Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Alsatia, Revels and Rave

Alsatia is a new blog dedicated to exploring the lost 'liberties and sanctuaries of London'. They explain: "In the seventeenth century, there existed, just outside the walls of the City of London, in the ward of Farringdon Without, from Fleet Street down to the banks of the Thames, between the Temple and St Brides, an area famed and feared for its lawlessness. This was the ’sanctuary’ or ‘liberty’ of Whitefriars, colloquially known as Alsatia... Alsatia was not the only anomalous territory in London; there had been a number of religious spaces within the City granting sanctuary, many of which had been thrown into doubt with the reformation. There were liberties, where the residents had special privileges and exemptions, and peculiars governed by outside authorities.... This combination of overlapping authorities and customary rights opened up quasi-autonomous spaces".

This is indeed fascinating stuff; John Constable has done some research into the related 'Liberty of the Clink' as part of his ongoing Southwark Mysteries project.

There's an interesting connection between the Whitefriars area and 'revels'; at one time the Office of the Revels was based there, responsible for organising official festivities. In the book Queer Virgins and Virgin Queans on the Early Modern Stage, Mary Bly considers the Whitefriars plays associated with the King's Revels theatre company (such as the delightfully named Cupid's Whirligig).

Is there a linguistic connection between 'revels' and 'rave'? Apparently, 'Thomas Blount in his 1656 dictionary "Glossographia" notes that "Revels" originates from the French word "reveiller", to wake from sleep. He goes on to define "Revels" as: "Sports of Dancing, Masking, Comedies, and such like, used formerly in the Kings House, the Inns of Court, or in the Houses of other great personages; And are so called, because they are most used by night, when otherwise men commonly sleep"'.

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