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A painting of a May Day procession including a Jack in the Green
Charles Green's painting "Jack in the Green" (1869). The image is in the public domain.

Green Man Connections: Jack in the Green and More

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This is my fourth post about the Green Man, a figure from traditional folk culture. To find all the posts about the Green Man, visit this link!

For many years, people have drawn connections among several figures in traditional art: the classic English Green Man (a wild man clad in leaves who was part of pageants from the mid-sixteenth century); the drawings and carvings of faces covered in leaves (sometimes also called Green Men but previously known as Foliate Heads); the Jack-in-the-Green of Mayday celebrations; the similar figure known as the Garland; and the popular folk hero Robin Hood. In the 21st century, the understanding that these figures are connected to each other, and are also connected to pagan deities and seasonal celebrations, has been dubbed “the Green Man mythos.” As we saw in our first Green Man post, it has become fashionable to say (as Emily Tesh has said) that the Green Man mythos did not arise until an article by the English folklorist and antiquarian Lady Raglan in 1939.

The previous (third) post in this series established that connections drawn by artists between the pageant Green Man and the Foliate Head go back to the Middle Ages. In this post, we’ll look at connections among a few of these other figures, beginning with the Jack-in-the-Green.

Four people dance around a jack-in-the-green.
This illustration of a Jack-in-the-Green by Thomas Crane and Ellen Houghton appeared in the book London Town, published in 1883. It is in the public domain.

The Jack-in-the-Green was a participant in English May Day pageants, from at least 1795. It was described well by Joseph Strutt:

“This piece of pageantry consists of a hollow frame of wood, or wicker-work, made in the form of a sugar loaf, but open at the bottom, and sufficiently large and high to receive a man. The frame is covered with green leaves and bunches of flowers interwoven with each other, so that the man within may be completely concealed, who dances with his companions, and the populace are mightily pleased with the oddity of the moving pyramid.”

As we have seen, Lady Raglan’s musings on the Green Man were partly inspired by a paper published by Sidney O. Addy describing a ritual held in the English town of Castleton, featuring a figure called “The Garland.” The Garland of Castleton is one version of a larger tradition involving the creation of “Garlands,” which in this case means pyramids, cones, or beehive-shaped structures covered with leaves and flowers.

The Castleton Garland procession photographed in 2013. The Garland itself is the flowery bush in the upper left. It is a framework covered with leaves and flowers. It conceals a man, who is seated on the horse which is being led by the man in the bowler hat. Photo by Donald Judge. Shared to Flickr with a Creative Commons License.

In London in the eighteenth century, George L. Phillips tells us, milkmaids had a tradition of creating this kind of Garland. It involved not only leaves and flowers, but also household silver, plates, tankards, and other objects. According to Phillips, it was this tradition that developed into the Jack-in-the-Green:

“When the London chimney-sweepers borrowed May-day from the milkmaids, towards the end of the eighteenth century, for their own holiday, they also adopted the milkmaid’s silver-bearing garland, which after a few slight changes in adornment, was transmogrified into the garland, or perhaps better known as the Jack-in-the-Green, Green Man, or Green of the sooty funnel-scourers. The process of the garland’s gradual development from the serious, porter-like adjunct of the milkmaids’ processions to the lively, attention-commanding, animated bush of the sweeps’ has hitherto been neglected; yet it is interesting enough to deserve some attention.”

Later scholarship does not fully agree with Phillips, since the milkmaids’ garland and the Jack-in-the-Green coexisted side by side for years. However, most scholars still believe that the Jack-in-the-Green developed out of a more general “Garland” tradition, and that it was related to other, similar traditions in Britain, including the milkmaids’ Garland and the Castleton procession.

Along with this obvious historical connection between the Jack-in-the-Green and the Garland, it seems to have been common knowledge for a long time that the Jack-in-the-Green was also an aspect of the pageant Green Man. As we saw, Phillips quite matter-of-factly called it “the Jack-in-the-Green, Green Man, or Green” in his scholarship. More recently, however, folklorist Roy Judge has stated that there is no evidence showing a link between the Green Man and the Jack-in-the-Green until the 20th century. Specifically, on page 91 of his book The Jack-in-the-Green, Judge claims that the first explicit connection between Jack in the Green and the phrase “The Green Man” was in E.K. Chambers’s 1903 book The Medieval Stage.

