'Sons of Crispin' : the St Crispin societies of Edinburgh and Scotland
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City of Edinburgh Museums and Galleries hold a substantial collection of artefacts and record books donated in 1909 by the office bearers of the Royal Ancient Order of St Crispin. This organisation was the final reincarnation of the Royal St Crispin Society established around 1817. From 1932 the display of a selection of these objects erroneously attributed their provenance to the Incorporation of Cordiners of Canongate with no interpretation of the meaning and use of this regalia. The association of shoemakers (cordiners in Scotland) with St Crispin their patron saint remained such that at least until the early twentieth century a shoemaker was popularly called a ‘Crispin’ and collectively ‘sons of Crispin’. In medieval Scotland cordiners maintained altars to St Crispin and his brother St Crispianus and their cult can be traced to France in the sixth century. In the late sixteenth century an English rewriting of the legend achieved immediate popularity and St Crispin’s Day continued to be remembered in England throughout the seventeenth century. Journeymen shoemakers in Scotland in the early eighteenth century commemorated their patron with processions; and the appellation ‘St Crispin Society’ appeared in 1763. This thesis investigates the longevity of the shoemakers’ attachment to St Crispin prior to the nineteenth century and analyses the origin, creation, organisation, development and demise of the Royal St Crispin Society and the network of lodges it created in Scotland in the period 1817-1909. Although showing the influence of freemasonry, the Royal St Crispin Society devised and practised rituals based on shoemaking legends and traditions. An interpretation of these rituals is given as well as an examination of the celebration of the saint’s day and the organisation and significance of King Crispin processions. The interconnection of St Crispin artefacts and archival material held by Scottish museums and archives is demonstrated throughout the thesis.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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