feature of the May festivities was sometimes the crowning of a king. Stubbes describes it best:

 

 “the wild heads of the parish conventing together, chose themselves a grand captain (of mischief) whom they ennoble with the title of my Lord of Misrule... they have their hobby horses, dragons and other antiques, together with their bawdy pipes and thundering drummers, to strike up the Devil's Dance withal, then march those heathen company towards the Church and churchyard, their pipers piping, drummers thundering, their stumps dancing, their bells jingling, their handkerchieves swinging above their heads like madmen, their hobby horses and other monsters skirmishing among the throng” [1].


The May King or Lord was sometimes accompanied by a female counterpart - an instance is recorded at Kingston but often not. The importance of the May Queen seems to have initially been a literary invention of seventeenth century London-based poets such as Michael Drayton and William Brown. Hutton remarks that “their difference in priorities from genuine rustics is shown in their constant descriptions of pretty May Queens in preference to the more common village lords” [2].
 

In 2002, the May Queen Society in Mitcham agreed to discontinue its event that had started in 1949: 'The crowning of Mitcham May Queen, one of the borough's best-loved traditions, could be consigned to history after more than 50 years because organisers cannot drum up enough support to keep the event running'[3].

 

Elsewhere though the Wallington May Queen was going 100 years later in 2003, and the Beckenham May Queen was crowned in Croydon Road Recreation Ground in 2010.

 

 

 

 

[1] Philip Stubbes 'The Anatomny of Abuses'

[2] Ronald Hutton (2001) 'Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual in Britain'

[3] 'Wimbledon Guardian', 1 May 2002