Lent, Shrovetide, Shrove Sunday, Collop Monday and Shrove Tuesday

Shrove Tuesday
Pancake race

Today is Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day, as my children call it, so I thought it would be good to write a quick article about Lent in Tudor times.

Lent was, and is, the lead-up to Holy Week and it lasted six and a half weeks. In Tudor times, it was a period of fasting, a time when meat, eggs and cheese were forbidden. Prior to this fasting was a time of celebration, Shrovetide, which began on the seventh Sunday before Easter, a day known as Shrove Sunday.

The three days of Shrovetide – Shrove Sunday, Collop Monday (a ‘collop’ or ‘collup’ being a piece of fried or roasted meat) and Shrove Tuesday – were the last opportunity to use up those forbidden foods and to have some fun. Shrove Tuesday, the last day before Lent, was marked with court celebrations and entertainment such as jousting, plays, music and masques. Alison Sim, in “Pleasures and Pastimes in Tudor England” describes one Shrovetide entertainment, “threshing the cock”, which consisted of tethering a cock and then people trying to kill it by throwing things at it. A prize was given to the person who killed it. Sim also writes of how “sometimes the cock was buried with just its head sticking out of the ground and then blindfolded people would try to kill it with a flail.” Not nice!

Lent was not just a time of fasting, it was also a time of self-denial, and couples were forbidden to have sexual relations.

In churches during Lent, a Lent veil would hide the chancel from the nave and cloths would cover the lectern and altars. These cloths and veils symbolised the hiding of the way to salvation. The Lent veil would remain in place until the Wednesday of Holy Week when the priest would read out the passage from the Bible concerning the veil in the Temple in Jerusalem.

Pancakes were a way of using up eggs before Lent so eating pancakes became a custom in many countries. In the UK, pancake races became a way of using up the rich food forbidden during Lent and also having fun. According to Wikipedia, the traditional pancake race of Olney in Buckinghamshire dates back to 1445. The story behind the tradition is that a housewife was busy making pancakes when the churchbells rang for the service. The lady was in such a rush to get to the service that she allegedly ran to church with her frying pan and pancake, tossing the pancake as she went!

The Good Huswifes Jewell, a recipe book from 1585, gives a recipe for pancakes and this can be found on the British Library website – click here. You just need eggs, flour, ale (you could use water!), sugar, cinnamon and ginger.

We have always enjoyed pancakes on Shrove Tuesday and we love experimenting with different toppings: sugar and lemon (my favourite), jam, golden syrup, chocolate spread, chocolate sauce… What’s your favourite? What do you do for Shrove Tuesday?

Trivia: Shrovetide was an important time in the story of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII. It is thought that it was at the Shrove Tuesday joust of 1526 that Henry VIII declared his love for Anne Boleyn – see The Shrovetide Joust of February 1526

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12 thoughts on “Lent, Shrovetide, Shrove Sunday, Collop Monday and Shrove Tuesday”
  1. As an American, I only know Shrove Tuesday from my love of British history. I am United Methodist, and we’re not big on making sacrifices for Lent, except those of a personal nature. I love a good pancake and am always looking for new recipes. My favorite since childhood is blueberry pancakes. My secret: add vanilla, sugar and cinnamon to any batter, scratch or store bought. My favoriute box mix is Pioneer Baking Mix, much better than Bisquick – for those of us who shortcut. I don’t care much for flavored syrups or toppings other than what God intended: butter and good maple syrup.

    thanks for sharing!

  2. Once again, I have learned something. Like Lynn, I am an American and grew up in the Baptist Church. So, I knew of Lent, but we did not practice. I had not heard of Shrove Tuesday until today reading your post. Thank you.


    1. Hi Debra,
      That’s interesting. I grew up in a British Baptist Church and we learned about Lent, the story of Christ’s suffering in the desert, and it was never a time of fasting BUT Britain has always gone big time for Shrove Tuesday – supermarkets have special offers on batter mixes, recipes for pancakes are in the newspapers, some villages/towns have pancakes races and everyone I knew had pancakes for tea. Perhaps it’s just a well loved British tradition, rather than being an important Christian festival.
      Here in Spain, where I live now, the children all dress up in costumes and have parties before Lent. My youngest son and daughter dressed up as a nurse and surgeon and went on a procession around the village. This partying, “carnaval”, takes place every year before Lent.

      1. I am Greek orthodox and we also have the carnival before lent. The first day of lent is Monday (Clean Monday) we call it and children fly kites! Pancakes are not a tradition in Greece.

  3. I’m a Catholic and my mum was always big on us trying to pick something personal that would be a hard sacrifice for lent. Somehow the tradition kind of stuck with me. Two years ago I gave up sushi (I eat it about 3 times a week so it was really hard). Last year I gave up wine. I’m not doing THAT again!

  4. I was born in New York City and am a “cradle” Episcopalian. Have followed the church callendar for 68 years. Shrove Tuesday served with a side of pancakes is in my blood. Don’t drink, don’t smoke, so, I draw the line there. Hmmmm, perhaps chocolate.

  5. I can see using ale in the Tudor recipe it would help make the pancakes more fluffy – ginger ale could also be used if non-alcohol is needed.
    I’m a native New Yorker (now in California) and Episcopalian and we always had pancakes on Shrove Tuesday and with Dad being from Vermont – maple syrup is a must. And yes we had that tonight. I didn’t realize the eggs weren’t allowed originally during Lent or Cheese – that would be hard to give up!

  6. I find it hard to believe that any American has not heard of Mardi Gra, especially in New Orleans! Also known as Shrove Tuesday! And Ash Wednesday (First Day of Lent). Southern Baptist that I am, I was taught of Lent by my parents. Loved your article and have been enjoying all of your writings about Anne Boleyn. Thank you!

    1. Mardi Gras means ‘Fat Tuesday’ so named as the day when rich foods were eaten to clear the larder for Lent. Shrove Tuesday is what I have always known it as, both in Britain and Australia and, despite being of pagan origins, is the religious terminology. Shrove comes from ‘shriven’ which is to be absolved from sin through confession and penance (where certain types of abstinence comes in).
      As for sticking to tradition, unless they are ‘family traditions’, spices would only have been available to the very wealthy; the inclusion of ale was necessary because it was a lot safer than water; butter was considered a peasant food until the RC Church made it permissible to eat during Lent; not sure about lemons but as the Tudors were notoriously sweet-toothed the taste may not have gone down a bundle! Because of this sweet-tooth the wealthy would have indulgenced in maple syrup at every opportunity I’m sure, but it just wasn’t around.
      As for me – I’m sticking to fresh lemon and caster sugar on thin, slightly crispy, pancakes. The softer, thicker pancakes (the kind we know as ‘American’ pancakes) can only be done justice with lashings of maple syrup or maybe a fruit puree, but they are not traditional for Shrove Tuesday.
      Our kitchen is being re-plastered as present so all my cookbooks are packed away; when they see the light again I shall leaf through my Medieval and Tudor cookbooks and see what I can find vis a vis flavourings.

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