Saturday, 28 May 2016

The Hunting of the Earl of Rone

This is scary...
One of the reasons why I started this blog, was my mobility problem. It took me a long time and lots of effort to get it back to a reasonable shape. Meanwhile, the other knee started to cause problems. Then at last they both allowed me to live the adjusted but satisfactory lifestyle. And guess what? A couple of weeks ago or so I went on an amazing hike with friends. Well... Since then my troublesome knee has been complaining. Now the long weekend has started and I am in pain. How awful! There is a trip to the South West of England on the agenda! How will I take part in the Combe Martin annual hunt???!!!

Would you like to read about the event?
Here you go:

At Combe Martin in North Devon, a very curious custom  was performed on Ascension Day each year until the year 1837, when, probably owing to the drunkenness that prevailed, it was discontinued.   The custom was based on a tradition in the district, that, in the days of James I, an outlaw named the Earl of Tyrone was wrecked in the Bristol Channel, and landing from a small boat near Ilfracombe, he is said to have made his way across country to Combe Martin, where he lay securely hidden in the dense woods of the neighbourhood for several days, existing on a few biscuits he managed to save from the wreck. According to the tradition, as soon as his whereabouts were known to the authorities, a party of Grenadiers was sent to Combe Martin with orders to capture him.

In its early days the custom was celebrated with colour and vigour, but as time went on it gradually deteriorated.  During the period when it was performed well, it must have been a very colourful and amusing spectacle.  On Ascension Day a party of local men dressed as Grenadiers, and armed with fowling‑pieces made their way to Lady's Wood in search of the Earl of Rone (Tyrone).  Meanwhile, the Earl, who seems to have been the hero of the day, wearing a grotesque mask and dressed in a smock, padded with straw, and adorned with a huge necklace composed of ships biscuits, was being ceremoniously mounted on his mettlesome steed, which consisted of a donkey also decorated with ships‑biscuits.  He was attended by a hobby‑horse covered with brightly coloured trappings and bearing an extraordinary instrument called a "mapper," furnished with large teeth with which the hobbyhorse caught hold of people who tried to evade giving money towards the collection made for the actors taking part in the entertainment.  There was also a 'jester' in attendance, who carried a wet broom with which to sprinkle water over those persons whose contributions to the fund were not forthcoming.  Cheered on by the jubilant shouts of the spectators, the Earl of Rone supported by his ludicrous attendants, rode off on his donkey.  As soon as the Grenadiers saw the Earl approaching, they fired a volley from their fowling ­pieces, and the Earl of Rone promptly fell from his steed, apparently desperately wounded, to the great joy of the Grenadiers.  The hobby­horse and the jester, with many lamentations, replaced the Earl on the donkey and the procession continued through Combe Martin, stopping at every tavern on the way.  Every now and then the Earl would fall from his trusty steed only to be mounted once more by the faithful hobby‑horse and jester.  The procession would reach the seaside as twilight was falling, and then the entertainment would come to an end amid the cheers of the spectators.
It is said that during the last occasion on which the custom was observed, a man named Lovering fell from the steps of a house and broke his neck.  This tragic event is supposed to have sobered the party up a trifle, and their visits to the remaining taverns were of a shorter duration out of respect to the dead man's relatives.  It is very difficult to say how much truth there is in the tradition of the landing of the Earl of Tyrone on the coast of North Devon.  No mention of such an occurrence is made in the Dictionary of National Biography.  Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone, was confirmed in his title and estates by James I at Hampton Court on 4th June, 1603.  On his return to Ireland at the end of August, the King's 'deputy' in Ireland, Sir Arthur Chichester, soon had reason to doubt his loyalty, with the result that Tyrone was again ordered to appear before the King.  Irish friends in the Netherlands sent a warning to O'Neill that if he went to England he would be imprisoned, so the Earl decided to escape to Italy.  At midnight on 14th September, 1607, the Earls of Tyrone and Tyrconnel, with their wives and retainers sailed from Rathmullan in a vessel of 80 tons intending to make for Spain.  The fugitives encountered a violent storm which drove them out of their course and buffeted them about for three weeks.  If the Earl ever landed on the coast of North Devon it would have been while his ship was weather-bound.  Eventually, the vessel reached the mouth of the Seine, and later the fugitives journeyed to Rome, where they were well received by the Pope, who granted the Earl of Tyrone a monthly pension, which was increased by an additional sum from the King of Spain, and was continued until the Earl's death on 20th July, 1616.

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