May garland from Hone's Every-Day Book
May garlands were a target of the Puritans. On May Day in 1633, a labourer named John Wildgoose of St Peter le Bailey parish in Oxford provoked a fight by trying to stop the annual ‘bringing in the garland’ at St Peter’s church. This
seems to have been a popular ceremony, which people from other parishes came to attend. Witnesses testified that Wildgoose was, under other circumstances, a man of honest life and upright conversation who did not commonly injure his neighbours.
case came to trial the following year, when Wildgoose was described in the Church court deposition as ‘a factious man or a puritan and consorted with other puritans.’ He refused to stand up in church for the reading of the Gospel or to bow at the
name of Jesus. He had jeered and mocked when the parishioners wanted their Whitsun sports. When the King’s declaration was shown as a warrant for the civil and honest sports, Wildgoose scoffed, ‘then you may take your garland and set it upon the
top of the pulpit if you will.’
On May Day when the parishioners brought in their garland, Wildgoose asked that the church wardens ‘throw that wicked toy or bauble out of the church.’ When the garland was brought in and the youths
were going to ring the bells in the customary manner, Wildgoose said ‘O impudent and wicked people, God no doubt will avenge himself on you if he be any God at all.’
There was, it appears, a ‘great tumult and uproar in the church’;
the garland was pulled down and torn, and many of the parishioners were beaten, punched and pulled by the hair.
Much more on the 17th-century May Day at www.maymorning.co.uk