Unlike Whoopity Scoorie, whose origin is so uncertain that it might date back to the beginning of time but also might date back to the nineteenth century, whichever came first, the Honiton Hot Pennies celebration has a clear beginning: It started in the thirteenth century, when Honiton was given a royal charter.
What’s a royal charter? It’s the oldest form of incorporation in the U.K., according to the Chartered Insurance Institute, which is an institute with a charter, not an institute that deals with chartered insurance. Having a charter of its own, it’s in a position to explain what that means. And also to explain why you should be impressed with them.
Charters are given by the monarch on the advice of the privy council.
The privy council? That’s–actually it looks boring. Let’s say it’s a topic for another time, when I’ll see if I can’t find a bit of spice for it.
The point of a charter is to “create and define the privileges and purpose of a public or private corporation such as a town or city. Although still occasionally granted to cities, today new Charters are usually conferred on bodies such as professional institutions and charities that work in the public interest and which are able to demonstrate financial stability and permanence and pre-eminence in their field.”
You’ll notice (or you will now that I’m making a fuss of it) that the Chartered Insurance Institute capitalizes the word charter. It’s a British thing. You capitalize words you think are important. Especially Nouns. Charters are important. Because the institute has one. And because it’s explaining them.
That non-system of capitalization drives me Nuts.
The earliest royal charter in Britain dates back to 1066, which makes it sound like charters came over with the Norman hordes, but they didn’t. The first chartered town was in Scotland, which was cheerily Normanless in 1066 and remained so for some time to come.
The Normans? They invaded Anglo-Saxon England and became its rulers.
Oh, stop it. If you can’t find England on a map, go offer your soul to Lord Google and he’ll explain it.
The earliest charter in England was given to Cambridge University in the thirteenth century.
But I believe we were talking about hot pennies, which are not pennies that have been stolen but pennies that have been heated.
Why were they heated? Because it amused the hell out of the gentry to throw pennies to the peasants and watch them burn their hands trying to pick up as many as they could before someone else got them.
Desperation and poverty are so amusing.
By that way, that interpretation of the gentry’s motivation isn’t the product of my leftish mind twisting the available facts. It’s what the Honiton Town Council’s website says, although I’m responsible for “amused the hell out of.” The website says they “took great delight in seeing the peasants burn their fingers whilst collecting them.”
Whilst? It’s a British thing and completely apolitical. You’re not likely to find me using it.
These days, when we’ve all lost our sense of humor and become so fearful of being criticized, the pennies are warmed but not heated enough to burn anyone’s fingers.
Sad, isn’t it? That’s what political correctness brings us to.
The celebration is held on the first Tuesday after the 19th of July. Which is as convoluted a date as the one when the U.S. votes–the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.
The Hot Pennies celebration also involves a glove being hoisted on a garlanded pole. The town cryer announces, ““No man may be arrested so long as this glove is up.” The idea was to make sure no one would stay away for fear of being arrested for their (or as stated, his) debts.
My thanks to Bear Humphreys for sending me a couple of links about the celebration, which I wouldn’t have known about otherwise.