Dunmow flitch


Dunmow flitch
   At Great Dunmow, Essex, a custom now takes place every year which can definitely trace its history back at least 600 years. In the earliest known form, any man who had been married for more than a year without ever regretting it or wishing himself single could apply to Little Dunmow Priory and, if he could prove his assertion, claim a flitch of bacon from the Prior. If successful, he was carried in procession, in a special chair on poles. Recorded instances of successful claimants are few and far between - 1445, 1467, 1510, 1701 are the first four. But the custom must be much older, as both William Lang-land (Piers Plowman, c.1360-99) and Chaucer (Tale of the Wife of Bath, c.1387) mention it in a matter-of-fact way. The 1701 occasion was the first time that wives are mentioned as having a part to play, and also a formally constituted jury to hear the case. After 1751, the custom lapsed until a novel by Harrison Ainsworth, entitled The Flitch of Bacon, published in 1854, gave the trial the publicity which resulted in the revival which continues today. There have of course been numerous changes, in particular the tone of today's proceeding is decidedly comic, parodying a real trial, whereas previously it was serious. The custom is not quite unique, as there are references to a similar one at *Wichnor in Staffordshire, and there are analogous customs on the European mainland. Its ultimate origin at Dunmow is probably as a manorial land-holding custom, but of this there is no real proof.
   ■ Francis W. Steer, The History of the Dunmow Flitch Ceremony (1951); Shuel, 1985: 120-3.

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

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