"we called them the children of the Lord of Misrule"
The Lord of Misrule
Public DomainThe Lord of Misrule - Credit: David Teniers the Younger

The Lord of Misrule was a master of revels appointed from among the peasantry to preside over the raucous Christmas festivities that took place at the court, high-ranking universities and the homes of noblemen. Drawing on the tradition of the pagan Saturnalia, these celebrations gave the populace a chance to throw off conventions and, for a while at least, turn the social hierarchy on its head. Decked in ribbons and bells, the Lord of Misrule would parade into his temporary seat of power accompanied by dozens of drummers, pipers and dancers astride puppet dragons and horses, and from then until his departure – anything from twelve days to three months in the future – everyone was obliged to do his bidding. The merrymakers followed him on an intoxicated spree, paying mock obeisance to their new king and humoring his followers’ bids to extract pecuniary tributes from them.


Unsurprisingly, this tradition appalled the Puritans, for whom it embodied an unholy alliance of “popish” luxury and pagan debauchery, and they protested it vociferously until it at last disappeared amidst the chaos of the English Civil War. Bellingham’s simile therefore not only characterizes Pearl as the product of a subversion of social laws but also, in that she embodies both Catholic and pagan values, a threat to the Puritan beliefs on which they are founded.