In fact, however, people saw and understood the connection between these traditions in the early 19th century. The phrase “Jack-in-the-Green,” and the peculiar character it refers to, do not show up in historical sources until 1795. This means that we find a connection between the two traditions expressed by witnesses almost as soon as the Jack-in-the-Green tradition emerges.

We have two pieces of evidence from very early in the development of the Jack-in-the-Green that the character was always considered a Green Man. Unfortunately, Judge dismisses the later piece of evidence on dubious grounds, and ignores the earlier one.

The later evidence is an engraving of the Jack-in-the-Green, published in 1832 in William Henry Harrison’s book The Humorist. The engraving bears the caption “The Green Man.”

Engraving shows a man in an 18th century naval uniform and a woman with a parasol flanking a large, cone-shaped bush. The bush has a round hole in which you can see a human face.
This engraving from William Henry Harrison’s The Humourist shows a Jack-in-the-Green labeled as “The Green Man.” Find the archival scan here.

Judge dismisses this evidence, on the grounds that many of the same book’s other captions are bad puns rather than real descriptions. So, for example, a walking-stick that appears to be falling over is labeled “Falstaff,” and a woman whose body is elongated is captioned “Missi-Longhi.”

However, Judge misses the fact that many captions in the book aren’t puns. So, for example, the book contains the narrative poem “The Two Adjutants” in which a young lady has both a suitor who is an Adjutant in the army and an adjutant bird, a situation which leads to amusing misunderstandings. As an illustration of the story, there is a picture of the woman, her soldier, and her bird, captioned “The Two Adjutants.” A picture of three soldiers in Napoleonic-era uniforms, apparently in their cups, is captioned “Waterloo Veterans.” A picture of a skinny knight approaching a windmill that appears to him to be dressed like a giant is labeled “Don Quixote.” These all appear to be “straight” captions describing what is pictured in the illustrations, not puns or jokes of any kind.

Given that the book has some captions that are obvious bad puns and others that are merely descriptions of the pictures, one would have to explain how the caption “The Green Man” is a bad pun to put it in the former category. Judge correctly states that the Jack-in-the-Green illustration is associated with a poem called “The Balloon of the Famed Mr. Green”; this, however, does not make it a pun. Furthermore, the lines of that poem that immediately precede the illustration are the following:

“Twas served up in a tent or pavilion as gay
As Jack-in-the-green upon chimney sweep’s day”

The illustration thus seems merely to be an explanation of those lines for anyone who might not have seen a Jack-in-the-green. In other words, it seems to be a straight caption, in which the editor is equating the Jack-in-the-Green with the Green Man.

Half-length portrait of Robert Southey
Robert Southey painted by Peter Vandyke, oil on canvas, circa 1795. National Portrait Gallery NPG 193. Placed online with a Creative Commons License.

The other piece of evidence on this point, which Judge ignores, is earlier still: a letter that the poet Robert Southey wrote to his daughter on May 4, 1820, in which he described the Jack-in-the-Green custom. Southey wrote:

“They have generally a green man in company who is also called Jack in the Bush because he is in the middle of a green bush which covers him all over head and all so that you can see nothing but his feet and he goes dancing with the rest.”

Although Judge knows of this letter, and correctly points out that Southey is idiosyncratic in calling the figure “Jack in the Bush” rather than “Jack in the Green,” he ignores the very interesting fact that Southey tells his daughter the figure is “a green man.”

As we have seen, characters called “green men” were associated with processions 200 years previous to our first evidence of the similar procession character Jack-in-the-Green. The references in our second post about the Green Man make it clear that educated people knew about this figure, and called it a “green man,” from the sixteenth century right down to modern times. Both Southey and Harrison were educated men, and both were contemporary with the earliest evidence of the Jack-in-the-Green custom (Southey was born in 1774, Harrison in about 1795). This means that the Jack-in-the-Green has always been understood, at least by some, as a variant of the Green Man. Judge’s claim that the connection between the Jack-in-the-Green and the Green Man dates to 1903 is therefore obviously misguided.

