Flower of the Month: The ‘Lusty Dancing Priest’ of Rufforth

The “lusty dauncinge prest” of Rufforth

In July 1581, Sir Tristram Tildsley, vicar of Rufforth and Marston, faced allegations in a diocesan court of the Archbishop that his behaviour on many occasions during the preceding four years had been “most contrarie to his vocation.”* According to those who complained, he had comported himself in ways that debased the ministry, profaned the sabbath, set a bad example to young people, and endangered God’s peace and the Queen’s.

Tildsley faced one charge of dereliction of duty: instead of conducting Sunday services, he spent the day bowling—an allegation he denied. His second problem was his “swashing” apparel. He rarely wore the square cap and gown prescribed for ministers, and although he believed his sleeveless “Roman cloke” was “decent,” others felt that wearing that cape and a “long sword” he looked more like a “Ruffy[a]n or serving man” than a minister.

Pieter Brueghel the Younger (1564–1638), The Wedding Dance in a Barn (Detroit Institute of Arts)

Pieter Brueghel the Younger (1564–1638), The Wedding Dance in a Barn (Detroit Institute of Arts)

Most serious, Tildsley liked to dance, and he did so with gusto. At one rushbearing it was reported that he “did Daunce skip leape and hoighe gallantly,” within the church and the churchyard and on Sunday. For his enthusiastic participation the vicar “was derided flowted & laughed at to the great sclaunder of the ministry.” Tildsley joined in the dancing regularly, at Christmas holidays, harvest times, weddings, ales, and rushbearings.

Even worse, such “lewde light & vnsemelye” dancing led to kissing, and kissing led to violence. The testimony does not make it clear if this occurred on more than one occasion or if we have only partial accounts of the same occasion, but the evidence provided by William Jackson, husbandman, of Acomb, about a celebration at William Hunter’s alehouse in Rufforth captures the gist of it: “the said trystrame was so lusty in his dauncinge that eyther he kyssed or offered to kysse the said hunter’s doughter a younge woman and a yonge felowe who kyssed her was beaten on the face by sir trystrome or by some other stondinge by, but as he Remembreth it was Sir Trystrome, so that dyvers swordes were drawne and a great tumulte had lyke to have bene.” In this account, the pleasure of dancing seems to have stirred the desire to kiss, a transgressive act that others would simply not accept.

Elizabethans bowling, from http://www.bbc.co.uk/learning/schoolradio/subjects/history/tudors/sketches_clips/work_and_play (BBC 2010).

Elizabethans bowling, from http://www.bbc.co.uk/learning/schoolradio/subjects/history/tudors/sketches_clips/work_and_play (BBC 2010).

Thomas Smith, labourer of Acomb, offers an interesting alternative account of the dancing and kissing during a rushbearing at Rufforth. His testimony suggests that the kissing was not an emotional or physical urge of the moment, but a prescribed part of a well known folk dance. In this particular dance “a man fetched in a woman and putt his hatt on her heade and kissed her and she fetched in a man in lyke maner and so till ther was a great company both of men and women which daunced hande in hande.” Apparently no social impropriety nor violence occurred because the kisses were part of the approved formalities of the dance. Tristram Tildsley was nonetheless blameworthy: his doublet and hose inappropriate, his exuberance embarrassing, and his presence on the dance floor with a woman in each hand “very offensyve to those that sawe him.”

*Cause Paper, Diocesan Courts of the Archbishopric of York, Borthwick Institute MS CP. G. 3306.

[This month’s remarkable Flower is very kindly provided by Prof. Ted McGee of Waterloo University, co-editor of the REED West Yorkshire volume]


(Long) Marston Town or village 53.957720, -1.234385 Modern site of Long Marston, appx. 7 miles west of York.
Acomb, North Yorkshire Town or village 53.955062, -1.12601 Acomb, to the west of York
Rufforth Town or village 53.956969, -1.197821 Rufforth, villiage in Yorkshire, about 4 miles west of York.
William Kempe icon 53.962625, -1.214129 William Kempe icon





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