Monday, July 16, 2012

DUNMOW FLITCH STORIES

15th July  2012

Four Couples Win a Flitch at the Dunmow Flitch Trials 2012

Four happily married couples were awarded a Flitch of Bacon at Saturday’s Dunmow Flitch Trials 2012 today

The ancient court, which once again sat on Saturday, in the centre of Dunmow, heard applications from five claimants, during three court sessions, with each couple hoping for a slice of the famous Bacon. Four were successful, and one couple were denied a Flitch, but accepted the consolation of a piece of Gammon.

The historic trials – which date back to the  twelfh century- are held every four years and set out to award a flitch (or side) of bacon to married couples from anywhere in the world, if they can satisfy a Judge and Jury of six maidens and six bachelors that in 'twelvemonth and a day' they have 'not wisht themselves unmarried again'.   Couples must have been married for at least a year and a day. A reference to The Dunmow Flitch Trials is even in “The Wife of Bath's Tale” within Chaucer's 14th century Canterbury Tales.   

This year’s trials were held on the 14th July 2012 on Talbards Ley, Great Dunmow in Essex.  Applicants are not restricted to residents of Dunmow only, and this year’s claimants included a retired couple from Spain, and a couple where the wife was Australian as well as two well-known local couples

Often couples come from far and wide to try and claim the Flitch.  It is not a competition between the couples.  All couples could be successful in their claim, which is vigorously defended by Counsel employed on behalf of the Donors of the Bacon, whose job it is to test their evidence and to try and persuade the Jury not to grant them the Flitch.

The unsuccessful couple walked behind their empty chair, as the Flitch custom dictates, whilst the three of the successful couples were carried shoulder high by bearers (humble folk) in the ancient Flitch Chair to the Market Place, with the final successful couple, Mr Harrington and Ms Lovell walking in front of their chair due to the health and safety risks of carrying a heavily pregnant woman shoulder high, by chair-bearers who had been enjoying the hospitality of several local establishments during the day.

The couples then mounted the dray in the Market Place, where they each took the Flitch oath (similar to pre-Reformation marriage vows) whilst kneeling on pointed stones.

Wish't yourselves unmarried again
But continue true and desire
As when you joined hands in holy quire”

  • The modern Trials take the form of a court presided over by a Judge, with Counsel representing the claimants, and opposing Counsel representing the donors of the Flitch of Bacon, a Jury of six maidens and six bachelors, a Clerk of the Court to record the proceedings and Usher to maintain order.
  • The court is held in a marquee erected on Talbards Ley, Great Dunmow in Essex.  Applicants come from far and wide to try and claim the Flitch.  It is not a competition between the couples.  All couples could be successful in their claim, which is vigorously defended by Counsel employed on behalf of the Donors of the Bacon, whose job it is to test their evidence and to try and persuade the Jury not to grant them the Flitch. 
  • Successful couples are then carried shoulder high by bearers (humble folk) in the ancient Flitch Chair to the Market Place where they take the oath (similar to pre-Reformation marriage vows) kneeling on pointed stones.  Unsuccessful couples have to walk behind the empty chair to the Market Place, consoled with a prize of a gammon. 
  • The original custom of awarding a Flitch to those who can prove marital harmony is not unique to Dunmow.  There are references from across Europe of similar customs now long abandoned.  However, the town of Great Dunmow is unique in continuing to reward marital harmony with a Flitch of Bacon well into the 21st century.  With each Trial come amusement, entertainment, renewed community spirit and another piece of history to a beautiful and prosperous town.
 The next Flitch Trials will be held in July 2016

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