A man stands next to what appears to be an evergreen tree.
The Pfingstl, a similar tradition to the Jack-in-the-Green from Germany. This 2017 photo by Amrei Marie was shared online with a Creative Commons license.

In the nineteenth century, it remained common to refer to the Jack-in-the-Green as a “Green Man,” or at least to associate the two ideas closely. Jeremiah Sullivan, in 1857, associates the “Jack-in-the-Green,” Robin Hood, and the “Green Man” of the pub sign with pagan May Day rites, just as Lady Raglan would do in 1939. An anonymous 1879 article in The Youth’s Companion calls the same character in the May Day procession “Green Man,” “Garland,” and “Jack-in-the-Green.” Gerald Massey in 1881 said the Egyptian God Khnef was “akin to our Green Man and Jack-in-the-Green, who is the hieroglyphic of leafy life on May Day.”

As the nineteenth century turned to the twentieth, writers and scholars continued to note the connections among the pageant Green Man, the even older Wild Man, and the Jack in the Green. Thus, in the 1903 passage alluded to by Judge, E.K. Chambers wrote:

“We have seen this Pfingstl before. He is the Jack in the green, the worshipper clad in the god under whose protection he desires to put himself. […] Sometimes the Pfingstl is called a wild man. Two ‘mighty woordwossys’ or ‘wyld men’ appeared in a revel at the court of Henry VIII in 1513, and similar figures are not uncommon in the sixteenth-century masques. […] It is interesting to note that the green man of the peasantry, who dies and lives again, reappears as the Green Knight in one of the most famous divisions of Arthurian romance.”

Similarly, in 1919, Harold Bayley could write:

“Green was the symbol of rejuvenescence and immortality, and “the Green Man” of our English Inn Signs, as also the Jack-in-Green who used to figure along with Maid Marian and the Hobby Horse in the festivities of May Day, was representative of the May King or the Lord of Life. The colour green, according to the Ecclesiastical authorities, still signifies “hope, plenty, mirth, youth, and prosperity”: as the colour of living vegetation, it was adopted as a symbol of life.”

And in 1927, Gordon S. Maxwell could equate the Jack in the Green with the Green Man in his childhood reminiscences:

“I can just remember seeing, as a very small boy indeed, a Jack in the green dancing in the middle of the road in Old Town Clapham. And though I could not have been more than three at the time, the memory of this has never faded, and I can see the leafy green cone, with the face looking through as plainly today in my mind’s eye, as I could then see it with the delighted and wandering gaze of childhood. Shall I or anyone else ever see another of these Green Men around London? I doubt it.”

As we can see, the idea that the Green Man and the Jack-in-the-Green were one and the same, or at least closely related traditions, was held by many people, beginning with people who were alive when the Jack-in-the-Green was new, and continuing in an unbroken chain to Lady Raglan’s time.

A Brief Look at Robin Hood

Lady Raglan’s article gives other names besides “Jack-in-the-Green” for the figure she believes is depicted in Foliate Head carvings:

“The figure variously known as the Green Man, Jack-in-the-Green, Robin Hood, the King of May, and the Garland, who is the central figure in the May-day celebrations throughout Northern and Central Europe. In England and Scotland the most popular name for this figure, at any rate in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, was Robin Hood.”

Although the Robin Hood literature is too big and complex to take on here, we can take a very brief look at Robin Hood as he appears in the Green Man mythos. The Robin Hood stories don’t include a wild man covered in leaves, or a face carved on a church, but the character of Robin Hood is strongly associated with the color green. Along with Green Men and Jack-in-the-Green, Robin Hood was demonstrably associated with Maytime celebrations since the 16th century. Moreover, in the 19th and 20th centuries, inn signs for taverns called “The Green Man” typically featured one of two figures: either the leaf-clad Green Man or a Robin Hood-style forester. Associations of “Green Man,” “Robin Hood” and “Jack in the Green” abounded in 19th century literature, in fiction like L.H. Apaque’s “Lost in the Finding,” in many explications of pub signs, and in scholarly discussions of folk traditions. For all these reasons, scholars in Lady Raglan’s day routinely included both Robin Hood and The Green Man in their discussions of the Green Man mythos.

