The picture shows Morris Dancers beside the Thames at Richmond from a picture now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge. Dated around 1620, a hundred years after Martin Luther nailed his protest to a church door in Wittenburg. The 1600s were turbulent times for England and for the Morris.
See "Annals of Early Morris", by Michael Heaney and John Forrest, 1991; 'The History of Morris Dancing, 1858 - 1750', by John Forrest. See our Short Bibliography for details.
In the mid-seventeenth century, the notion that the morris dance was introduced into this country from Spain took hold, with a connection to the Spanish Morisco - hence the name “Morris” or moorish dance. The notion has persisted into the 21st century as a possible origin for the morris. However, read what John Forrest (p6-9) says about this idea. In the reign of Henry VIII, morris dancing certainly attained great popularity. There seems to have been at that time two principle performers, Robin Hood and Maid Marian; then there was a friar, a piper, a fool, and the rank and file of the dancers. In the parish accounts of Kingston-on-Thames for the year 1537 the Morris Dancers' wardrobe, then in the charge of the churchwardens, consisted of "A fryers cote of russet and a kyrtele weltyd with red cloth, a Mowren's (Moor's) cote of buckram, and four morres dauncars cotes of white fustian spangelid and two gryne saten cotes, and a disardde's (fool's) cote of cotton, and six payre of garters with belles."
In Elizabethan times the Morris Dance, and indeed every other kind of picturesque country festivity, may be said to have reached the zenith of popularity, soon, alas! to be followed by the chilling austerity of the Puritans, of whom it was so truly said that they "like nothing; no state, no sex; music, dancing, etc., unlawful even in kings; no kind of recreation, no entertainment, -no, not so much as hawking; all are damned."
These teach that Dauncing is a Jezabell
And Barley-breake the ready way to Hell,
The Morrice, Idolls; Whitson-ales can bee
But profane Reliques of a Jubilee;
These in a Zeale, t'expresse how much they doe,
The Organs hate, have silenc'd Bagg-pipes too,
And harmlesse Maypoles, all are rail'd upon,
As if they were the towers of Babilon
Cotswold Games - Annalia Dubrensia 1636. Discussion between Collen and Thenot