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SOCIAL EVENTS Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval Norwich socio-religious guilds regulations feasts church services mass saints festivals livery assemblies processions pageantry charter

Subject: St. George's gild celebrations
Original source: Norfolk Records Office, St. George's gild book
Transcription in: Mary Grace, ed. Records of the Gild of St. George in Norwich, 1389-1547, Norfolk Record Society, vol.9 (1937), 33-36.
Original language: Middle English
Location: Norwich
Date: early 15th century


[ .... ]

Also the king has granted that the brethren may wear a livery and may hold their feast in a suitable place assigned by the alderman and masters....

.... It is ordained, by common agreement of the fraternity, that all the brothers and sisters of the fraternity shall honour as holy St. George's day [23 April] each year, on whatever day [of the week] it falls.

Also they are to celebrate the divine services of both evensong and mass in the cathedral, and other observances ordained by the fraternity.

An exception occurs when St. George's day falls within the three days preceding Easter Day or the three days following. Should it happen that St. George's day fall on any of those seven days, the alderman and the masters, with the agreement of the brethren chosen for the assembly of 24 for that year, shall set a day by ordinance. On which, all brothers and sisters are to participate in the observances of the divine services mentioned above, and participate in the horseback procession, and wear their liveries, and hold their feast.

It is also ordained that all brethren shall provide themselves with a suit of clothing one year (that is, in red), and the next year with hoods. Which gowns and hoods every brother is to keep for the use of St. George and the company, for two years.

And if he no longer wishes to wear it, [no matter] what brother he is, he is not to give or sell it to anyone else, neither within the city or outside, unless the colour of the cloth is changed. Whichever brother is found defaulting in this is to pay 6s.8d for a gown and 3s.4d. for a hood.

It is also ordained that no brother is to buy or wear any kind of clothing intended to be the livery of St. George except from those men officially appointed as buyers of liveries by common agreement of the fraternity for that year. Unless an ordinance to the contrary is made by the alderman and masters.

It is also ordained that every sister of the fraternity and gild is to be dressed in a hooded costume that is red.

It is also ordained that the alderman and masters shall set a date for an assembly prior to St. George's day. On which date the 24, or the majority thereof, are to choose [who will act the role of] their George, and a man to carry his sword before him and be his carver, and a man to carry the banner of St. George, and two men to carry the wax (or have it carried by persons of good reputation, and accompany them). And any man who rejects or fails to perform the role for which he is chosen, without a good excuse, he shall pay [a fine].

And at that assembly the alderman and masters shall announce and make it known at what place the brethren should gather for their horseback procession. And at what location the brothers and sisters shall set their wax. And in what location they shall eat together.

It is also ordained that on St. George's day (or a substitute day assigned, as indicated above) every brother, in his livery for that year, shall be on horseback at a certain location at the hour designated and ordained by the alderman, masters, and by the agreemnent of the 24 chosen for the assembly.

When the riding is over, every brother and sister is to be ready at the located assigned for the setting and carrying of their wax, and make an offering of it at the high altar of the church indicated above, to burn there for the worship of the Trinity, Our Lady, and the glorious martyr St. George.

Also that every brother and sister is to attend mass from beginning to end, and make an offering of a halfpenny, for the worship of the Trinity and the glorious martyr St. George.

Any brother or sister who is absent during mass, without the special permission of the alderman or a good excuse, is to pay 2s. to the fraternity.

It is also ordained that when mass is said and ended, all the brothers and sisters are to proceed in good faith to their meal, to the place assigned by the alderman and the masters where they shall eat together. Every brother and sister paying for their meal, wax, and minstrelsy, 10d.; and any brother or sister who is absent [is to pay ...]

[ .... ]

It is also ordained that every brother and sister shall on the festival day, after the meal, attend evensong and pray for the health and prosperity of the king, this city, the brothers and sisters of the fraternity, and all true Christians. And afterwards they are to hear a dirge praying for the souls of the king's ancestors and those of the deceased brothers and sisters of the fraternity. No brother or sister is to be absent from this divine service without a good excuse, upon penalty of 16d.

It is also ordained that on the day after St. George's day every brother and sister of the fraternity is to come to the church mentioned above by 8 o'clock (that is, as struck by Our Lady's bell). Where they are to hear a requiem mass for the souls of all the brothers and sisters and for all Christians. At that mass every brother and sister is to offer a farthing. Any brother or sister absent from this mass is to pay 6d. unless he has permission or a good excuse.


The socio-religious gild dedicated to St. George is thought to have been founded about 1385; this was certainly its own claim. The cult of St. George had already established a good foothold in England (his arms are visible flying from a ship portrayed on the official seal of Lyme Regis in 1285), and appears to have been particularly strong in Norwich. Two of the city's churches were dedicated to him, and there were a number of depictions in the city of dragons or knights fighting dragons dating as far back as the late thirteenth century. St. George's day was a lesser festival in England as early as 1222, but not until 1415 was it made one of the major festivals.

There was nothing that made the gild stand out from others of this type when, in 1389, it responded to the central government orders that all gilds submit information on their functions, governance, and property. Although the gild of St. George was already associated with Norwich cathedral, rather than a local church, hinting at some social importance. It was possibly an influential membership, extending beyond leading citizens to include notables from the regional gentry, that led the gild to the unusual step of being able to obtain a charter from Henry V (1417), incorporating it, recognizing its privileges, and allowing it to acquire real estate; Henry was thereafter viewed as the gild's founder. Equally unusual was that the prior of Holy Trinity and the city mayor and sheriffs were given the right to expel members who caused trouble within the gild.

The gild ordinances, from which those above are extracted, were likely formulated within the years closely following the royal charter, judging from the way in which Henry V is referred to within the document. In 1452, after a period of constitutional conflict within the city, St. George's gild – possibly a power-base for members of one of the competing political parties – became part of the settlement and was merged with the city corporation, so that the outgoing mayor took over the gild aldermanship for a year, and city aldermen were to be members of the gild.

The gild brethen got together for a winter dinner every Christmas, but their principal ceremonials focused on St. George's day. That day began with a procession led by the bearer of an ornate (but wooden) sword, preceding the person chosen to play St. George, decked out in armoured and riding a horse trapped out in finery. A third participant carried a painted canvas dragon, with which St. George was expected to engage in mock combat during the procession. The ordinances also mention a banner, probably bearing the arms of St. George. Possibly, as at later times, lights were carried by other participants, including a few poor men hired for the occasion, and minstrels and chanting churchmen also added to the spectacle. After the gild's unification with the city government, the mayor and aldermen also took part in the procession, dressed in their official robes. The cathedral bells were rung throughout the duration. The cathedral was the ultimate destination of the procession; there the brethren made offerings of wax, to be burned during the mass that followed.

The annual gild feast was the next event of the day, held in the Blackfriars hall. After which the brethren returned to the cathedral for further divine services. The following day saw more of the same.



Costume and/or adornment that distinguished the members from those of other gilds (as in the way of a uniform).

There was an altar or small chapel dedicated to St. George within the cathedral.

"set a day"
The postponement of celebrations was usually to May.

Wax for candles.

"set their wax"
Possibly purchasing the wax is meant; the gild return of 1389 required that members show up at a waxchandler's shop first thing in the day.

One quarter of a penny.

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Created: August 18, 2001. Last update: November 27, 2002 © Stephen Alsford, 2001-2003

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