Two pub signs showing characters who look like Robin Hood and the words "Green Man."
In Lady Raglan’s day, most pubs called “Green Man” featured signs with a character who looked like Robin Hood.

Even more tellingly, in 1652, in a play by James Shirley called Honoria and Mammon, the character of Maslin refers to the Green Men at the London Mayor’s pageant in these words:

“I am not afear’d of your green Robin Hoods that fright with fiery club your pitiful spectators….”

In other words, like other elements of the mythos, the inclusion of Robin Hood as a “Green Man” was not an innovation by Lady Raglan or her immediate scholarly predecessors, but a tradition that went back hundreds of years. The connection between Robin Hood and the Green Man is tangential, but it too dates at least to the 17th century.

The Pageant of London: The Green Man Mythos on Display

Except for inn signs, Lady Raglan’s 1939 article doesn’t cite previous sources that connect the specific phrase “Green Man” with Robin Hood, Jack-in-the-Green, or the other characters of the mythos. This has led Emily Tesh to argue that the connections among these figures were Lady Raglan’s invention. But they clearly weren’t; our previous blog post on the Foliate Head, and the above sections on the Garland, Jack-in-the-Green, and Robin Hood, show that the complex of connections and equivalences among these characters, which Tesh dubbed the “Green Man mythos,” long predated Lady Raglan’s 1939 article.

So if Lady Raglan didn’t invent the Green Man mythos, how did she learn about it? In short, we don’t know, but it really doesn’t matter; she might have found out about it anywhere. She was an inquisitive reader with access to a good library. Her husband was a prominent folklorist and antiquarian, a president of the Folklore Society. Her social circles included many people who would know about the intellectual trends of the previous half century. Even her local country parson, the Reverend J. Griffith, was a man she described as “a folklorist.”

Green man carving painted in bright colors
Green Man roof boss in the cloisters of Norwich Cathedral. Photo by Steve Knight. Shared to Flickr with a Creative Commons License.

More than this, the Green Man mythos was hardly obscure by 1939; it was not only part of scholarly culture, but very much part of popular culture as well. Indeed, one of the strange things about Emily Tesh’s claim that Lady Raglan invented the Green Man mythos in 1939 is that it was so prominent before then.

To understand this, we need only look to the Pageant of London. This stunning dramatic presentation was the central attraction of the Festival of Empire at London’s Crystal Palace in 1911, when Lady Raglan was ten years old. The pageant included a scene called “The London of Merrie England: May Day Revels in the Days of Henry VIII.” The committee that created the scene included the noted folklorists Lady Alice Gomme and Cecil Sharp, and the historical chairman of the whole pageant was Lady Gomme’s husband, George Laurence Gomme.

In addition to a personified “Winter” and “Summer,” “May Day Revels in the Days of Henry VIII” included many of the other characters later mentioned by Lady Raglan, including the “Green Man,” the “Jack-in-the-Green,” various “garlands,” and “Robin Hood,” as well as slightly different variants of the same characters, such as “The Wild Man,” “Man O’Green” and “Jack o’ the Green.” Lady Gomme apparently decided to gather up all the variants of the character and the name and place them all side-by-side in the scene. The “Green Man” and the “Wild Man,” in particular, are seen together erecting the maypole.

Lady Alice Gomme (inset) and her husband, Sir George Laurence Gomme, were among the folklorists who elucidated the “Green Man Mythos” before Lady Raglan. Their “Pageant of London” (1911) included the Green Man, Wild Man, Garland, Jack-in-the-Green, Robin Hood, and other traditional characters observing May Day together. The photo of Laurence is from the national Portrait Gallery: Sir (George) Laurence Gomme by Bassano Ltd, whole-plate glass negative, 23 February 1911, NPG x33837. Posted online with a Creative Commons License. The photo of Alice was published in 1911 and is in the public domain.

In the festival program linked above, Lady Gomme explained the scene and “the idea from which it originated” thus:

“That idea is the rejoicing of the people at the presence in their midst of the spirit of fertilization. It was probably thought that a tree contained the fertilizing spirit from its power of putting forth new leaves each spring. One was therefore brought from the woods into the fields to fertilize them; to make the newly sown seed germinate and grow. […] It is for this that I discard the usual May-pole, with its numerous ribbon streamers and conventional dancing, which has no meaning for its performers, and I substitute the trunk or pole of the young tree, decorate this with garlands, and set it up. I have, too, arranged a simple dance on the lines of traditions of tree-worship, which indicates something of the attitude of worship and rejoicing. There is no existing dance like it, but there are survivals of tree-worship preserved in fragments of children’s singing games.”

The Pageant of London was not just a local pageant or a minor enactment but an enormous spectacle; it has been described as “the largest and most ambitious pageant of the Edwardian period, if not the whole twentieth century.” There were 120 performances over a period of several months. Over 1 million people attended a performance at a time when the UK had a population of 45 million, making it a success on the order of Hamilton in the contemporary United States.

Cover of the Pageant Programme for the Pageant of London.
Cover of the Pageant Programme for the Pageant of London. The document was published in 1911 and is in the public domain.

There is, of course, much that a folklorist could say about the Pageant of London and its confluence of scholarship and entertainment. It is rare that prominent scholars (let alone folklore scholars!) have such a central role in a massively successful show. Within the fairly narrow confines of Green Man scholarship, though, it establishes an important fact. We know from the quotations given above from Chambers, Bayley, Maxwell and the rest that the Green Man, Wild Man, Jack-in-the-Green, and Robin Hood, were already connected in the complex matrix Tesh calls the “Green Man mythos” by both scholarly and popular writers before Lady Raglan’s essay. The Pageant of London shows that the mythos was not an obscure fringe idea, but a central feature of the most successful popular culture phenomenon of Lady Raglan’s lifetime. In other words, to find the Green Man mythos, Lady Raglan had to look only to the popular culture she grew up with.

The Final Step: Reconnecting the Foliate Head to the Green Man Mythos

As we saw in our last post, the Wild Man and leafy Green Man have been associated with the Foliate Head in artistic traditions going back to the Middle Ages. But it’s true that this association seems to have been renewed and strengthened in the 20th century. It was aided by similar connections being made between the Foliate Head and the Jack-in-the-Green. In 1927, Gordon Maxwell called the Jack-in-the-Green a “Green Man” while reminiscing about it as “the leafy green cone with the face looking through.” A similar memory inspired C.J.P. Cave, a meteorologist and antiquarian who took over 8,000 photographs of roof bosses in medieval churches throughout England. Cave was particularly fascinated with the foliate heads he discovered in his research.

C.J.P. Cave was a meteorologist and architectural historian who wrote extensively about foliate head carvings and photographed them. He corresponded with Lady Raglan, and she used his photos in her illustrated lectures. This photo is from Meteorological Magazine, 1951. It is published by the UK government and made available under an open government license.

In 1935, Cave wrote an article on his research in the Times, which is quoted by Judge:

“One of the commonest of roof boss figures remains unexplored. This is the head with foliage coming from the mouth. It is found from Norman to the very end of Gothic times. It occurs in sculpture and in manuscripts. In the latter, it might be taken for the illuminator’s fancy for drawing strange forms, but the definiteness of the motif and its wide diffusion make it likely that it had some meaning. Often the figures are impossible to distinguish from the foliage bosses around without field glasses, and sometimes only a photograph will reveal eyes peering out between foliage like a Jack in the green of 50 years ago. And may we not see this likeness a clue to the origin of the figure? One certainly goes back to pre Christian times, may not the other? May not the leafy faces be what Sir James Fraser calls representatives of the tree spirit? That such should have survived till the 15th century is less remarkable than that Jack in the green survived into the lifetime of some of us.”

Cave seems to have thought that the pagan antiquity of the Jack-in-the-Green was evidence that the Foliate Head was similarly old. This is ironic today, since no specific evidence for the Jack-in-the-Green per se has turned up prior to the 18th century, but we know the Foliate Head was carved on pagan temples!

It’s interesting that C.J.P. Cave and Lady Raglan seem to have applied this identical reasoning independently, but at around the same time. Cave’s 1935 Times piece predates Lady Raglan’s 1939 academic article. However, Lady Raglan claimed she had had begun to call the face in her local church of Llangwm “Green Man” eight years previously, in 1931; and we’ve seen that this claim is corroborated by a letter to Folklore published in 1932, in which a Miss Durham writes of the same foliate head Lady Raglan described: “it is thought to be a ‘green man.'” Clearly, Miss Durham had spoken either to Lady Raglan or more likely to Rev. J. Griffith, the vicar at Lady Raglan’s church, who was a friend of Lady Raglan’s and in her words “a folklorist.”

A foliate head carved in wood.
Green Men or Foliate Heads were not exclusively carved on churches. This one is on a piece of furniture in the Château de Loches, France. Photo by Stephen Winick, 2022.

Lady Raglan doesn’t give a chronology of her thinking about the Green Man, so we don’t know exactly when she included the Jack-in-the-Green and the Garland in her thinking. To make the issue somewhat more complex, Lady Raglan’s husband, Lord Raglan, suggested a connection between the Foliate Head, the Jack-in-the-Green, and Robin Hood in his 1936 treatise The Hero:

“It is probable, as we have seen, that Robin Hood is Robin of the Wood. Now according to Skeat the original meaning of ‘wood’ was ‘twig’, and hence a mass of twigs or ‘bush’; if this is so, then Robin Hood is Robin of the Twigs, or the Bush, which suggests connections with another well-known figure of the Spring festivities, Jack-in-the-Green, and with the carved faces, with twigs protruding from their mouths, which are a feature of so many of our old churches.”

Finally, Roy Judge tells us that C.J.P. Cave and Lady Raglan corresponded about their ideas in 1937, when Lady Raglan was seeking slides to illustrate a talk about the Green Man. This lecture was an earlier version of her 1939 publication. Thus by the time Lady Raglan explained her position in the 1939 article, she had read Cave’s writings and corresponded directly with him, and had likely read her husband’s book as well. Given all this, it’s impossible to know whether Lord Raglan, C.J.P. Cave, or Lady Raglan first had the idea that the Foliate Head represented a man covered in leaves for seasonal festivals, and we thus may think of the idea as being jointly conceived by the Raglans and Cave.

In this post we have noted that the Jack-in-the-Green, which is first directly attested in the 1790s, was associated with the name “Green Man” by people who had witnessed that emergence, as early as 1820, and was still being called by that name in the 1930s. Moreover, the two characters, along with the Wild Man, Robin Hood, the Garland, and all the other figures of the “Green Man Mythos” were gathered into one giant May Day ritual in 1911 as part of the Pageant of London, an enactment which Cave and the Raglans certainly knew about. Thus, when these scholars reasoned that a face looking through leaves, or covered with them, seemed likely to represent a garland, Jack-in-the-Green, Robin Hood, or “Green Man,” they already knew these figures to be connected.

It should now be clear that, contrary to Tesh’s claim, when Lady Raglan applied the name “The Green Man” to the Foliate Head, she did not in any way create a Green Man mythos. The mythos already existed. Raglan perceived a connection between the Foliate Head and other images of the mythos, but she was not the first to do so; rather, there was hundreds of years of precedent for this. To acknowledge this connection, she decided that the Foliate Head should be called “Green Man,” a name that had already been used for both the Wild Man and the Jack-in-the-Green for hundreds of years.

Lady Raglan’s innovation, then, was simply the transfer of the name “Green Man” from two members of this family of associated traditional characters to a third. It was a small change, but it did alter the way we look at the face in the leaves.

Comments (2)

  1. I am loving this series! Without any research or academic basis, I’m inclined to relate these explorations from the 1930s to the thoroughly accepted popular discouragement with the state of mankind, and its prospects, that followed the Great War (World War I), with its savagery, inhumanity and scope having cut into religious and civic confidence. The idea of the ever-returning “Green”, in this or other forms, would certainly be a civic and personal comfort.

  2. Thank you my friend. Your work in this is so important to my deep green heart. 💚 🍂

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